Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Entering the Horse Lattitudes

Once basketball ends, it's a long, quiet slog through summer waiting for football to spin up. Some fans, who are more serious than us at CSJ, can fill their spare moments with the endless horse race that is recruiting. We've just never had the heart for it, unless the player in question is a high-profile local kid, and even then it's tough.

We'll do our best to fill the summer with interesting things to keep you checking in.

Take today's tidbit:

In a long article that originated in the ISU Daily, and made the UWire, are two interesting nuggets. First, the NCAA may change the "K-State Rule" and allow wins against I-AA schools to count towards bowl eligibility, and it may take effect this fall, making ISU's bowl chances better. The game against Illinois State could go on as scheduled.

For us, the more interesting bit was buried at the bottom: who ISU tried to get a game with this fall, but could only get interest if they went on the road. It's a tough list: Troy, Houston, Minnesota, Southern California and Louisiana State. Only Houston failed to get to a bowl game, LSU lost to Iowa on a miracle finish, and USC won the National Championship. Playing on the road, ISU could beat 3 of the 5, but I wouldn't like the odds of it.

Which brings us to an interesting point: Is it more important for the football program to pay the bills, or get to bowls? Any home game is worth $700K minimum, even if it doesn't get you closer to being bowl eligible. Going on the road and losing doesn't get you any closer either, and you won't come away with much cash to boot. So home you stay.

The "K-State Rule" was implemented for two reasons: Preventing teams like KSU from playing 2 or 3 I-AA teams to pad their win total, and forcing more interesting I-A matchups. All that has happened is teams load up on mid-majors like Akron instead of Alabama. Everyone needs 6 home games, and will write the check to ensure it. No reason to create a penalty for those with smaller wallets that can't even get Akron.

Bring on the Redbirds!


Sunday, March 20, 2005

UNC simply too much

Perhaps the toughest thing to do in sports aside from stepping on the field in the first place is to admit when your opponent won because they were just better. Today, UNC was simply better than ISU.

But better is an understatement. While the Cyclones didn't play badly, they were simply overwhelmed but superior talent that was firing on all cyclenders. Homan was amonster inside, but UNC had two monsters of their own. Every tricky drive to the hole by Stinson or Blalock was met by an even tricker one. And so it went.

In fact, UNC looked so good at times that it was clear why they are the favorite to win the title. That makes the basketball world wonder: Is this the team that even Roy Williams can't screw up?

Roy had a long legacy of Kansas teams getting bounced early from the tourney, or making the Final Four only to falter at a key moment. This UNC squad certainly has the talent to overcome that jinx, but it will be interesting to see if they can.

Roy probably exercised some Cyclone demons from his psyche today. One could use up most of one's fingers counting up the times a Roy Boy Jayhawk team lost to a clearly inferior Cyclone squad. Hustle and moxie would down a team loaded with McDonald AA's. CBA free agents beating NBA All Stars.

Tonight, Roy can put those memories to rest. It may have been his last chance, too, for who knows how many times he will face ISU again in his career. If he wins a NCAA title, he can bury a whole closet full of ghosts, too.


Saturday, March 19, 2005


The Cyclones did what they needed to do: hustle, force some turnovers, make shots from the outside, and take away the opponent's rythym on offense. They did, and they dumped Minnesota to get an NCAA win.

The Gophers were good enough to keep ISU from ever looking flashy, or rolling up a big run to bust the game open, but they also didn't panic when the Gophers stopped doing stupid things and closed to within 3 in the second half. That may have been the biggest accomplishment of the day: staying under control and playing to win.

Now, a tremendous opportunity awaits: No. 1 seed North Carolina, in Charlotte. A win there would easily be in the Top 5 ISU wins ever, and could push for #1 if a bunch of the present Tar Heels become household names later in life. It would sertainly be on par with the "Varsity vs. JV" win over Michigan in 1985, which, for the math challenged, was 20 years ago. Nice symetry, eh?

If it's any consolation, the building will have a large number of Duke fans who have the second game of the session. Like good fans in a rivalry, they want to see their nemisis go down, and go down in a way they can mock. UNC fans rained down a chorus of "overated" as the Dukies struggled to finish off Deleware St. in their first round game. A return of that chant towards UNC would only mean good things for ISU.

Here's hoping.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

They're In!

ISU made the NCAA tourney, and there were no worries. As a 9 seed, they got in ahead of both Iowa and UNI. That's the good news.

The bad news is where they sit. Not only do they draw an improving Minnesota club, if they win that game, they get North Carolina, who is good enough to win the whole thing, in Charlotte. Can you say Home Game? Nuts.

Minnesota is a bad draw, statistically. They go a full 8 deep. They have good size and athleticism at both Center and Forward. They play good defense (63 ppg) and don't give up the 3 (32%). They rebound well (31 rpg). They REALLY block shots well (4.65 bpg) and steal like bandits (9.13 spg).

We can only hope that Wayne's trapping zone prevents Minnesota from finding a rythym, and that ISU can hit enough outside shots to keep Minny from packing in the lane.

From our view, both Iowa and UNI have a better shot at the Sweet 16. Regardless of the difficulty of each team's opening round game, ISU has by far the toughest matchup in the second round, and a coach in Roy Williams who has never been shy about delivering a beatdown when he can.

But it sure beats the NIT.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

One man short

Sorry for the delay- I've been traveling.

I listened to the call of ISU's loss to Tech in the car, and one thing was apparrent- ISU was good enough to beat Tech, if not run away from them, but they simply ran out of gas.

The same 6 guys who have burned all the minutes in the conference season did again Friday. First off the bench was Tasheed Carr, with 27 minutes. Dave Braet was next with 3.

Tech didn't go any further into its bench, but got 18 and 10 out of its guys, who hadn't played a game in 6 days. That was the difference.

Up 8 with 9 to go, Tech went 14-2 to take the lead and never looked back. ISU simply didn't have the legs to shoot a jump shot.

Fortunately, ISU won't have to play on consecutive days in the NCAA's. But with one more good set of legs, the Clones could have played their way up the seeding chart, which may have also hurt them more than helped.

The seeds to avoid are 8-9, because they get a second round date with a #1 seed. better to be involved in a 7-10, 6-11 or 5-12 game to avoid #1 so early. Here's hoping ISU can manage a #10.


Thursday, March 10, 2005


It was never in question, and comforting to see ISU put away early a team it needed to put away.

Our only lament is that there isn't enough bench to properly relieve the starters when the margins get big. Stinson played 35 minutes, Blalock 34, Homan 31.

If they still look fresh against Tech, then Wayne knew what he was doing. If they come out flat, well, that will be the first thing to grumble about.

A note about Baylor. It looks like Coach Drew is a decent guy, and is building a program the right way with young guys, rather than a slimy Juco-based quick fix. Hats off to BU for having the guts to be patient. I hope Drew gets a fair shake.

The drubbing of Baylor has guarrenteed an ISU NCAA bid. Any additional wins will only help their seeding. a$m losing to KState eliminates a$m somehow taking ISU's bid with a strong run in the tourney. Good for them. Enjoy the NIT. They will be scary in the coming years.


The Magic comes up short

It was to be expected that Hilton (South) Magic can only work so many times, and the Quarterfinal game Wednesday proves that.

For as lousy as ISU played on Tuesday, they went toe-to-toe with a very good Texas tech squad for all 40 minutes. While Keeler wants to imply that Tech benefitted from a quick whistle late, I think that is off the mark.

Tech had a very savvy play set up, once the almost guarrenteed a whistle. It was cose enough to shooting to be a shooting foul. So it goes.

What is becoming an almost weekly lament for us at CSJ is the continued struggles offensively against physical teams. The teams that slow down ISU play a "hands on" defensive style, and the best teams play that way. Long term, Fennely and crew need to figure out a way to overcome that, or they will remain a pretty good B12 program, but not an elite.


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

It's better to be the heartbreaker

I admit it. I'd given up.

I listened to Rich and BJ describe a game where ISU only mustered 37% shooting- and needed a flurry at the end to raise it that high- and with 1 minute left and ISU down 7, I stepped away. I had an errand to run, so I stepped out of the truck at the most critical moment. I missed the free throws to draw within 1. I missed the blown CU layup, the frantic run back up the court, the 3 point try with a moment left on the clock. All I got was a pair of stunned announcers trying to describe that unlikely, and almost impossible comeback. Unbelieveable.

I almost feel bad for CU. They had the impossible dream, and almost, almost pulled it off in "Win one for the Gipper" mode. They had ISU forcing bad shots trying to get something going, seemingly handing the ball to CU when they would get within a possesion. Yet they couldn't pull it off.

One of the oldest sports cliches is that "Great teams find a way to win" but today was just sick. Heartless. Downright mean. CU's players will be haunted by that game the rest of their damn lives.

Lyndsey Medders is one cold-hearted bitch for making that shot, but I'm glad she's our bitch.


Monday, March 07, 2005

fact or fiction from the NCAA committee

There are some interesting situations locally that will show whether the NCAA is walking the walk they work so hard to talk.

The committee has long stated that factors in At-Large selections to the NCAA tournament include but are not limited to: Overall record, conference record, conference tournament performance, stregnth of schedule, road wins, record in last 10 games, record versus other tourney teams, best win/worst loss, and the RPI.

Let's look at how ISU and Iowa fare, since many of their fans think both deserve bids.

ISU, whose RPI is a releatively low 63, thinks it has earned a bid with a 9-7 conference record, and most importantly, a 9-2 run down the stretch, which included wins at Texas and Kansas, who will both earn bids.

ISU's only knocks are the start they had to the season, which included losses at Xavier, UNI, Missouri and at home to Colorado, which led to that low RPI. 9-7 in a good conference should get one in, and the Last 10 finish shows they are peaking at the right time. They should be in.

Iowa, on the other hand, has only a few things in it's favor: a better RPI at 54, and impressive early season wins over Texas, Louisville and Texas Tech, all who are in the tourney.

Iowa's downside is longer. A 7-9 record in a weak league is the first stumbling block. A loss at home to #114 Northwestern is the second. No quality road wins is third. The loss of Pierce is the foursth, because it essentially wipes those early season wins off the board for the committee. They are 5-5 down the stretch, with only a home win over Ohio State worth mentioning. On paper, they appear out.

Iowa appears even more out when you compare another team on the bubble from the Big 1011: Indiana. The RPI is only #69, and they are 15-12. But they went 10-6 in Big 1011 play. But their SOS is 18.

In the end, the committee has long championed confernce play as the most important factor, with last 10 a strong second. ISU should be in, early season be damned. If Iowa somehow gets in, and Indiana doesn't, the committee is playing by an unpublished set of rules.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

Cyclones get a huge win

Make no mistake: Saturday's win in Boulder was huge.

The fact it came over struggling Colorado does not lessen the importance. ISU had so much riding on this game, fans could have expected another Cyclone flame-out they have grown accustomed to over the decades.

The win did all of the following things:

It cemented an NCAA bid in most observers eyes. The most important factor for potential at-large teams is their record over the last 10 games played. ISU is now 8-2, and will probably be 7-3 when the seeding are made.

It boosted ISU's RPI to #62. Not great, but it will be discounted due to ISU's play over the last 6 weeks.

It locked ISU into the #5 seed in the BXII tourney, where they draw Baylor. Lose, and they draw a team they lost to as some point in the schedule.

Most of all, it proved to critics- and the Cyclones themselves- that ISU can win a road game that matters, one that they needed to win.

They came from behind to do it, on the road, in a place that has given ISU fits over the years.

In a strange coincidence, ISU split with all 5 teams in the BXII North, and was able to beat the 3 teams on the road that won in Hilton. The CSJ staff will have to dig deep into the archives to find another occurance of that happening.

ISU had to win in Boulder, and they did. A loss would have been devestating to seeding, selection and pyche.

As an aside: Why would any team NOT play ISU the way the Buffaloes did today? Sag back into a zone, limit penetration, double and triple Homan when he gets the ball, and force ISU to make some 3's. Today, ISU did, which forced CU into a man-to-man, which is strangely in ISU's favor.

When you can handicap a team by forcing them to play their preferred style of defense, you have something interesting going on.

The rest of the weekend will be easier to handle knowing ISU has punched it's ticket to the NCAA's.


Thursday, March 03, 2005

Thieves with fresh legs

During the Big XII season, the contrast in the style of play between ISU's wins and losses has been stark. Wednesday's hammering of Mizzouri was exhibit A of what ISU does when it wins.

They drive to the hoop, drawing fouls and earning assists. They finish shots when they get in close, and score every time they get out on the break. But most of all, they steal. Rob. Thieve. They remove the ball from the opponent's posession with no guilt, no hesitation. It seems that a player is most vulnerable when they have driven past their defender and headed into the lane. Suddenly the ball is loose, and ISU is headed 3-on-1 the other way.

Conversely, Mizzou was in dissarray. Their first three optins are to chuck a wild 3. That works when you are Grinnell, but when you only shoot 31%, it's going to be tough to succeed. ISU only shoots 29%, but they shoot it half as often. When ISU swelled the lead from 10 to 30 in the second half, MU had no discipline on offense and even less on defense. ISU stole the ball at will, and got a good shot every time they wanted one.

ISU can seal an NCAA bid Saturday in Boulder, and they shouldn't lack for motivation. Their loss at home to CU wasn't just the low point of the season, it was the nadir of Hilton basketball since Polyester was a good fashion idea.


Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Fifth Seed, a sniff away from first

How tight are the XII WBB standings?

With a win at Baylor, ISU may have won the league title. Instead, they finish fifth. Wow.

Tuesday's win over KU was tough down the stretch. When ISU looked as if they were going to pull away, KU closed the gap, and almost won the thing.

Now, a week off to prep for the Big XII tourney. ISU draws Colorado at 2:30 next Tuesday. CU only managed 1 win in conference play, and their longtime coach has announced her retirement. While they will probably be full of "Win one for the Gipper" motivation, hopefully ISU can break out to an early lead and have something left in the tank for their Wednesday matchup with KSU.

I suspect there won't be many tickets availible for that one if it comes to pass.

Next week is one of the rare times the CSJ staff regrets having a day job. Oh to be independently wealthy, and hang out in KC for a week drinking beer, eating BBQ, and watching hoops.