MacKansas gained some breathing room in the Big 12 championship race last Saturday when Baylor edged Texas Tech in Waco 59-57. The Jayhawks came from behind and beat West Virginia (77-69) on ESPN’s GameDay in Allen Fieldhouse; that moved KU into a first-place tie at 10-4 with the Red Raiders.



KU plays at Texas Tech this coming Saturday (Feb. 24) in a 3:00 p.m. game that will be nationally televised by ESPN. It’s showdown time. Even if Kansas were to lose to Oklahoma in the Big Monday game (Feb. 19), they could still tie Texas Tech with a win at Lubbock Saturday.



KU’s been winning games that could have gone either way and the main reason for the closeness is the Jayhawks have been shooting poorly from the three-point line. That was a strong point for Kansas in the first half of the season, but for the last three weeks the long-range jumpers haven’t been falling.



On the positive side, center Udoka Azubuike (7-0, 280) has been improving with every outing; he had a terrific game against West Virginia that included 21 points on 7 of 8 field goals, 7 of 10 free throws, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. Coach Bill Self is stingy with his compliments, but after the game he said, “I told him if I was the famed boxing referee, Mills Lane, and I had Dok next to me, I would've raised his arm up, saying he was the champion tonight. I thought he was great. He played terrific, he had energy, and he stayed out of foul trouble for the most part. That was a big-boy game for him.”



The Big 12 race is coming down the homestretch; KU has a game with Texas (Feb. 26) in Allen Fieldhouse and then closes the regular season with a game at Oklahoma State (March 3). The Jayhawks now have a chance to set an all-time national record of 14 consecutive conference championships; however, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played and anything can happen in this wacky season.



Kansas State is coming on strong at the right time; the Wildcats were very impressive last week with a win at O-State (82-72) and a second victory at home last Saturday against Iowa State (78-66). Coach Weber has his Wildcats in a tie for third in the Big 12 with an 8-6 record. And it looks like K-State is very close to a cinch for a bid to the NCAA Tournament.



Junior forward Dean Wade is having his best season at K-State; he’s developed in all phases of his game and guard Barry Brown is also playing at a high level. Simply put, the Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season. If Weber can develop or recruit an outstanding forward to play alongside Wade next season, K-State will have a formidable ballclub.



Spring training has begun and Major League Baseball is sitting on a powder keg that could explode before the 2018 season starts. In mid-February MLB teams had signed 76 free agents, but close to 90 remained unsigned, including Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. However, it’s rumored that Hosmer has reached an agreement to sign with San Diego.



From here—and this is subjective—it looks like a substantial number of the owners have colluded and decided to forego paying the ridiculous salaries demanded by the players’ agents. Don’t be surprised if this seemingly unsolvable situation escalates into some kind of a players’ strike before spring training ends.



Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals are undergoing the start of a rebuilding strategy that is full of pitfalls for the upcoming season. Manager Ned Yost said, “We’re going into camp with a lot of competition at a lot of positions.” That may prove to be the master understatement of 2018.

Ned Yost has declared that at least five everyday positions are up for grabs: first base, third base, center field, right field, and designated hitter. And that doesn’t count the pitching rotation.



Yost’s starting pitching appears shaky at best; Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Hammel, Nate Karns, and Jakob Junis are the early favorites for starting roles.



But it’s the bullpen that might cause a Royals’ collapse. Kelvin Herrera is scheduled to be the closer, a role that he crumbled in last season. The rest of the relievers’ slots are up for grabs and that’s dangerous indeed for a team that has lost so many of their best players. It looks like a hope-for-the-best but expect-the-worst kind of season.














Mac Stevenson writes a weekly sports column for over ten newspapers in Kansas. Reach Mac at (macsteve@cox.net) or 785-826-9200.