Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ode to the Cats

Consider this the perfect storm.

No, I'm not a fisherman, I'm not on a fishing boat sailing into frightening weather conditions, and I'm not portrayed by George Clooney.

This "perfect storm" results from the fact that recently read a Joe Posnanski baseball preview where he discussed each team in the American League via the wonder of poetry, K-State's basketball season recently ended - meaning it's ripe for a wrap-up piece, and I think trying to do a few rhymes might be a good way to pass some time. Granted, the last time I wrote any poetry was as a high schooler - where I covered pressing issues like commode-dwelling serpents - so my rhymes may come off as a bit juvenile.

Michael Beasley

K-State's number 30,
His name - Michael Beasley;
On nearly any foe,
He scored rather easily.
Against the Hawks in Manhattan,
He put up 25;
In essence, he declared,
Sorry, KU, your streak is no longer alive.
Did I mention his rebounding?
A phase that brings to mind;
A janitor armed with Windex,
Cleaning two windows in kind.
Prior to 2007,
Who could comprehend;
Beasley-like stats,
Coming from the Wildcats' end?
Hansbrough, you're good,
You too Augustine, when you're hot;
But player of the year,
You guys are not.
The argument ends,
With the mention of Mr. Bucketization;
He's the best of season,
The best in nation.
Will he be in purple next year?
It's an answer I'd rather not say;
But I think some people in the Little Apple,
May develop more interest in the NBA.

Bill Walker

There once was a forward named Bill,
His athletic ability could thrill,
The fans in the stands,
Would all clap their hands,
I hope his chance of return is greater than nil.

Jacob Pullen

K-State's best player next season may be Pullen, Jake,
Not playing him more this year may have been a mistake,
Quick enough to sneak through defenses like a snake,
Opposing guards may involuntarily quake,
When he jitters past them after a shake,
Hopefully you talus didn't suffer a break,
Is that a pass to the weak side or is it a fake?
Think about that as you're in his wake,
Any shot on the floor, he can probaby make,
Even some free thows with the game at stake,
With that skill he made folks in Lawrence ache,
He had 20 off the bench for goodness sake,
Looking for a star next season - who should you take?
The Wildcats' Agent Zero - it's just Pullen, Jake.

The Season

Frank's inaugural season,
Is now over and done,
And for more than one reason,
It provided a fair amount of fun;
A house pack to the brim,
Saw the Cats devour the Hawks,
To anyone not dim,
They seemed like tournament locks.
Down the stretch all that optimism,
Proved a bit premature,
Instead of playing with wisdom,
At times they looked like horse manure;
At tourney selection time,
They sat close to the bubble,
It's obvious that this rhyme,
Is going to say they got in and avoided trouble;
Mitch Richmond wore No. 23,
The last time the Cats won a tournament game,
The Cats ended that streak by topping USC,
And the nation knew K-State by name;
The Cats fell to the Badgers in round two,
Their season now is finished,
But after making noise in the tourney it's hard to be blue,
And their accomplishments have not diminished.
With next season in mind, questions surround,
If Beasley and Walker are gone will the season be blown?
But several reasons for hope can easily be found,
Oh yeah, and then there's Colon.
All jokes aside, K-State will be back,
This basketball team isn't done,
What will be next season's plan of attack?
Four words - Get Ready To Run.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dancing With the Cats

March 1996... Does it really seem like 12 years ago?

I was in middle school (and sporting some pretty slick frames), Bill Clinton was in the White House, Michael Jordan was leading the Chicago Bulls to a record-setting 72-10 record, Braveheart won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Jorge Sampaio became new Portuguese president (honestly, who could forget that?).

"Why bother turning back the calendar?" one might ask (... after all, one can bother asking unnecessary questions before another has the chance to explain).

March 1996 was also the last time the Kansas State Wildcats were involved an event commonly deemed "March Madness" (although the insane may take offense to such terminology).

On March 15, 1996 the Wildcats (as a No. 10 seed) battled the New Mexico Lobos in Richmond, Va. Let by point guard Elliot Hatcher and power forward Tyrone Davis, K-State had piled up 17 wins to that point. Unfortunately for the Cats, the Lobos defended like a mother Lobo protecting her pups (this simile was used just to show that I know what a Lobo is... unless the mascot refers to Lobo the alien from the planet Czarnia (from DC Comics) or Lobo the singer-songwriter who sang "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo"). K-State trailed by just a point at the half, but shot just 24-percent after the break and was outscored 38-18 in the final period.

Since that time, the K-State basketball program has seen many things happen:
- The creation of the Big 12;
- The early departure of Mark Young to play professionally (read: bad idea);
- The decision to award a scholarship to Joe Leonard (read: bad idea);
- The dismissal of Tom Asbury as head coach (read: good idea);
- The hiring of Jim Wooldridge as head coach;
- The arrival of a recruiting class pegged as No. 1 by one publication (apparently size does matter);
- The Cats getting hosed by the NIT two consecutive years;
- The dismissal of Wooldridge as head coach;
- The hiring of Bob Huggins as head coach;
- The arrival of bandwagon fans;
- The Cats being overlooked by the NCAA Tournament selection committee;
- The departure of Huggins;
- The arrival of plenty of anger and bad blood toward Huggins;
- The hiring of Frank Martin as head coach;
- The arrival of the best recruiting class to step foot in Bramlage Coliseum;
- The ascension of a basketball prodigy known as "Beasley";
- And, an up-and-down season combining the greatest of joys and the fiercest of frustrations.

That basically brings us up to date (please forgive the omission of any reference to the decision to recruit primarily out of Junction City in the late 1990s... it's probably something better off forgotten).

Anyway, the big question now is "How will the Cats fare in their first chance in the 'Big Dance' since Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men topped the charts with 'One Sweet Day'?"

Will they top the USC Trojans and become a team feared by all in their way? Or will they struggle with the most basic fundamentals of the game and get run out of the gym by O.J. Mayo and friends?

Honestly, I could see it going either way.

The Cats can cruise if...
Michael Beasley plays like Michael Beasley. I realize this is like saying "a heartbeat is necessary for survival" or "an announcer has to use a minimum of four Cinderella references to call an NCAA Tournament game," but Beasley has to get his points for the Wildcats to win. This is not because he's the only player in purple who can put the ball in the hoop, but because the offense (when it's effective) is built around him.
Beasley getting his points will bring the double-and triple-teams, which brings us to part two of this qualification - K-State has to take full advantage of the defensive focus on Beasley.
Let's pause to do a bit of math (those who don't want to can sit quietly). In the game of basketball, each team is allowed to have five players on the floor at any given time. If the Wildcats are on offense and Beasley has the ball, that means there are four (5-1=4) K-Staters who are scoring options (ok, it may be a stretch for one player in particular) who remain on that end of the court. Now, if two players are guarding Beasley while he has the ball, that means only three (5-2=3 ... math is fun) defenders remain. Now, stay with me here, if K-State has four other players on offense, but the defense only has three players away from Beasley, that means... (waiting for response from the class)... that's right - that one Wildcat should be open.
What does this all mean? It means that the offense should have players continually spotting up for open shots or cutting to the basket when Beasley has the ball. If a team is going to sacrifice a defender for a double-team, it's best to make them pay for it.

The Cats will fall if...
Those who don't wear a jersey with the number 30 on it are content to stand and watch once the ball is in his hands.

The Cats will cruise if...
Bill Walker is motivated by the opportunity to play against high school teammate Mayo and uses his uber-athleticism (aka, his aBILLity) to make an impact in all phases of the game. The scoring is wonderful, but he also has to be a force on the boards and an effective defender.

The Cats will fall if...
Walker gets in early foul trouble, limiting his ability to be effective on defense or in rebounding.

The Cats will cruise if...
Jake Pullen gets his minutes. The freshman point guard has established himself as the most talented guard on the roster, yet his playing time remains inconsistent. When K-State topped KU on Jan. 30, Pullen played 28 minutes, scored 20 points, and showed critics that the Wildcat backcourt would not be a weakness when matched up against the Jayhawks. In Lawrence on March 1, Pullen played just 11 minutes and the Cats fell 88-74.
But, it's not just Pullen. Ron Anderson has shown that he's the top rebounder/post defender/post scoring option on the team outside of the Beasley/Walker duo, yet he played just five minutes against Texas A&M (another team with a couple pretty decent posts) in the Big 12 Tournament.
Am I saying the distribution of minutes is the reason for the Wildcats' downfall? Of course not. Might it have played a part? Absolutely.

The Cats will fall if...
Pullen gets yanked and doesn't get much of a chance to run the Wildcat offense, Anderson is overlooked for minutes in the post, and Beasley and Walker are sitting next to each other on the bench with foul trouble, eating popcorn and discussing how many Bentleys they'll each have at this time next year.

Now, being the non-licensed, yet-practicing bracketologist that I am, how have I pegged the Wildcats in the tournament? On my official bracket, the Cats top the Trojans, but fall to the Wisconsin Badgers in the second round (please note that I had to beat my inexplicable optimism to the ground with a cricket bat to reach that conclusion). On the unofficial (yet much more enjoyable to fill out) version of el bracketo (my inexplicably optimistic side apparently enjoys butchering attempts at the Spanish language), the name "K-State" is printed six times, with the final script appearing underneath the heading "National Champion."

It could happen... Right?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Oh, THOSE Ides of March

According to my calendar, it's mid-March.
According to, I haven't written much lately.
According to popular opinion expressed by the poll on the left side of the page, this is the fault of my ghost-writer... Lousy jerk.

Anyway, since I'm blaming this lack of writing for mass (read: single digit) appeal, I can't take guff for the fact that I've been spending entirely too much of my free time running the Kansas City Royals at my whim on a computer game called Baseball Mogul. It's basically SimCity with baseball instead of cities, and lacking disasters (as long as I don't trade for Neifi Perez).

I realize admitting to spending an abundance of time playing this game detracts significantly from my "cool point" account (and I'm already in debt), so I'm also going to ask that you forget that the preceding paragraph was written about me - that was also my ghost-writer... He's a horrible, unseen person.

Anyway, as tends to happen on occasion, after enjoying the weather with a trip through the park (an event that can be summarized quickly: Derek - out of shape; female joggers - mostly in shape; Derek - embarrassed; guys jogging with their shirts off - tools) this evening has found me in front of the television. With tournament week at hand, and Bobby Knight serving as an ESPN analyst, it's a good time to be watching college basketball. Nevertheless, I must take advantage of my thumb dexterity (I'm confident it is above-average... maybe even exceptional) by flipping channels. Such action opens things up to a world of discovery. Highlights so far...

... from Deal or No Deal...

Good news - Tonight's contestant just had her chosen briefcase opened to reveal $1 million.
Bad news - She had sold the case seconds earlier for over $700,000 less... Normally I don't condone complaining about being payed $200,000+ for hanging with Howie Mandel (he created Bobby's World, after all), but that lady has to feel like she just got poked in the eye with a fish hook.

...from The Moment of Truth...

I'm catching this show for the first time, but I gather you just make more money by truthfully answering questions about your personal life - questions that emphasize the "personal" nature more and more as you move along. Why you would go on this show if had something you preferred not be exposed to millions of people is beyond my comprehension. Tonight's "lucky" contestant is Michael - a guy with an apparently checkered (perhaps more complicated than checkered... chessed?) past and a flat top. As far as I know, he has not been asked about his haircut.

The pitcher in this asker-answerer battery asked Michael if he'd had ... uhhh, fantasies... about any of his friends' wives. He answered yes, evoking a bit of a disappointed groan from the audience (good call). Seconds later, the robotic woman voice that passes judgment on the truthiness (credit Stephen Colbert) of each answer confirmed that Michael was telling the truth (I'm not sure what lying about that would have accomplished), and the crowd broke into applause... C'mon, The Moment of Truth audience! I understand that you must not have much going on if you're willing to take the time to attend this show in person, but you just applauded a guy for fantasizing about one of his friends' wives. I realize it's exciting that he was telling the truth, which is the object of the game, but don't let Mrs. Roboto's voice sway your opinion so easily.

... from American Idol...

The remaining contestants are on stage making a mockery of some of The Beatles' hits and I have been reminded why I don't make watching this show a common practice... Sorry for listing this under the "highlights" section, but I have yet to create a "moments that made me wish my cable would go out" section.

... from Rudy...

I can identify with Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger. I used to get knocked around a lot (read: everyday, constantly for three years) in football practice, too. Unfortunately, I never followed that up by accompanying my hobbit friend on a journey to Mount Doom.

The plan is to get a Royals preview, a general baseball preview, and some NCAA basketball stuff up in the upcoming weeks (one week = seven days, for those unfamiliar). Naturally, this all depends on motivating that sluggard known as my ghost-writer.