David Kyriacou's smash to the warning track died in the Texas right fielder Austin Todd's glove at about midnight. The Kansas baseball season didn't die with it, but listening on the radio, it was difficult not to draw that conclusion.
Kansas can still salvage its season with its second victory in three nights against TCU, the nation's No. 6 team. That alone might be enough to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee. Or the Jayhawks could take it out of the committee's hands by defeating TCU and then knocking off Texas twice on Saturday to emerge from the lower half of the bracket to take on the winner of the upper half of the bracket on Sunday, and then conquering that squad, but that's too many ifs. The Jayhawks' best chance fell just short in the 5-4 loss to Texas.
Now scoring another upset vs. TCU is KU's only chance.
Kyriacou's deep flyball not only summed up the game but very likely will stand up as a microcosm of the Jayhawks' season in that it came up just a little short.
If that's how it plays out, the team still surpassed expectations and there is cause for optimism looking ahead to 2018.
Jackson Goddard's development ranks at the top of the feel-good vibes for next season. Goddard came so far in one year and at the same time showed a great deal of untapped potential remains in his valuable right arm.
Goddard's error on a sacrifice bunt accounted for two unearned runs in the Longhorns' four-run second inning. He pitched one out into the sixth inning, allowed eight hits, walked three and struck out six. A hard thrower, Goddard once in a while will snap off a slider that suggests the pitch one day could become a dominant one, but it's still in the development stages, as is his changeup. That's to be expected from a pitcher who faced small-school competition in high school and didn't need to do anything but blow away hitters with velocity.
“The progress he made from his freshman year to his sophomore year has been remarkable," Kansas coach Ritch Price said. "He has one final step to make and that’s the ability to command his ball down in the zone and I think when he gets to the point where he starts mixing and is not so much first-pitch fastball he’ll be even more dominant."
Price was impressed with how well the Texas hitters followed the scouting report in beating Goddard.
"I tip my hat to Texas’ plan," Price said. "They know he’s going to throw it up there at 92 to 94. They know he’s going to pitch with his fastball like a professional does. If you’re going to beat Jackson Goddard you’ve got to take his fastball away and they did a good job of that."
If hard-throwing right-hander Ryan Zeferjahn can make the sort of freshman-to-sophomore leap that Goddard did and left-hander Taylor Turski's recent eblow problems don't amount to anything serious, Kansas should have an impressive weekend rotation.
No seniors are in the everyday lineup, although shortstop Matt McLaughlin could be lost to the draft. Expectations for next season will be much higher.
Nothing sharpens an athlete's focus in quite the same manner as a game with sudden-death implications. Even though the Big 12 tournament is a double-elimination format, a loss for Kansas in its first-round game vs. TCU would have dealt a serious blow to the Jayhawks' NCAA tournament chances. It would have extended the Jayhawks' losing streak to five games.
Instead, the Jayhawks defeated the nation's No. 6 team, 7-3, at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark to advance to a game tonight against Texas, first pitch scheduled for 7:30.
Kansas shortstop Matt McLaughlin talked about the edge a team fighting for its postseason life brings into a game like the one the Jayhawks played Wednesday night.
"I think the biggest thing right now is just understanding your window," McLaughlin said. "If you are a TCU or Texas Tech, you are looking to be a national seed, and the motivation to go out and win some games isn’t the same as it is for a team like us. We believe if we go out and win two or three games, we will put ourselves in a position to make a regional."
Oklahoma State upset Texas Tech, 3-0, earlier Tuesday.
A win tonight for Kansas would give another boost to the chances of landing an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament, in event that the Jayhawks don't win the Big 12 tournament title. KU entered the tourney ranked No. 59 in the nation, which put it on the wrong side of the bubble. The TCU upset, bumped KU's estimated RPI to 53, according to respected RPI estimator Warrennolan.com. Oklahoma State moved up eight spots to No. 49.
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle was extremely complimentary of KU's starting pitcher Tuesday, left-hander Taylor Turski.
"He's a really good pitcher," Schlossnagle said.
Left-hander Blake Weiman was credited with the win in relief and Stephen Villines pitched a scoreless ninth.
"With those two guys Weiman and Villines down there, there was no doubt we were going to have to have a lead going in late."
Kansas head coach Ritch Price called it "a great win for our program against one of the best teams in America. I am very proud of the way we competed and how we grinded the victory out."
The Jayhawks (30-26) likely need one or two more victories to garner an at-large bid.
Sophomore Jackson Goddard is on the mound tonight for Kansas. He started against the Longhorns on April 2 at Hoglund Ballpark and was not involved in the decision in KU's 5-4 victory. Goddard lasted five innings, all three hits and six walks and hit a batter. The team's best pitching prospect, Goddard is 5-3 with a 4.24 ERA with 28 walks and 69 strikeouts in 74-1/3 innings this season.
Slow growth tends to equate to real growth even though it can be frustrating for fans of the Kansas football program who have endured seven consecutive seasons of three or fewer victories.
Two statistical indicators will be worth watching to see if the Jayhawks are in the midst of a significant step forward. Track yards per rush for the Kansas offense and for the defense.
KU has finished in the top 90 in yards per carry just once in the past seven seasons. That was in 2012, when Mark Mangino holdovers Trevor Marrongelli, Duane Zlatnik and Tanner Hawkinson were all returning starters on the offensive line, all in their fifth seasons in the program.
Since that year, the O-line has lacked stability and in many cases talent. Things are beginning to stabilize up front, although the line still appears to be a year away.
KU has finished in the top 100 against the run in yards per attempt just once in the past seven seasons, placing 92nd in 2013.
The keys to performing better against the run lie in the rotation of defensive tackles doing a better job of occupying blockers — Daniel Wise can't do it alone — and the linebackers doing a better job of shedding blockers to make their tackles closer to the line of scrimmage.
Depth at D-tackle and linebacker should be better this season.
A look at how Kansas has done running the ball and defending the run in the past seven seasons during which the Jayhawks have averaged a 2-10 record.
Year (Coach): (Yards per rush average)
2016 (David Beaty II): 113 (3.53)
2015 (Beaty I): 126 (3.04)
2014 (Charlie Weis III): 121 (3.12)
2013 (Weis II): 97 (3.73)
2012 (Weis I): 49 (4.55)
2011 (Turner Gill II): 95 (3.52)
2010 (Gill I): 103 (3.44)
Year (Coach): Rank (Yards per rush average)
2016 (Beaty II): 5.17 (103)
2015 (Beaty I): 5.67 (123)
2014 (Weis III): 5.40 (117)
2013 (Weis II): 4.72 (92)
2012 (Weis I): 5.22 (114)
2011 (Gill II): 5.83 (120, last)
2010 (Gill I): 5.01 (105)
Now that Paul Pierce has retired from the NBA it's a good time to look at where Jayhawks stand compared to each other in terms of a few NBA statistical categories:
1 - Paul Pierce 1,343
2 - Wilt Chamberlain: 1,045
3 - Dave Robisch: 930
4 - Bill Bridges: 926
5 - Nick Collison: 895
6 - Danny Manning: 883
7 - Kirk Hinrich: 879
8 - Jo Jo White: 837
9 - Drew Gooden: 790
10 - Jacque Vaughn: 776
1 - Wilt Chamberlain: 31,419
2 - Paul Pierce: 26,397
3 - Jo Jo White: 14,399
4 - Danny Manning: 12,367
5 - Clyde Lovellette: 11,947
6 - Bill Bridges: 11,012
7 - Dave Robisch: 10,581
8 - Kirk Hinrich: 9,594
9 - Drew Gooden: 8,653
10 - Wayne Hightower: 6,568
11 - Raef LaFrentz: 5,690
12 - Darnell Valeninte: 5,400
13 - Markieff Morris: 5,338
14 - Nick Collison: 5,328
15 - Mario Chalmers: 5,236
16 - Walt Wesley: 5,002
17 - Andrew Wiggins: 4,995
18 - Ron Franz: 4,733
19 - Marcus Morris: 4,513
20 - Greg Ostertag: 3,512
1 - Wilt Chamberlain: 23,924
2 - Bill Bridges: 11,054
3 - Paul Pierce: 7,527
4 - Clyde Lovellette: 6,663
5 - Dave Robisch: 6,173
6 - Drew Gooden: 5,618
7 - Nick Collison: 4,680
8 - Danny Manning: 4,615
9 - Greg Ostertag: 4,145
10 - Wayne Hightower: 3,966
1 - Paul Pierce: 4,708
2 - Wilt Chamberlain: 4,643
3 - Kirk Hinrich: 4,245
4 - Jo Jo White: 4,095
5 - Darnell Valentine: 3,080
6 - Bill Bridges: 2,553
7 - Mario Chalmers: 2,215
8 - Danny Manning: 2,063
9 - Jacque Vaughn: 1,919
10 - Dave Robisch: 1,655
Mid-year Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe won't be eligible to play in games until mid-December, by which time he will have had a year in the program. All that practice time will make him more ready for games than a freshman would be and it will be interesting to see him work his way into the lineup.
A native of Seattle, will have to work even harder for minutes if Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk withdraws his name from the draft and returns for his senior season.
What can we expect to see from the 6-foot-6, 200-pound wing who shot .308 on 2-point shots and .405 on 3-pointers?
“He’s really, really athletic, really athletic, good shooter, doesn’t really know how to play yet without the ball, so the year (of practice) will definitely help him do that," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I think he’s going to be a really good college player, without question. I don’t know how soon he’ll have the impact. I see similarities that I saw with Lagerald (Vick) early in his career. He’s athletic like that.”
Cunliffe averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 25.4 minutes in the 10 games he played for Arizona State before deciding to transfer.
Cunliffe has such an effortless look to his smooth, acrobatic dunks, as shown in the following video.
Lavar Ball, father of UCLA star point guard prospect, has had a blast making outrageous statements.
He’s a laugh riot, provided you can laugh about a man blowing his son’s shot at a $20 million shoe contract because he started his own shoe company and came up with a $495 price tag for a pair of sneakers.
Anyway, one of Lavar’s headline statements came when he said that his son Lonzo would sign only with the Lakers. Sure enough, the lottery gave the Lakers the second pick and most mock drafts have them selecting the local prospect.
Not so fast.
If I’m the Lakers, I throw a wrench into that scenario and draft a player who brings such intense competitiveness and has such a well-rounded game that he could get to work at establishing a winning culture from Day 1 and do it with a smile and smoothness made for Hollywood.
Josh Jackson’s a smiling assassin, just as the man making the decisions for the Lakers now was during his playing days.
Magic Johnson has a great appreciation for basketball players who excel in all areas because that’s how he won championships. Ball does that too, although he doesn’t get after it defensively to the same extent as Jackson. Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, the draft’s quickest player, blew by him all day in the NCAA tournament.
Magic played at Michigan State and tried to get Jackson to do the same. He has known all about Jackson, his game, his fiery, competitive spirit and natural charisma for years. To know Jackson is to like him.
Magic's signature play was the no-look pass and now we're supposed to believe that now that everyone’s looking at Ball as the Lakers' obvious pick Magic’s going to telegraph a move for the first time in his life? Magicians, masters of illusion, don't let the rest of us behind the curtain.
Jackson would look great in purple and gold. His passes will remind Lakers fans of Magic's. His dunks will recall those of James Worthy. He'll defend the way Michael Cooper did. He'll play winning basketball in an unselfish way that will make veteran stars want to join him via free agency.
The draft isn’t until Thursday, June 22, by which time Lavar Ball might be planning to start a basketball league on Mars, one that charges $10,000 per ticket, excluding the cost of the roundball interplanetary roundtrip spaceship flight.
It will be a fascinating draft, especially if the Lakers pass on Ball and a few others do as well as the cameras zoom in on his father’s sweat beads.
Before taking a look at where the hot-take NBA mock drafts have Josh Jackson going, consider a brilliant idea proferred by Andrew Perloff in a video on SI.com.
The NBA’s integrity took a huge hit with teams tanking left and right to improve their chances of moving up the lottery ranks. Such maneuvers make a mockery of the game and cheat fans who pay money to see teams compete, not to be used as pawns in a dastardly scheme.
Perloff suggests that the lottery expand from 14 to 20 with the bottom three playoff teams in each conference getting ping pong balls. Each of the 20 teams has an equal chance, which completely takes away the incentive to throw games.
“That way everyone is gunning for the postseason,” Perloff said. “You’re going to see no mid-level tanking at all.”
Now onto the mock drafts:
SI.com has Jackson going fourth to the Phoenix Suns, behind Fultz, Ball and Duke's Jayson Tatum.
ESPN.com’s Chad Ford also has Jackson going fourth to the Suns, behind Fultz, Ball and Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk.
“He’s a versatile two-way wing who is great in the open court, can lock down three positions and plays with an intensity reminiscent of Kevin Durant,” Ford wrote. “His jump shot is shaky, but the Suns have plenty of shooters.”
Reid Forgrave of CBSsports.com has Jackson going fifth to the Sacramento Kings, behind surprise No. 1 Jayson Tatum of Duke, Ball, Fultz and Kentucky point guard De'Aaron Fox.
Three Jayhawks at lottery
A case easily could be made that Jackson has the least natural ability of the three Jayhawks at the NBA lottery, ranking behind Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, but if I had to guess which player will have the most productive NBA career, my guess would be Embiid if healthy, Jackson if injuries prevent Embiid from having a long career.
The photo of Wiggins and Jackson together offered an interesting contrast in styles. Wiggins wore a flashy suit that called attention to himself. Jackson was dressed like a man ready to get down to the serious business of winning. Wiggins will score more points in the NBA, but Jackson will do all the things necessary to play winning basketball.
If I were the general manager of whichever team drafts Jackson and the Minnesota Timberwolves called offering Wiggins in exchange for him, I would instantly respond with four words: "No thanks. Anything else?"
Nobody without an agenda disputes that the Big 12 is the top college baseball conference this season. At the moment, Kansas has an 11-10 record in conference play, good for a three-way tie for fourth place.
So an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament is a given, right?
Not so fast. This is the age of computer rankings, which in English means the age of selection committees covering their backsides by justifying omissions with cold numbers. Kansas ranks No. 59 in the dreaded RPI, moving down a spot after taking 2 of 3 from Kansas State last weekend at Hoglund Ballpark.
Meanwhile, Texas, which has a 9-11 Big 12 record is No. 23 in the RPI and therefore has nothing about which to worry. Tied with KU with 11-10 records are Baylor (No. 12 RPI) and West Virginia (No. 20) so they are locks.
Most of KU’s regulars are freshmen and sophomores. It took the freshmen awhile to adjust to the college game during the nonconference season.
The NCAA tournament selection committee has 34 at-large bids to name after 31 automatic spots are earned via mostly conference tournaments. If the committee wants to choose the 34 best at-large teams at the time the tournament starts, it would pick KU, but that would require the guts to go against the RPI, aka CYA.
KU’s RPI figures to climb this weekend because it plays at Texas Tech, No. 4 in the RPI. If the Jayhawks win a game or two in Lubbock, the spike could be a big one. The Big 12 tournament also offers a chance to improve the RPI because all the teams participating will have high rankings. The Big 12 has six schools ranked in the top 23 in the current RPI.
D.J. Haurin, assistant communications director for KU athletics, referred to as “my analytics guy” by baseball coach Ritch Price, used the case of Mercer to illustrate how computer rankings can frustrate bubble teams.
Mercer has a 48 RPI and has not played a single game against a team with a top 50 RPI, according to Haurin, who added that KU has played 21 such opponents.
Kansas earned at-large big in 2014 with a 44 RPI and did not get in with a 68 RPI in 2013.
Dwight Coleby has one foot out the door, not officially gone but likely headed to another school to play his final season as a graduate transfer.
That solves the mystery of how Kansas can get to 13 scholarships in the event that Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk withdraws his name from the NBA Draft.
So let’s assume Coleby is gone and look at how minutes might be distributed with Svi back.
Point guard: Devonte’ Graham 33, Marcus Garrett 7.
Shooting guard: Malik Newman 30, Lagerald Vick 5, Garrett 5.
Small forward: Svi 20, Vick 20.
Power forward: Billy Preston 20, Jack Whitman 15, Svi 5.
Center: Udoka Azubuike 25, Mitch Lightfoot 10, Whitman 5.
Obviously, these are wild guesses that will fluctuate greatly, based on how quickly newcomers learn what coach Bill Self wants out of them in terms of effort, unselfish play and attention to detail.
If Preston competes well enough in practice to earn a starting spot along with Graham, Newman, Svi or Vick, and Azubuike, that would give KU four accomplished shooters playing with a stay-on-the-block center, a tough load for any defense to handle.
Azubuike's development will be the single biggest key to success, regardless of whether Svi completes the roster.
So much talent will be on the floor during practice, ideal circumstances for competitive athletes seeking to improve quickly to draw closer to earning money.
Transfers Charlie Moore (California) and Dedric and K.J. Lawson (forwards from Memphis) can't play in games, leaving the practice floor as the only outlet for their competitive juices.
Kansas head football coach David Beaty talks in superlatives about recruits on signing day but once they arrive on campus, he tries to bite his tongue so as to keep complacency at bay.
At least that’s how he approaches most players. Beaty knows Dorance Armstrong well enough to know that if complacency ever came near the rising junior defensive end’s space he would deliver it a punishing stiff arm, much like the one that flattened huge Texas running back D’Onta Foreman toward the end of Armstrong’s fumble return on which he changed directions with the smoothness of a polished running back.
Beaty doesn’t worry about Armstrong getting a big head because he knows how straight it’s screwed on and knows he is a relentless self-improvement hunter. So when ESPN.com interviewed Beaty about Armstrong during the offseason, the coach didn’t hold back.
“Dorance is a stud. The fact that he didn’t make All-American last year was shocking to me,” Beaty told ESPN.com. “He got robbed. (He) is unbelievable. He’s a freak. He is Myles Garrett, and Myles is a freak. This guy’s a beast.”
Beaty recruited Garrett, the first selection in last month’s NFL draft, to Texas A&M.
Garrett stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 271 pounds. Armstrong is 6-4, 246, so he might decide to use his senior year to get a little bigger and even stronger, or he might decide to enter the NFL draft after three seasons, as did Garrett. Armstrong has the perfect answer when asked about that potential decision. He says he wants to experience winning as a college football player before even thinking about that. And when he talks about the future, he talks about two seasons, not one.
"Everybody on this team knows that next year we’re going to be better and the next year after that we’re going to be even better than that,” Armstrong said.
If the Jayhawks were to open the season with victories against SEMO and a tough Central Michigan squad at home and then end its road losing streak against Ohio to start the season 3-0, it’s possible Memorial Stadium would be sold out for the Big 12 opener, Sept. 23.
And if Armstrong is a huge factor in the Jayhawks earning more victories in the opening three weeks of 2017 than it did in Beaty’s first two seasons, Beaty might not stop at talking about his All-American worthiness. Maybe he’ll hit the play button on the fumble recovery against Texas, freeze the frame that shows him sending Foreman off his feet with the stiff arm and then ask: “Does this remind you of any trophy?”
Defensive players seldom are mentioned in Heisman Trophy talk, but it's not absurd to think that Armstrong, should he make another big step forward, could merit mention.
Armstrong had 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season and became the first Jayhawk to earn unanimous first-team All-Big 12 honors. He came to Kansas weighing less than 215 pounds and has had no trouble putting on weight while maintaining his speed.
In contrast, sophomore Isaiah Bean has had trouble moving the needle on the scale and was listed at 6-4, 220 during the spring. He’s really quick, fast and explosive, but needs to exercise more discipline in several areas to fulfill all the requirements to practice, play, study and condition to maximize his potential the way Armstrong has.
Josh Ehambe has done well in all the areas where Bean needs to improve. A fourth-year junior, Ehambe is 6-3, 247 and has changed his body for the better. A former linebacker, he has made the adjustment to defensive end and emerged from the spring as a first-string player. Ehambe validated that status with a big spring game and has a shot at establishing himself as a two-year starter.
Depending on how well he makes the transition from junior college to the Big 12, Willie McCaleb (6-2, 240) could work his way onto the depth chart and hard-working, 6-3, 285, fifth-year senior Kellen Ash brings experience in reserve. Maciah Long, if he continues to develop, could fill the role played so well last season by Cameron Rosser.
This concludes the 10-part, position-by-position ranking of KU football. Links to stories on the rest of the positions: