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College basketball starts anew

It isn’t an official holiday in Lawrence, Kansas, but I’m certain many, many, many people are finding excuses to skip work or classes at the University of Kansas.

The Jayhawks begin the college basketball season tonight when they host Tennessee State.

Yahoo. (Sarcasm)

I really don’t care much about college basketball. I will watch if there’s nothing else on, or I’m in a location where it’s on all the televisions and I have no choice but to watch–unless I want to blindfold myself. Otherwise, no thank you.

I don’t know why I fill out a bracket during the NCAA tournament. I guess it’s just to do something fun. I really don’t give a darn who wins.

LSU has been awful at men’s basketball for the better part of the last 20+ years, save for a trip to the Final Four in 2006 and scattered NCAA tournament appearances.

I don’t expect one of those scattered appearances to occur in 2018.

LSU is picked 14th–DEAD LAST–in the Southeastern Conference. By contrast, Missouri, which finished tied for last in the SEC with LSU last year and lost to the Bayou Bengals AT HOME, is ranked in the preseason polls and is expected to make the NCAA tournament, thanks to new coach Cuonzo Martin and a stellar recruiting class, led by Michael Porter Jr., widely regarded as the nation’s top prep player of 2016-17.

The. Bayou Bengals have a new coach, Will Wade, who came from VCU, where he conintued the Rams’ run of success began by Shaka Smart, now at Texas. Wade has brought needed enthusaism and discipline to a program lacking both under Johnny Jones, but Wade has a tougher task ahead of him than what Dale Brown did when he came to LSU in 1972.

I hope Wade succeeds. I want my alma mater to do well, like most graduates want to see their schools thrive. But i can’t see it happening this year or next. LSU must be patient with Wade. It has to give Wade at least four years to get this thing on the right track. I’m not saying beat Kentucky every time. The top half of the SEC year in and year out would be a major improvement.

Kentucky is the favorite in the SEC. As it should be. Until someone can consistently knock off the Wildcats, the title will remain in Lexington. John Calipari has adapted so well to the “one-and-done” phenomenon. You may hate the guy, but nobody can deny he can fuse together a whole new group, get them to play cohesively, send them off to the NBA, where most will be high draft picks, then start all over again.

When I frequented Ivar’s, the sports bar near the LSU campus where I spent hundreds (maybe thousands) of days, one of the first things I noticed was a bumper sticker behind the bar. It read:

Kentucky Pervert–a man who enjoys sex more than basketball.

Very tue. It’s not just that way with the Big Blue, but at Louisville, Western Kentucky, Morehead State, Eastern Kentucky and Northern Kentucky, too. Basketball, horse racing and bourbon are all Kentucky traditions, traditions which should be cherished. It makes the Bluegrass State one unique place.

Kansas will win the Big 12. Again. For the 14th consecutive season. Arizona will win the Pac-12. Duke the ACC. Wichita State should roll in its new conference, the American Athletic Conference, but how much of an upgrade from the Missouri Valley is it really? The Big Ten should be interesting, but look for Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans to come through.

Wichita State fans have been begging and pleading to play Kansas (and Kansas State) in the regular season. Bill Self refuses to bite. Cuold a Shockers-Jayhawks match take place in San Antonio at the Final Four? Maybe.

Let the games begin. Just don’t expect me to be watching too much.

LSU dusts off Mizzou

LSU will soon be leaving Columbia, and not a moment too soon for Missouri.

The Bayou Bengals completed the three-game sweep with a 15-2 rout, pounding out 20 hits. LSU scored five runs in the first and five more in the seventh as it improved to 11-0 all-time vs. Missouri.

LSU also scored five runs in the fifth inning of Friday’s 7-5 win, and again in the seventh of a 9-5 triumph.

The Bayou Bengals will return to Baton Rouge at 25-11, 9-6 in the SEC, and feeling pretty good heading into next weekend’s series with Mississippi State at Alex Box Stadium.

Missouri, meanwhile, has to lick its wounds all week before going to the other Columbia to play South Carolina next weekend. From the frying pan to the fire, that’s SEC baseball life.

I’ll see Bill, Chris Blair and David Landry off, then it’s back to the Courtyard for me. A lot of work to do tonight and tomorrow morning before I go to Kansas City. I’ll pack as much as I can; I already have my clothes ready. I just have to shower and shave in the morning and pack the rest.

Okay, that’s all from the Mizzou campus. I’ll try to post back at the hotel.

Wait-y issues

I’m still in my room at the Courtyard, waiting to leave for the Mizzou campus and today’s baseball game between the home Tigers and the visiting Tigers from LSU.

Waiting is a part of a weekend baseball series. Lord knows I did it dozens of times on a Saturday when I was at LSU.

Early afternoon games, 1 or 2 pm, were the best. Get up, shower, get out of the hotel, grab lunch if need be, go to the park. Once the game was over, I could go out and enjoy a nice dinner, or I could get home at a decent hour, do any work which had to be done for Sunday’s game, then get to bed.

Saturday night games were not bad on the front end. I could sleep late and get a good lunch. Or if I were on the road, my dad and I would kill time by going to a shopping mall or other attraction in the area. The back end for night games was hell, though, because it left very little time for preparation for Sunday’s game, unless I wanted to go to bed at 2 am.

The absolute worst was starting at 4 pm. UGH.

I hated 4 pm starts. The idea came from then-LSU pitching coach Dan Canevari, who figured it would be the best of both worlds, allowing fans to sleep a little later and have a little more time to tailgate.

I saw it in another light. I thought 4 pm starts were murder. I didn’t have time to really sleep late and/or do something before the game. After the game, I had much less time than after a day game to get things done for Sunday. The best I could do for dinner would be the drive-thru, because many restaurants were overcrowded, or I didn’t have time to put my very limited cooking skills to use.

The very few 4 pm starts on the road were even worse than 4 pm home games.

When Smoke Laval succeeded Skip Bertman as coach in 2002, he returned Satruday games to 2 pm. Now, I see LSU starts a lot of games on Saturdays at night.

It’s after 10 a.m. The waiting isn’t much longer. I’ll get out of the room by 11:15, get lunch, then go to the stadium. Probably will leave earlier.

Purple Friday

One thing was certain for tonight’s baseball game in Columbia: the TIgers were going to win.

Duh. 

The visiting Tigers, the Tigers I like to refer to as the Bayou Bengals, prevailed 7-5. LSU trailed until it scored five runs in the fifth, highlighted by a three-run homer from Bryce Jordan.

Mizzou got to within 6-5 on a leadoff homer in the seventh, but Hunter Newman came in and allowed only one baserunner, retiring the final seven batters he faced to earn the save in relief of Jared Poche. 

Game two is in a little more than 15 hours. When I was traveling with the team, coach Bertman usually allowed the players two hours after the bus got back to the hotel to get something to eat before curfew. I don’t know what coach Maineri’s policy is, but I’m sure the players  be in their rooms no later midnight. 

The players needed time to find something to eat, because many are on foot, and it is very hard to find a restaurant open late in Starkville, Oxford, Tuscaloosa or Athens, even on a Friday night. Heck, Zaxby’s in Columbia closes at 10. 

My only pitfall tonight was getting lost on the way back to the hotel. I thought I had to turn right and go south on US 63, but as it turned out, the road I was taking from campus would have taken me straight to the Courtyard had I just passed over US 63. Once I saw the mileage to Jefferson City getting smaller and smaller, I knew it was time to turn around. 

I made it to Zaxby’s just in time. They were getting ready to close up, but there was still a couple ahead of me waiting for their food, so I didn’t feel too bad about ordering so close to closing. I would have hated to have them work hard for only me. 

Pretty good, as far as chicken fingers go. The sauce is excellent. And I love Texas toast. Maybe I’ll save the oysters for tomorrow; then again, I didn’t eat anything after Chick-Fil-A until Zaxby’s. 

I’m back in the room right now. It was a very good Friday. Hopefully Saturday will be more of the same. 

Oysters and baseball

It’s almost time to play baseball at Mizzou. The announcement of the starting lineups are taking place as I type, and at 6 pm, or shortly thereafter, it will be time for LSU and Missouri to do battle. 

Bill Franques asked me to meet him for lunch at Chick-Fil-A on Stadium Blvd. at 1 pm. However, he texted me at 12:15 and had to push it back to 12:30, because the coaches were out with the rental car. 

With a lot of time to kill, I decided to go into Jazz a Louisiana Kitche, a Cajun restaurant which began in downtown Kansas City, Kansas near the University of Kansas Medical School, but has expanded to another location near the Kansas Speedway, Lawrence, Omaha, Lubbock and Columbia. 

I wanted the Oysters Rockefeller, but oyster on the half shell weren’t available. But fried oysters were available, and I ate them up. God, they were delicious. It’s one food I could eat every day, or nearly every day, and never get tired of it. 

It was the first time I had eaten fried oysters in SIX YEARS. The last time I ate them? At Ivar’s in June 2010, when I ate an oyster po-boy. I ate four oyster po-boys during my trip to Baton Rouge that summer. I wish I knew how to deep fry, or I would order a gallon and fry them up. 

The oysters were so good at Jazz I got another order to go. They’re going straight to my stomach when I get back to the hotel. 

Bill and I met at Chick Fil-A. I saw him standing there trying to text me, because he thought I was late, but I told him, “Um, I’m right here”. We visited for 50 minutes. Very good. 

The first pitch is about to go out. Time to play.

Waiting game before the game

I’ve been in Columbia, Mo. (not to be confused with Columbia, South Carolina, which can happen since Missouri and South Carolina are both in the SEC) for a little over 11 hours. Haven’t had time to do much except sleep, shower and watch a little TV.

I didn’t leave Kansas City until 8:45, the time it took me to leave Buffalo Wild Wings and finally work through traffic onto I-435. I stopped in Blue Springs to get some Chick-Fil-A, which I can’t do in Hays or Salina–forget Russell–and it took a little more than an hour to get from there to the US 63 exit in Columbia. Another 10 minutes south and I was at the hotel.

All of the hotels in Columbia this weekend are either sold out or the rates are sky high. I booked my reservation at the Courtyard last September, when LSU released its baseball schedule. I thought about staying in Kansas City yesterday and driving in this morning, but if I would have changed my reservation, I would have ended up paying more for three nights than for four under my early reservation. Therefore, I’m here now through Monday morning, when I go back to Kansas City.

The first game of the LSU-Missouri series is at 6. I like the earlier start time. Most of the game will be played in daylight, and there will still be time to go get something decent to eat after the game. I’m craving Zaxby’s chicken fingers for some reason. I want to go to Raising Cane’s really badly, but don’t want to drive into Nebraska or Oklahoma. That changes May 3 when the Lawrence location opens. Zaxby’s is in Columbia, so that’s a good alternative. I’m thinking Buffalo Wild Wings might wait until tomorrow after the game if I go here. I’m going to have to be in the room Sunday night working so I can have everything wrapped up before I leave for KC Monday.

LSU hasn’t lost to Missouri since it joined the SEC in 2003. The Bayou Bengals swept in Columbia in 2013 and Baton Rouge last year. Mizzou currently sits last in the SEC, and the bottom two teams don’t make the league tournament at Birmingham. LSU is not in any danger of missing the SEC tournament, but it needs to start winning consistently in order to host a regional. Getting two-hit in a 7-0 loss to McNeese State Tuesday won’t help.

The only bad thing about a baseball series is there is a lot of sitting around. It’s not like in Kansas City, where I can go to Buffalo Wild Wings from 8-12 hours a day and not have to be somewhere. You have to be there for the game at a certain time, and then the game takes three hours give or take (unless there’s extra innings). Then again, a little down time isn’t the worst thing.

The only bad thing is won’t get to see Caitlyn compete in her next three meets since I’ll be out of town. She and Peggy understand I have a life of my own. They were certainly glad I came to Norton and Smith Center. I promised them I would drive the 147 miles to Oberlin May 3.

It’s a beautiful day outside. And I’m in a hotel room right now. But I’ll be out soon enough. After my iPhone updates…

KC stopover

I’ve done more driving the past week than I have at any time this year. And there’s more to come.

It began with last Friday’s trip to Norton to see Cailtyn run the first track meet of her junior season. It continued a few days later when I went to Smith Center for the first time in 11 months to see Caitlyn again. 

Today, I went west again, although only to Hays for my bi-weekly session with Crista. Our session was shorter than usual, but that meant there really wasn’t anything bad to discuss, at least nothing I hadn’t alerted her to. She was very glad I was able to redirect my anger elsewhere and not at people. I have a problem of doing that too often. 

After our session was done, I blew right through Russell all the way across Kansas to–you guessed it–Kansas City.

Only this time, KC isn’t my destination–at least yet. 

I’m on my way to Columbia, right in the middle of Missouri, for this weekend’s LSU-Missouri baseball series, which begins tomorrow evening at 6. With some time to kill, I figured I’d stop at Buffalo Wild Wings at Zona Rosa to play trivia, say hello to some of the employees, and meet up with Robb and Dawn. 

I went to Coumbia three years ago when LSU played Mizzou. It was Mizzou’s first year in the SEC, and the BAyou Bengals swept the series 2-0, 8-0 and 6-5. The second game was originally scheduled for a daytime start, but it rained that morning and moved the game to night. It’s supposed to be a night game Friday, followed by afternoon games Saturday and Sunday. 

I’m assuming LSU’s charter flight will be landing in Columbia sometime between 4 and 5, and then the team will practice at Taylor FIeld. I told Bill Franques, the publicity director and my longtime friend, I would be coming in too late to do anything tonight, but would be up for something before the game tomorrow. 

So far today has been a good day. Bully Joel’s “Allentown” is now playing on the jukebox. Stephanie Suggs is tending bar at Buffalo Wild Wings. Jaclyn Blankenship is here, and we hugged. Yeah, pretty good.