When I watch Wichita State play basketball at Koch Arena, I see an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.
But too often when I watch the Shockers on the road, I see a team I don't recognize, a team that too often doesn't play with emotion or purpose and allows opportunities to vanish.
WSU's loss at Drake on Saturday wasn't a season killer. The Shockers, after all, are still 17-4 with a game against Illinois State looming Wednesday night at Koch Arena.
But Drake is a team WSU defeated 61-38 on Jan. 1 in Wichita. You're telling me that just more than three weeks later the Bulldogs are 40 points better after a 78-64 win?
I'm not buying it.
I do think Drake is better. Almost every team gets better as the season progresses.
But the result of Saturday's game was more about what the Shockers didn't do than it was about Drake.
Wichita State didn't show up defensively. The Shockers were lackluster offensively. It appeared they wanted to be anywhere else but at the Knapp Center playing basketball against Drake.
Perhaps WSU took the Bulldogs lightly. If so, what a huge mistake. The Shockers aren't anywhere close to being at a point where they can take any team lightly, especially one that has regained some enthusiasm and confidence because of the way it has been playing.
Wichita State can't just show up and expect good things to happen. The Shockers' reluctance to defend Drake was maddening and puts the team in a hole as it chases Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference race.
As it looks now, the Valley is only going to get one bid to the NCAA Tournament. UNI, beaten by the Shockers last week at Koch Arena, is a strong favorite to receive that bid.
WSU, meanwhile, has to collect itself. With five home games remaining, plus road games against Southern Illinois, Northern Iowa, Bradley, Evansville and a Bracket Busters opponent, the Shockers could easily approach 24 or 25 wins before the Valley tournament in St. Louis.
Last season, though, Creighton won 27 games and was not an NCAA Tournament at-large team. The Valley has been unable to sustain the momentum of getting four teams into the NCAA Tournament in 2006. And this is shaping up as another one-bid year.
Yes, the Super Bowl is going to be played in 13 days and I'm really excited about the game.
But first, there's the Pro Bowl on Sunday in Miami. And, as is my tradition, I'm hosting a Pro Bowl party.
There's nothing like it, really. My friends begin to gather three hours before kickoff and we sit around a fire while discussing our favorite Pro Bowl memories. My personal favorite is the time Barry Switzer, then the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was spotted eating a hot dog on the sideline during the game.
My kind of guy, Switzer.
I cannot tell you how many times I've marveled at the way such great football players go through the motions in this game. It requires tremendous skill to care so little.
One of my favorite games to play leading up to the Pro Bowl is to predict which players won't show up for the game. This year, I had the field.
Of course, with the Pro Bowl being played in the week between the AFC and NFC championship games and the Super Bowl, players from the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints won't be involved. Which brings to mind a great marketing slogan I'm surprised the Pro Bowl people haven't latched on to: The Pro Bowl: Watch the Best (except for the guys in the Super Bowl and a bunch of others who are either hurt or insist they are).
My friends and I don't concern ourselves with the cynicism and disinterest that surrounds the Pro Bowl. As far as I'm concerned, those of you who don't like the Pro Bowl don't have to watch. It appears many of you are taking me up on that.
I expect ratings for this year's Pro Bowl — what with the brilliant move to play in during the off week preceding the Super Bowl — to be sky high. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that first completed pass made by David Gerrard of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
You might be saving all of your fun for the Super Bowl on Feb. 7. Not me. I'm rolling it out Sunday. The party is here. Let's get it started.
I blame the media, to an extent, for my negative feelings toward Brett Favre. I've been overloaded with Favre news the past couple of years, ever since his indecision cost him his job in Green Bay and landed him with the New York Jets.
The coverage of Favre has been over the top and while I didn't like the way he handled the whole Green Bay situation, waiting and waiting to give the Packers an answer about his potential retirement, I can appreciate Favre as a player.
Despite his late-game interception Sunday, Favre is not the reason the Minnesota Vikings lost to New Orleans in the NFC championship game. Without Favre, the Vikings probably don't even make the playoffs.
I'm just so happy their run is over, though. Favre was beginning to make me queasy because of all the media attention devoted to him.
Enough, enough. Now I'm reading that Favre has told ESPN's Ed Werder that he's almost sure he's going to retire and my reaction is: I'll believe it when he doesn't show up for the Vikings' first regular-season game next season.
It's nice that during the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, Favre will not be the major story. At least I hope he won't.
But if anyone has a chance to steal the thunder from the biggest game in sports, it's Favre. Please, Brett, get back to us after Feb. 7.
Wasn't it anti-climactic to have the NFC championship game end on a 40-yard field goal without Minnesota even getting its hands on the football?
Something has to be done about the NFL's overtime rule, which puts so much importance on the simple flip of a coin. It's archaic and has been from the time OT was reinstituted in 1974.
The Royals made another strange offseason move in signing outfielder Rick Ankiel to a one-year, $3.5 million contract.
You surely know Ankiel's story. Phenom pitcher, great big league start, encounters wildness, moves to the outfield, gets to the big leagues with the Cardinals and shows some pop and good glove.
Last season, though, Ankiel struggled mightily. It might have been because of a May injury suffered as he went head first into the outfield wall in St. Louis while chasing a fly ball.
Ankiel says he has been assured of a starting job in center field in Kansas City, which previously added center fielder Scott Podsednik.
As a Cardinals fan, I rooted hard for Ankiel, who had a solid 2008 season. I think pitchers in the National League figured him out, though. He can't lay off pitches up in the zone and doesn't make consistent contact.
The Royals don't gain much by signing Ankiel to go with a bunch of other mid-level, uninspired moves since the season ended.
My Super Bowl prediction: Indianapolis 34, New Orleans 24.
Thanks for reading.