My Weekend With Mizzou Fans

I was very upset by my interactions with Mizzou fans this weekend, beginning in the Houston Airport. One Mizzou fan, who was traveling incognito, wearing no identifying clothing, noticed the Jayhawk on my shirt and accused me of being a Jayhawk fan. Acted like he was alright with it as he mentioned off-handedly that he was an MU fan. But I saw right through him. I knew what hatred and bitterness was seething below his calm, even genial, surface. He mentioned he was from St Louis. Just to make small talk and change the focus of the encounter from his raging, concealed animosity, I hesitantly asked him for recommendations on where to eat in STL. He told me that anything Italian on the Hill was excellent. I recognized that he was trying to trick me, that the Hill was likely the name for the area where Chevy Chase's car got stripped in "Vacation" on the way to Wally World, so I made a mental note to not risk life and limb by going anywhere near this so-called "Hill."

As it turned out, this Mizzou fan miscalculated and outsmarted himself. As I landed in STL, I sent a message to one of my son's KU friends who grew up in St Louis and asked where to eat. He said the Hill. So I figure that the Mizzou guy said the Hill thinking that I would be suspicious of him and not go there. You lose, Mizzou guy. I ate at Lo Russo's on the Hill, in spite of your efforts to steer me away from there--and it was terrific.

Getting off the plane in STL, another Mizzou fan identified himself as such and also pretended to be pleasant. Again, I was too smart to be taken in by his demeanor.

It first occurred to me that there was a plot to fool me into believing that Mizzou fans are not animals, but actually part of the human species, at the game. A Mizzou fan and his three adult sons sat to my right. They continued the day long charade by discussing basketball, including Mizzou's loss in the tourney without displaying any animosity toward KU. The dad figure asked if I agreed with Self that the KU/MU series should come to an end. I explained, as I did in the REAL Standings report a few weeks back, that it did not make business sense for KU to do so. He expressed disappointment that there would be no more games, at least for a while, but did not argue with me, nor whine as Mizzou fans, it is common knowledge, are wont to do.

On the off day, a Mizzou fan at the zoo noticed my KU hat and said, "Good luck tomorrow." He should be in the movies, because he said it so convincingly, I almost believed that he meant it.

All this, understandably, left me quite distressed. How would you like being the target of a conspiracy challenging one of your long-standing and cherished beliefs--in this case, that all Mizzou fans spend their entire existence wallowing in self-pity, spite, bitterness, hatred, spite, jealousy, and paranoia?

Could there be anything more dastardly?

The bastards.

--Mark

Open Letter to Mizzou Fans

Listen up, Mizzou fans. You are not the first fan base to have gone through this. It is gut-wrenching. It is different from losing in the Sweet 16 or the Elite 8. It is different from losing in the first round as a 6, 8, or 11 seed. It is different, even, from losing in the first round as a 3 or 4 seed, both of which you have experienced before.

But the difference is what makes it alright. Makes it good, in fact. Nice, in fact.

Yes, the pain is excruciating: You have poured your heart and soul and all of your emotions into a team that you treated as part of the family. It gave you endless hours of fall and winter entertainment. It made you proud to have all that airtime on ESPN, to reside in the Top 5 of the rankings most of the season, to hear your school’s name mentioned every time the topic involved the best teams in college basketball.

What’s more, it made you dream: What if this is the year we finally make it to the epicenter of college basketball, the Final Four? What if it’s us reveling in the Vieux Carre? What if it’s us getting all that coverage in the Kansas City Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch? What if the NY Times writes about us? What if Marcus Denmon is on the cover of Sports Illustrated? What if there is a feature story on our team in USA Today? What if we’re the pick of the Wall Street Journal to derail Kentucky—if THEY even get far enough to play us?

Believe me: There is no sporting event more fun to attend than the Final Four, mingling with the fans of the only other three schools in the world sharing the same city, residing in the same stratosphere? What if we are among the only four fan bases commingling trash talk with genuine respect for their rivals? Their peers?

It is non-stop partying if that’s what you want—and who doesn’t, at least to a certain age?

You have to go if you have a chance. Every time you have the chance. Because you don’t know if the opportunity will ever come again. Not even if your school has been there in the double digits, like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, and, yes Kansas.

It never gets old. It is always special. And the first time is the most special. (With the possible exception of the first time sharing it with your child.)

And it was all right there. You believed it. KU fans believed it. The radio, TV, newspaper, and internet pundits believed it.

The President of the United States believed it.

How many brackets of college basketball experts pegged Mizzou as a Final Four survivor? How many brackets in the seemingly limitless number of bracket contests sponsored by newspapers, internet sports sites, and car dealerships, among others, had Mizzou in the Superdome?

How many even picked them as the eventual National Champion?

A lot.

It was all right there.

You could taste it. Most of your fellow fans could taste it. You almost expected it. History be damned. This is 2012, not some other year between 1939-2011, when Mizzou was O for 73.

Almost expected it.

Any REAListic fan understands that even the prohibitive favorite, as Kentucky is this year, rarely has better than a 50-50 chance of making it to the Final Four. Rarely does even the clearly best team have better than a one in four chance of winning it all. Usually, the best team’s odds (by my calculations) are around 15%.

There are two many good teams. Too many good players. Too many bad matchups. Too many teams and players capable of getting hot or lucky or both for forty minutes. Or the last 5-10 minutes of the game if they just find a way to hang around to that point.

But there was one certainty. Those who purchased tickets to Omaha would get to experience the emotions of the tournament, and all of its hopes and dreams, for at least eighty minutes. For an entire weekend.

Yes, Florida might spoil things. That’s Florida as in the back to back national championship Gators of 2006 and ‘07. Have to be wary of them. But you like your chances.

Or, as Mike DeArmond, long time Mizzou beat writer and alum reportedly tweeted, “The winner of the Florida/Virginia game plays Mizzou Sunday.”

Yes, there was one certainty. Mizzou would be playing Sunday in Omaha, 40 minutes from Phoenix, 120 minutes from New Orleans.

But regardless of what happened Sunday, there was all that basking in glory to enjoy all weekend.

Then, without warning, it’s gone.

It’s over.

Did I mention without warning?

And you’re thinking—well, actually, you’re not thinking.

You are feeling. What you are feeling, if put into words, is, “This isn’t right. This isn’t REAL. My team is still alive. There is time left in the game. Time to catch up. Time to win. Time to prepare for the next game.”

And you’re feeling that there is a next game. This game might be over, but it’s the best two out of three, right? The best four of seven? We’d beat that team nine times out of ten. Ninety-nine out of a hundred. Their one win can’t be today.

It’s not right. It’s not fair.

But eventually, it sinks in.

It’s over.

Without warning.

This tournament will never be played again. This team will never play together again.

And it is sad. If you are a REAL fan, if you are emotionally invested in your team, it is a very REAL loss. Maybe not a death in the family level loss. But a loss of something valuable and an important part of who you are.

It is a loss severe enough to invoke the grieving process.

It is a process that will, of course, be successfully navigated; though the time required will be different for each person, depending on his or her individual attachment to the team and innate ability to cope with what, to some, is a traumatic experience.

And yet, that is why the experience is positive.

Why was this loss so devastating?

Because your team was relevant. It was not a 6th place team in the Big 12, not a 7 or 9 seed in the Big Dance, whose purpose was to serve as a stepping stone to someone else’s success. Yes, that was the ultimate result, but that’s not the point.

The point is, your team was relevant. It was not a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. It was not an attendant lord, one that will do to swell a progress or start a scene or two.

It was, instead, talked about. A lot. It received attention. A lot of attention. It had a sycophantic following among certain portions of the media. And there is nothing wrong with that.

And all that attention is intoxicating. And not in a “driving while” kind of way. In a good way.

Yes, there are drawbacks, aside from the inner pain. There are those who have begrudged your success, who are envious of it, who have been lying in wait all season to bring you down, to mock you, to call your team “chokers,” no matter how valiantly they played, no matter how much effort they gave.

Don’t allow them to bring you down. You are in control of this.

This is a badge of honor. It is a compliment to your success. No one tries to bring down a failure. They don’t have to.

What you want to do is be in this situation as often as possible. Every year if possible.

Even if, time after time, you suffer the pain of a sudden, inconceivable loss.

It is better than the alternative: which is called Not Being Relevant.

Enough times in the spotlight, and the chances of reaching the Promised Land, of fulfilling those hopes and dreams, get better and better.

At the very least, being relevant is worth risking the pain. The fans of all of the consistently relevant teams feel that pain more often than not.

But they will all tell you it is worth it. It beats the hell out of being a non-entity.

So congratulations on being the first 2 seed to lose to a 15 seed in 11 years and the fifth in tournament history. Congratulations for being in a position to hurt.

Enjoy it while you can. Hope that you will be at risk of having to go through the grieving process again.

And again.

And again.

And soon.

--Mark

REAL Standings: The Hate Is Not Enough Edition

THE BORDER WAR (NOT SHOWDOWN): ENDING AN ERA

I know what you’re thinking: How did Iowa State’s un-projected W at K-State move the REAL Standings needle in the fight for third place?

More on that later. First, let’s discuss the most amusing aspect of the KU/Mizzou game Saturday, which, by the way, went as projected.

How many pleas were there by professional (i.e., it’s the way they make their living) on-air commentators and writers for KU and Mizzou to keep playing after Mizzou bolts for the SEC? The twitternet was buzzing in 140 character increments about how it is a shame that the series is ending. Just swallow your pride, Bill Self, Sheahon Zenger, and continue to play Mizzou. Home and Home, neutral court, whatever.

Unfortunately, every comment I was aware of missed the point. Perhaps none as much as ESPN’s Dana O’Neil, who wrote:

"Don’t get me wrong. I get it. You’re angry. You feel jilted. You’re the teenage girl with the pretty party dress, the mani-pedi, updo and the date who ditched you for the rich girl in town.

"Why should you be the bigger university? Why should you fix the mess Missouri created by bolting to the SEC?

"All legitimate questions.

"I have another one: What do you gain by discontinuing this rivalry other than a hefty plate of spite?"

Sorry, Dana. You miss the point.

But she is not alone. Even the normally clear-thinking Joe Posnanski, writes, “You can’t REALly blame Kansas for feeling betrayed.” (Okay, a little bit of emphasis was added.) While, at the same time, saying, “You can’t blame Missouri for jumping into a great conference like the SEC.”

Actually, you can. Being an outsider, a stranger in a strange land, with no rival to provide them with an identity, their athletic program will be less relevant in the SEC than it has been in the Big 12. If that’s possible, considering that Mizzou is the only Big 12 school to have never won a Big 12 championship in any sport involve the male of the species. Which raises the question: Is there any other school in any conference that has gone from 1997-2012 without a conference championship in anything?

What I haven’t read or heard from Dana, from Joe, from any of these talking heads and typing fingers is the following:

What’s in it for KU? Setting emotions aside, which we, apparently, cannot blame Mizzou for doing, how does KU benefit, practically or financially, by playing Mizzou in a non-conference game?

It is clear how Mizzou benefits. Its stature in the college basketball world, such as it is, stems in large part from being an elite team’s rival. It is kinda like North Carolina St to UNC, only without the Final Fours and National Championships that validate NCSU’s status as a program of substance in its own right. Mizzou is Auburn to Alabama pre-Cam Newton.

Mizzou benefits by being KU’s rival. As might be expected at a school whose primary focus is not on what it has accomplished, because it hasn’t. It openly, often brazenly, lives vicariously, year after year, through KU defeats at the hands of others--especially in the NCAA tournament, raiding the tee-shirt racks of Bucknell, Bradley, VCU and the like in those years when the Jayhawks fall short of the National Championship, as all but one of 341 or so teams do every year.

The situation is so bad that high profile Mizzou alums who claim to be professional journalists at places like ESPN show up at Mizzou games sporting Bucknell tee-shirts.

The situation is so sad, that one of Mizzou’s current players (who seems like a fine fellow, so I won’t identify him here) was quoted prior to the game in Columbia as saying that the season would be successful if they lost every other game, but beat KU.

But back to the point: How does KU benefit by playing Mizzou in a non-conference game as opposed to playing Michigan St, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Wisconsin, UCLA, Illinois, Oregon and the like, in areas where there might be potential 4 or 5 star recruits to impress? Recruits capable of bringing more conference and National Championship banners to the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse. It is not as if KU needs more exposure in the Kansas City area, less than an hour’s drive from Lawrence. Why would KU deliberately aid Mizzou’s fan base and recruiting exposure in a predominantly KU town, when not required to do so by conference affiliation?

Doing so would almost constitute coaching or A.D.-ing malpractice.

Big name teams aside, why would it benefit KU to play Mizzou Home and Home or on a neutral court when it could play, say, Idaho St in a guarantee game before a packed house in Lawrence?

Now, there’s an idea. If Mizzou is willing to play in Lawrence and only in Lawrence for a guaranteed payday. . .

It is the talking heads who are acting out on emotion. They see two tremendous basketball games and a fight for a conference championship in the final year the two programs are in the same conference and, apparently, believe that this is the norm.

It’s not. The norm is KU fighting for a conference championship against some team not named Mizzou: e.g., Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, Iowa St. The 16th year of the Big 12, a conference in which KU has now won nine outright titles (probably) and shared three, is the first year that the Jayhawks’ primary competition has been from the state of Missouri. Maybe the Mayans are right.

Might well be 2032 before Mizzou were a factor again.

Nor is it the norm for the two teams to play a pair of compelling games in a single year. As Mr. Posnanski points out:

"The games weren’t always close. In Lawrence, to be honest, they were almost never close. Kansas won by 32 in 2002, by 33 in 2006, by double digits 12 times since 1995. It was usually more entertaining and tense in Columbia."

In other words, just another Big 12 opponent.

Except for the animosity.

And that’s what it comes down to. Keep playing each other from separate conferences because the animosity makes the games special, notwithstanding the fact that the games are not, as a rule, special. Notwithstanding the fact that the all time series is 172-95; that KU is 25-10 in Big 12 play; that Bill Self at KU is 15-4; that Mizzou has not won in Allen Fieldhouse since 1999.

In other words, just another Big 12 opponent.

Except for the animosity.

Mizzou decided to leave a situation in which it had two guaranteed games, one at Home, each year, with the school that gives it its identity. They did it for practical reasons. For financial reasons.

If there is a practical or financial benefit to KU in continuing to play them, someone needs to state what it is. Because hate is not enough. It is, in fact, a reason many KU fans will not be sorry to see the series come to an end.

There is an old story about a man who had two sons. One joined the SEC. The other became vice-president of the United States. Neither was ever heard from again.

As a practical matter, as a financial matter, why should KU not simply let Mizzou slip away into oblivion, likely to never be heard from again, like its near-namesake, Ole Miss?

NEVERTHELESS

KUdos to Mizzou’s team. They are, this year at least, a worthy opponent. There have not been many gutsier performances by the opposition in Allen Fieldhouse over the years.

The two games were split, as they should have been, but KU probably should have held onto an eight point lead late in Columbia, and Mizzou probably should have held on to a 19 point lead Saturday.

Not a coincidence that that Home team came back in an improbable situation both times.

If Mizzou fielded teams like this one on a regular basis, I could understand the angst about the series coming to an end.

WEEKEND RECAP

Now that Mizzou has actually experienced its projected loss in Lawrence, the newspaper standings reflect what REAL Standings followers have known since Tuesday, when K-State took the Tigers down in Columbia: KU has a two game cushion in its quest for its eighth consecutive conference championship—and, barring a collapse of Mayan proportions, six of them outright.

ISU picked up a full game in the RS, pulling to within one game of Baylor—a game the Cyclones can make up next Saturday when they host the Bears in Hilton Coliseum. A little dash of Abracadabra, Shazam, Robin Williams, and Harry Potter, and the Cyclones grab the 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament—which would drop Baylor to No. 4 and in line to play K-State on Thursday for the honor of taking on KU (probably) on Friday.

In action that affected the REAL Standings not a whit, Projected Winners prevailed: KU, Baylor, and Okie St protected their Home Courts against Mizzou, OU, and A&M respectively; while UT won as projected on the Road at Tech. See March Madness Odds here and current Big 12 newspaper standings here, as if they mattered.

THE TIERS

Tier 1: KU, Mizzou

Tier 1A: Baylor

Tier 2: Iowa St, K-State, Texas

Tier 3: Oklahoma, Okie St, Texas A&M

Tier 4: Texas Tech

REAL BIG 12 STANDINGS

2-26-12

1. 16-2

KU (14-2) Projected L’s: N/A At Risk games: N/A

2. 14-4

Mizzou (12-4) Projected L’s: N/A At Risk games: N/A

3. 12.5-5.5

Baylor (11-5) Projected L’s: N/A At Risk games: at ISU

4. 11.5-6.5

Iowa St (11-5) Projected L’s: at Mizzou At Risk games: vs. Baylor

5. 9.5-8.5

K-State (8-8) Projected L’s: N/A At Risk games: at A&M

6. 9-9

Texas (8-8) Projected L’s: at KU At Risk games: N/A

7. 7-11

Okie St (7-9) Projected L’s: vs. KU, at K-State At Risk games: N/A

8. 5-13

Oklahoma (4-12) Projected L’s: at Texas At Risk games: N/A

9. 4.5-13.5

Texas A&M (4-12) Projected L’s: at OU At Risk games: vs. K-State

10 1-17

Texas Tech (1-15) Projected L’s: at Baylor, vs. Mizzou At Risk games: N/A

ON THE TUBE

MONDAY

KU at Okie State**** (8:00p.m.—ESPN) (Projected W: KU)

How KU can have anything remaining in its emotional reservoir two days later is beyond me. Senior night for Keiton Page. He and Okie St will be fired up playing the eight time Big 12 Champion and Top 5 team. Despite the RS Projection, I will be mildly (and pleasantly) surprised if the Jayhawks have the energy needed to pull this one out.

Texas Tech at Baylor* (8:00p.m.—ESPNU) (Projected W: Baylor)

How nice for Baylor to have a bye the last week of the season.

TUESDAY

K-State at Texas A&M*** (6:00p.m—ESPN2) (At-risk game)

K-State tries to go 4-0 against the SEC.

WEDNESDAY

Iowa St at Mizzou**** (7:00p.m—Big Twe Network) (Projected W: Mizzou)

At least Mizzou has four days to regroup. If they don’t bring their A game, they will be staring directly into the abyss of a three game losing streak.

Oklahoma at Texas***(8:00p.m.—ESPN2) (Projected W: UT)

If UT wants an invite to March Madness, the team that beat Tech in Overtime has to beat the team that Tech beat in regulation.

--Mark

REAL Standings: Border War Edition--Part I

MID-WEEK RECAP

When the story of this season is written, if KU fails to extend its string of conference championships to eight, we just might look back at Monday night as the reason. No, KU didn’t play on Monday. Nevertheless, the Jayhawks lost ground to Mizzou, courtesy of Missouri’s own version of Freeman Johns, III.

Tom Penders tweeted, after Myck Kabongo’s hand was grabbed by Matt Pressey while attempting a fairly easy game winning shot: “Texas gets fouled but no call on last play as Mizzou player grabs left arm on baseline shot by UT! Ref swallowed whistle is a cop in MO.” He later identified this individual as Gerry Pollard, while again mentioning his home state. And yet a third time: “Rick Barnes was livid at the end of the game when ex Mizzou Cop, Gerry Pollard swallowed (sic) his whistle.”

When challenged by a Mizzou fan, Penders responded: “Refs were fair most of the game but there is no excuse 4 Gerry Pollard to swallow his whistle on the last play.”

Photographic evidence shows that, at least on this occasion, Penders was correct.

Not sure if $ signs were somehow involved. Still, it would be humorous for UT to be the victim of its own F.J. III moment but for the fact that KU was the REAL victim. Texas is on the Road to Nowhere this season, anyway. The Jayhawks, on the other hand, now must make up this game elsewhere—as in Manhattan or Stillwater, venues where Mizzou was not bailed out by Mr. Johns—err, Pollard.

Not that it would make a difference in most years when the Hawks are head and shoulders above their primary competitors. Although they might well be the best team in the conference again this year, their margin for error is such that a little kindness from strangers would be greatly appreciated.

The Jayhawks’ best opportunity to take their fate into their own hands starts Saturday at Mizzou. Win in Columbia and complete the sweep in Lawrence, and Mizzou can go its merry way into the oblivion of the Southeast Conference without ever having won a Big 12 championship in any worthwhile activity.

As for Baylor, no help there either. A&M did everything but beat the Bears. Incredibly, however, while looking like the better-coached team for all but a few of the game’s 2,400 seconds, they threw up a wild, desperation shot with ten seconds remaining--plenty of time to find the type of high percentage shot that had brought it to within one shot of victory--thus ending any hope of making the Bears sic.

In sum, Mizzou picked up big half a game over both KU and Baylor with its W in Austin. Baylor treaded water with its projected victory in College Station, as did KU over Oklahoma in Lawrence, Iowa St over K-State in Ames (in another game decided in large part by questionable Big 12 officiating), and Okie St in its win in Lubbock.

THE TIERS

Tier 1: Baylor, KU, Mizzou

Tier 2: Iowa St, K-State, Texas

Tier 3: Oklahoma, Okie St, Texas A&M

Tier 4: Texas Tech

REAL BIG 12 STANDINGS

2-2-12

1. 15-3

Mizzou (7-2) Projected L’s: at KU At Risk games: N/A

2. 14.5-3.5

KU (8-1) Projected L’s: at Mizzou, at Baylor At Risk games: at K-State

3. 14-4

Baylor (7-2) Projected L’s: at Mizzou At Risk games: at UT, at ISU

4. 10.5-7.5

Iowa St (6-3) Projected L’s: at Baylor, at K-State, at Mizzou

At Risk games: at OU, at Okie St, vs. Baylor

5. 9-9

Texas (3-6) Projected L’s: at KU At Risk games: at A&M, at OU, at Okie St, vs. Baylor

6. 9-9

K-State (4-5) Projected L’s: at Texas, at Baylor, at Mizzou At Risk games: vs. KU, at A&M

7. 6.5-11.5

Oklahoma (3-6) Projected L’s: vs. Mizzou, at ISU, at Baylor, at Texas

At Risk games: vs. ISU, at Tech, vs. Texas

8. 6-12

Okie St (4-5) Projected L’s: vs. Baylor, at KU, at Mizzou, at OU, vs. KU, at K-State

At Risk games: vs. ISU, vs. Texas

9. 4.5-13.5

Texas A&M (3-6) Projected L’s: at K-State, at ISU, vs. Mizzou, vs. KU, at Okie St, at OU

At Risk games: vs. UT, at Tech, vs. K-State

10 1-17

Texas Tech (0-9) Projected L’s: at Texas, at K-State, at KU, At ISU, vs. Texas, at Baylor, vs. Mizzou

At Risk games: vs. OU, vs. A&M

ON THE TUBE

SATURDAY

Baylor at Okie St***1/2: (12:30p.m.—Big 12 Network) (Projected W: Baylor)

Can Okie St take out its second contender at Home? It certainly isn’t doing anything productive on the Road in any town not called Lubbock.

Texas A&M at K-State ***1/2: (3:00p.m.—Big 12 Network) (Projected W: K-State)

A must win game for K-State. And not one that is automatic the way A&M has been playing recently.

Iowa St at Oklahoma***1/2: (5:00p.m.—ESPN2) (At-risk game)

How important is Hilton Coliseum to ISU? As important, for example, as Royce White? We might well know by the end of this game.

Texas Tech at Texas*: (6:00p.m.—LHN) (Projected W: Texas)

Good news for Texas. This game will not be decided on the game’s final possession.

KU at Mizzou *****: (8:00p.m.—ESPN) (Projected W: MU)

Bill Self has a history of success against gimmick teams like Mizzou. This game, however, presents two unique challenges: First, it is in Columbia, where lesser Mizzou teams have found ways to upset better KU teams than this one. This Mizzou team is, in fact, comfortably unbeaten at Home.

Second, Mizzou is not just a gimmick team this year. Whether attributable to Frank Haith, experience, or a convergence of the fates, Mizzou has a smart, good shooting team that plays better as a unit than their talent would suggest—better by far than any Mizzou team in recent memory (as in those coached by Mike Anderson and Quin Snyder.)

Still, Mizzou is not overpowering. They are the epitome of a finesse team. if both teams stay out of foul trouble, the Hawks will prevail if they dominate inside on both ends of the floor, taking a minimum of three pointers and forcing Mizzou to take a maximum. Mizzou has a plethora of good shooters, but not good enough to carry it for 40 minutes against a team that is more physical, better coached, and has heard of defense. Especially at crunch time.

Then again, there is always the Home Court thing, which is kinda important in the REAL world. . .

--Mark

REAL Standings: Setting the Table Edition

WEEKEND RECAP

Two major surprises this Saturday. The first involved Lonnie Kruger, completing a sweep of his alma mater in Manhattan. Coached Steven Pledger into scoring 30 points en route to a 63-60 victory. K-State, having dropped 1 and ½ games in the REAL Standings directly attributable to the Sooners, is now fighting for its post-season life with a projected league record of 9-9.

The other surprise was in Ames. No, not KU falling to Iowa St. Anyone who didn’t see that as a REAL possibility going in was not paying attention. In the most recent version of the REAL Standings, it was noted that it would be helpful if Royce White would duplicate his foul trouble vs. Mizzou and limit his PT to 27 minutes. No such luck. He played 36.

The surprise came from press row when Fran Fraschilla (or Fra-Fra as his close friends call him) stated that the game he was covering reminded him of Wednesday night’s game between Mizzou and Okie St. His reasoning? KU had controlled much of the game, yet was in danger of losing it in the game’s final moments.

Dare I dub this statement Fran-tasmagorical? If Fran thought KU was in control of this game for more than a matter of seconds, when the score was 47-41, he was confusing the game in this dimension with one from a parallel universe visible only to him. For a good 38 of the game’s 40 minutes, the Jayhawks were scrambling just to hang around. They not only never controlled the game, they were frequently out of control on offense and unable to control rebounds—particularly those on missed Iowa St three pointers.

At least Fra-Fra was attempting to talk about the game he was covering, unlike—well, you know. . .

In short, the Jayhawks’ shortcomings were on full display while the mental toughness, sheer effort, and basketball IQ needed to pull out close games on the Road took the day off.

However, as one wise Jayhawk fan noted after the game: We weren’t going 18-0 anyway. This is almost certainly true. Too little margin for error for a team that gets nothing from its bench, especially when one of its two superstars has less than a superstar kind of day.

Nor are the Hawks going 17-1. But neither will anyone else. There is not a complete team in the conference, or, even, the country. The question is whether the Hawks will show up in enough of their remaining games to actually achieve their projected 14-15 W’s; if so, that might be enough, based on the deficiencies of their primary rivals, for another league crown.

In other words, no time to panic, just as it was not time for Mizzou to panic last Wednesday. There will be plenty of time to panic after the first Home loss by either team, if and when that happens. And, as a subjective matter, I can see Mizzou having trouble protecting its Home “turf” against both Iowa St and Baylor, which could be decisive unless either KU or Mizzou sweeps the other.

Speaking of Mizzou, they won as projected (vs. Tech), as did A&M (over Okie St in College Station) and Baylor (over Texas in Waco).

THE TIERS

Tier 1: Baylor, KU, Mizzou

Tier 2: Iowa St, K-State, Texas

Tier 3: Oklahoma, Okie St, Texas A&M

Tier 4: Texas Tech

REAL BIG 12 STANDINGS

1-26-12

1. 14.5-3.5

KU (7-1) Projected L’s: at Mizzou, at Baylor At Risk games: at K-State

Mizzou (6-2) Projected L’s: at KU At Risk games: at UT

3. 14-4

Baylor (6-2) Projected L’s: at Mizzou At Risk games: at UT, at ISU

4. 10.5-7.5

Iowa St (5-3) Projected L’s: at Baylor, at K-State, at Mizzou

At Risk games: at OU, at Okie St, vs. Baylor

5. 9.5-8.5

Texas (3-5) Projected L’s: at KU At Risk games: vs. Mizzou, at A&M, at OU, at Okie St, vs. Baylor

6. 9-9

K-State (4-4) Projected L’s: at ISU, at Texas, at Baylor, at Mizzou At Risk games: vs. KU, at A&M

7. 6.5-11.5

Oklahoma (3-5) Projected L’s: at KU, vs. Mizzou, at ISU, at Baylor, at Texas

At Risk games: vs. ISU, at Tech, vs. Texas

8. 5.5-12.5

Okie St (3-5) Projected L’s: vs. Baylor, at KU, at Mizzou, at OU, vs. KU, at K-State

At Risk games: vs. ISU, at Tech, vs. Texas

9. 4.5-13.5

Texas A&M (3-5) Projected L’s: vs. Baylor, at K-State, at ISU, vs. Mizzou, vs. KU, at Okie St, at OU

At Risk games: vs. UT, at Tech, vs. K-State

10 1.5-16.5

Texas Tech (0-8) Projected L’s: at Texas, at K-State, at KU, At ISU, vs. Texas, at Baylor, vs. Mizzou

At Risk games: vs. Okie St, vs. OU, vs. A&M

ON THE TUBE

MONDAY

Mizzou at Texas****: (8:00p.m.—ESPN) (At-risk game)

Texas just might have more fans in Kansas Monday night than in the Lone Star State.

TUESDAY

Okie St at Texas Tech **: (7:00p.m.—Big 12 Network) (At-risk game)

If Tech doesn’t win this game, when will they?

K-State at Iowa St****: (8:00p.m.—Fox Sports) (Projected W: ISU)

Iowa St might be known for Hilton Magic, but after two losses to Oklahoma, K-State is the team that needs to pull a W out of its—uhh--hat.

WEDNESDAY

Baylor at A&M***1/2: (8:00p.m.—ESPN2) (Projected W: Baylor)

The Tier 3 teams are becoming downright feisty at Home. The REAL Standings template projects this as a Baylor W, but the Fighting Calipari-Lites are certainly capable of dropping this game and falling further behind KU and Mizzou,

Oklahoma at KU ***: (8:00p.m.—ESPNU) (Projected W: KU)

Reportedly, Lonnie was the Darrell Sproles of his day. He wanted to go to KU, but was not recruited by the Jayhawks. At least Ted Owens had a good reason for overlooking the all-state guard from Silver Lake: He already had the more highly rated Tom Kivisto lined up to be his PG from ’72-’74.

Lonnie went on to become two time Big 8 POY in 1973 and '74 as K-State won back to back conference championships. Made everyone around him better. He was like having a coach on the floor. Jack Hartman with a jump shot.

Meanwhile, Kivisto led the Hawks to the 1974 conference championship and Final Four. Probably a fair trade.

Imagine, however, the ripple effect that might have been: Larry-Roy-Lonnie? Larry-Lonnie-? Kruger Field at Memorial Stadium?

Here’s hoping Jayhawk fans aren’t yearning to change history around 10 o’clock Wednesday night.

--Mark

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