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Game Day vs. Wisconsin

Another 85 degree day in the offing, do you suppose they ever get tired of the weather here?  Probably in the summer, when it never gets below three digits.

Jacob Pullen went through a full practice yesterday and should be near full speed today for his matchup with Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor.  Not even 12 hours after breaking a 100 degree fever, Pullen scored 22 points in 37 minutes against Utah State.  Sitting courtside, I could tell he was gassed especially on the defensive end—but he’s a warrior.

Pullen starts today just 22 points shy of Mike Evans’ all-time scoring record at KSU, could you make the argument that he is the greatest Wildcat of All-Time?  Kansas State has great tradition with guys like, Steve Henson, Rolondo Blackman and Mitch Richmond.  Jack Parr and Ernie Barrett make their arguments from a bygone era and Bob Boozer is probably the most widely regarded of KSU’s all-time best. But consider the case for Pullen; #2 all-time scoring, #2 assists, #1 steals, #1 three point shots made. Michael Beasley is the best player I’ve seen in my thirty years watching and covering K-State, but Pullen has had the best career.  Not to finish the thought on a downer, but what if he scores 20 today in a KSU loss? How big would that three game suspension he served earlier this season look then?

Funniest exchange during Friday’s press conferences: (question to Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan)  “Bo, as long as you’ve been in Wisconsin, are there any roads in that state you haven’t been down—any towns you haven’t been in?”  Response: “No, because if I didn’t know what they were, then I wouldn’t be able to tell you”.

It’s always interesting to get different perspectives on the same thing. Amongst his descriptions of Wisconsin’s physicality yesterday, Frank Martin described the Badgers as a ‘Big 12 team in the Big 10’.  That came right on the heels of Wisconsin big man Tim Jarmusz description of K-State as ‘just like a lot of teams in the Big 10, which is one of the most physical conferences’.  Do you think some elbows will be flying today?

Wisconsin is the classic example of a team which understands its limitations. You’ve heard the phrase-‘they play within themselves’? That’s the Badgers. They don’t turn it over and in Taylor and Jon Leuer  have two 18 points per game stars.  As always, K-State will be physical with their pressure defense—but you can’t put Wisconsin at the line where they shoot over 82%. Interestingly, with their size, the Badgers like to shoot the three—to the point where some of their local media was questioning their dependence on that shot. Of course, they hit 12 of them against Belmont.

Is there a program in the country that flies under the radar more than Wisconsin? The Badgers are making their 13th straight trip to the NCAA’s, only Kansas(22), Duke(16) and Michigan State(14) have longer streaks. In the last 11 years, Wisconsin has been to 4 Sweet 16’s, two Elite Eights and a Final Four—not many programs can make that claim.

Not that it will have anything to do with how today plays out, but Wisconsin did end KSU’s season-in this exact same round-in 2008. Jacob Pullen was the only current Wildcat on the floor that day, I hope he has a long memory.


vs. Utah State (3/17)

The big question here is the health of K-State’s Jacob Pullen. The Wooden Award finalist missed both practices and the media session yesterday with ‘flu-like’ symptoms. The seriousness of those symptoms depends on who you talk to. The players I talked to generally seem to think its some form of food poisoning, team officials are a little less specific. Pullen is expected to play tonight against Utah State, but at what level?

Utah State is really playing the ‘lack of respect  card’. They’re saying all the right things when asked about being a 12 seed with 30 wins but you can tell it bugs them. Having said that, the Aggies might want to mix in a win in this tournament.  Utah State has been to eight of the last 12 NCAA’s, but haven’t won on this stage in ten years. This is the second straight season the Aggies are facing a Big 12 test in the opening round—err, sorry—second round, they lost to Texas A&M by 16 last year in Spokane. I know that Utah State is a bit of fashionable 12th seed pick, but they’ve really only played two NCAA-quality teams; losing by 6 at BYU and by 17 at Georgetown. The more I look at this matchup the more I like KSU.

I enjoyed hanging with the Northern Colorado contingent yesterday. Athletic Director Jay Hinrichs is a 1976 graduate of the Wichita Southeast High School. Head Coach BJ Hill spent six years as an assistant at Coffeyville CC in the Kansas Jayhawk League, before being hired by former Wichita St. assistant Tad Boyle when he took over at Northern Colorado in 2006. On staff with the Bears is Ryan Martin, a member of WSU’s Sweet 16 team in ’06 and Shawn Ellis who played and coached at Kansas Wesleyan in Salina. On top of that, play-by-play man Troy Coverdale is a native Kansan—go Bears.

It may have been 88 degrees in Tucson yesterday but I would have had to have taken someone’s word for it. We were inside the McHale Center from 9:00am until 9:00pm. The first day of NCAA tourneys are the toughest because you have to gather all the materiel you’ll use for the first 48 hours of coverage.  Invariably, though, you get a ‘first day’ nugget and mine was running into former Wichita St. basketball coach Scott Thompson.  I hadn’t seen him since he was fired in 1996 after four years leading the Shocker program.  Those weren’t good years mind you, but Thompson was always so easy to be around and work with- and he did deliver Jamie Arnold and Jason Perez to Wichita State.

Thompson is working in development at the University of Arizona (where he was once on staff with Lute Olson). After leaving WSU he became the head coach at Cornell, where he endured a battle with cancer. He says he feels great and is doing very well. He’s still follows WSU closely and spoke in detail about this year’s club. It was great to see him.

Best line from yesterday’s press conferences: “I’ve never been thanked by a member of the sprit squad or band, until today when I walked by them at the pool—I’m not sure any of them will make the game”. Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.

Best line from today—so far:  Charles Barkley, when asked about the Temple-Penn St. game here in Tucson---“I like to take a nap every afternoon, this is when I would take mine today."


Next Stop Tucson for March Madness (3/16)

Late Tuesday night: I’m jetting over the blackened skies somewhere west of Houston.  It’s a full flight to Phoenix (I’m renting a car and making the hour and a half drive down I-10 to Tucson) and already it’s been a contentious one.  While waiting for the flight to board, a woman (who I wouldn’t have wanted to meet in a dark alley—or even a lighted one) assailed the attendant at the gate for not being loud enough with her announcements. The attendant snapped back, saying that she couldn’t turn up the volume—but that her shift was ending, and maybe her replacement would speak a little louder. It was deliciously rude on both ends.  After a thirty minute delay we finally boarded, only to be delayed again by a seating squabble at the back of the plane- which actually forced the pilot to stop his taxi to the runway while the flight attendants worked it out. We’re off to a great start.

This is the second time that I’ve gone to Tucson to cover K-State. I was at the 1993 Copper Bowl for their game with Wyoming. I remember staying at a really nice resort where it was rumored that Gene Hackman was staying during the filming of ‘The Quick and Silver”. Also in that movie:  a still raw Sharon Stone and Russell Crowe.  I never saw any of them, but I loved Hackman in ‘Hoosiers’.  Which reminds me, shouldn’t I be musing about hoops? Don’t worry, tomorrow will come all too quickly.

Early Wednesday:  I’ve been using media shuttles to get from my hotel to the arena for 31 years now—today was the first time I’ve ever been shuttled to the site in a golf cart. Welcome to Tucson—where the high today is expected to be 88 degrees, although I would imagine it won’t be any warmer that 72 degrees in the McHale Center on the campus of the University of Arizona which is where I’ll be sequestered until about 11:00pm tonight.

K-State is making its 25th appearance in the NCAA Tournament . That’s good for number  23 on the all-time appearence list which is pretty impressive.   Although KU is making its 22nd straight to the NCAA’s, that’s the longest such streak in the country.  The ‘Cats were a two seed last year, when they reached the ‘Elite Eight’, this year they’re a five—which is still the third highest seed they’ve ever received(keep in mind that they’ve only seeded this tournament since 1979).  For what it’s worth, the only other time K-State was a five seed they reached the ‘Sweet 16’ back in 1982.

We won’t see the ‘Cats until later tonight, they don’t even get in the building until about 6:30PM central time. Utah State is even later, that’s why it will be such a long day—like first days at the NCAA’s always are. Still, there should be plenty of jewels out of here today.  I’ll keep you abreast of them.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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