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March 23, 2013

Saturday musings

*Been away from the blog for a couple of days and it made me antsy. This blog is one of my favorite things. It might not be one of your favorite things, and I completely understand that.

* This is my third time spending some time in Salt Lake City and the place seems to get more beautiful every time I’m here. Why doesn’t everyone in the world live here? Outside of Mitt Romney, it’s a pretty special place. That’s a joke, folks. No letters please. Mitt’s fine.

* I’m here, obviously, covering Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament. So is my son, Jeff, who is doing sidebars and notes on the Shockers and their opponents. It’s special to cover the tournament with my kid, who (proud father alert) is good at this stuff. These are moments we’ll talk about, I’m sure, as he’s transporting me to a home in a few years.

* Jeff and I also are rooming together, which has given me an idea for a sitcom. It’s involves a 58-year-old veteran sportswriter living with his 30-year-old sportswriter son. I’m going to pitch it to the CW Network.

* Shockers vs. Zags. This is probably the most intriguing game I’ve covered in a while, what with Gonzaga being No. 1 and all. I haven’t seen the Shockers play a No. 1 team in 50 years. I know you’re going to want me to pick a winner in this game, and I will. But I’m going to save it for much later in the blog. Most of you, no doubt, will want me to pick Gonzaga since I picked Pittsburgh to upend Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. We know how that went.

* There are a lot of keys to this game, obviously. But for me, the biggest centers around how Wichita State handles Gonzaga’s best player, 7-foot  junior center Kelly Olynyk. WSU coach Gregg Marshall called him a bigger, quicker version of Creighton’s Doug McDermott. That’s quite a compliment, isn’t it? He also said Olynyk lacks McDermott’s perimeter shooting skill.

* Olynyk does shoot almost 65 percent overall, even with his 9 of 27 three-point shooting. He and frontcourt mate Elias Harris have shot 342 free throws between them. The Gonzaga guards are good at getting the big guys the ball in advantageous situations.

* Olynyk will be a tough guard for the Shockers, as well as they guard. I don’t think Ehimen Orukpe has the feet to control him. Which means Carl Hall, who gives up four inches, might be the main guy. The Shockers have been torched this season by really good players. I bring you McDermott and Evansville’s Colt Ryan as examples. It will be interesting to see how they cope with Olynyk, who has a better supporting cast than Ryan, for sure, and McDermott.

* Kansas looked uninspired Friday night against Western Kentucky, which had a good game plan of slowing down the game, lengthening possessions and attack KU’s interior defense. Good plan, not always good execution. The Hilltoppers shot poorly inside and especially outside but still kept the game in doubt until the final minutes.

* Does Kansas beat North Carolina on Sunday at the Sprint Center? I think so. I think the Jayhawks have plenty of motivation in Self Vs. Williams III. Kansas will be inspired to remain unbeaten against its former coach. A win over the Tar Heels sets up a Sweet 16 match-up against Michigan at Jerry’s World in Arlington on Friday night. The Wolverines were lights out in drubbing a good VCU team Saturday morning to reach the Sweet 16. That Michigan team beats the Kansas team that showed up to play Western Kentucky by 20 points.

* Kansas State coach Bruce Weber caught a lot of flak for his handling of the final seconds of the Wildcats’ close second-round loss to La Salle on Friday. And rightly so, in my opinion. Weber should simply have called a time out with nine seconds left to set up some kind of play with the Wildcats down by two points. He didn’t and when he finally did try neither his team nor the officials saw him. It was too late and guard Angel Rodriguez was forced to take an impossible shot at the buzzer.

* I’m not sure how many fans Weber was able to win over during his first season in Manhattan, despite a co-Big 12 championship with Kansas and a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Losing to a 13-seed is never a good thing, but La Salle, from the tough Atlantic-10, is better than a 4. Still, it was a bad loss, especially considering how poorly the Wildcats played in the first half.

* But K-State fans who are attacking Weber are being short-sighted. Give the man a chance. The book on Weber, of course, is that he can only win with the previous coach’s players. That’s based on his early success at Illinois after replacing Bill Self. Weber, though, was instrumental in Southern Illinois’ powerful Missouri Valley Conference run before he went to Illinois.

* I’m not saying Weber is the answer at Kansas State. I have my doubts, too. But it’s far too early to draw any conclusions. He needs time. We’ll start to see next season, when some of his recruits show up, where Weber has K-State basketball pointed.

* Wichita State guard Malcolm Armstead is playing so well. He’s the third junior college transfer to become the Shockers’ best player down the stretch after fellow point guards Clevin Hannah and Joe Ragland. OK, Armstead isn’t technically a junior college transfer. He came to WSU after a season at Oregon. Before that, though, he played for current Shocker assistant Greg Heier at Chipola (Fla.) Community College.

* Want a non-sports take? I knew you did. The Eagles, my guys, take to the road July 6 in Louisville to start their “History of the Eagles” tour. Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait. This promises to be different than any Eagles tour ever and I’m guessing they invite original member Bernie Leadon to join in. They’ll perform songs they haven’t done in years. There’s so much about this upcoming tour that excites me. I just hope they come closer than Louisville. Intrust Bank Arena would be nice. And with Leadon and his country roots (the guy’s a mean banjo player) maybe there’s a chance.

* OK, I’ve put it off long enough. I’ve thought about this Gonzaga-Wichita State game, rolled it around in my brain up one side and down another. I do, after all, have a large brain. I expect Gonzaga to play more like a No. 1 team than the Zags did in barely surviving Southern on Thursday. I also expect Wichita State to do better than 2 of 20 from the three-point line, which was their performance from the arc against Pittsburgh. I wasn’t impressed with Pitt. That’s taking nothing away from Wichita State, which I expect to be in this game against Gonzaga. I just can’t pick the Shockers to win. Which means I’m left to pick Gonzaga, 70-66. I am sure you’ll let me know, again, if I get this one wrong. Have a great time watching.

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