To those of you out there that I think I hold back my full-fledged support of the Cyclones at times in the interests of talk-radio objectivity, or think that I have a tendency to be too negative (what I prefer to call realistic) for a fan site like ours, this week's column is for you.
This week, I am laying down the gauntlet. I am doing something that is a rarity for me. I'm taking a leap of faith. Here goes...
The Iowa State Cyclones are going to win their final four regular season games. There, I said it. I just feel like a huge load has been taken off my shoulders. Why? Because I have no rational, statistical basis for my assertion. I'm simply going out on a limb with a gut feeling and/or wishful thinking.
So what leads me down this jagged path?
Well, some of it can be attributed to a long-distance contact high, I suppose, since my Detroit Pistons traded for Rasheed Wallace, the favorite NBA player of High Times magazine.
However, most of my loss of all sense of reason is the result of an epiphany I had shortly after ISU's heartbreaking 90-89 loss at Kansas in overtime on Saturday.
That effort, in terms of grit and toughness, wasn't atypical. In fact, it's really a crescendo the Cyclones have been building towards the past week. They used a similar formula, plus what seemed like a little supernatural help protecting the basket at the end, to upset Texas on February 14th.
They played the same way at Missouri on Wednesday, but unfortunately couldn't combine it with some heady play. The comeback at Kansas might have actually taken a more Herculian effort than the victory over the Longhorns, but ISU still came up painstakingly short.
That leads me to the following conclusion: the Cyclones are peaking.
Will Blalock has an extra gear. Curtis Stinson might not just be the best freshman in the Big 12, but perhaps a first team all-Big 12 player as well. Jackson Vroman has developed some sophistication to his low-post game (can he do the same for his mental game?). Jake Sullivan is hitting big shots, the kind of shots a senior with a sense of urgency makes. Role players are assuming clearly defined roles. Starters are being yanked from the lineup if they don't perform in favor of said role players. Senior captain Marcus Jefferson has returned to the program, giving the Cyclones another warm body off the bench. And ISU is playing hard regardless of location, the score, and the time on the clock.
To me, those are all positive signs. That doesn't mean the picttre is entirely rosy. Jared Homan, for instance, hasn't been the same since FoxSports.com named him the national player of the week. This is still a terrible free throw shooting team, as well as a squad that gives up too many putbacks on the offensive glass.
Nevertheless, I like what I'm seeing and so should you. Yes, I realize we are talking about a team that was 0-for-2 last week in the win-loss column. Yes, Cyclone Nation should be above moral victories.
Yet sometimes it's too simplistic to sit back and take a cut-and-dried view of things (yes, I know that sounds weird coming from me). Sometimes there is more to a game than just winning and losing. For instance, we saw that in August of 2002 when the football Cyclones took Florida State to the brink in Kansas City.
Some fortitude is beginning to emerge. A team personality is being forged. Still, sometimes the next step is an awkward one, and we've seen that the past two guys. Wasted possessions, not boxing out, and missed free throws or next to the basket bunnies have been the culprits in the past two road losses.
But the effort, grit, and determination are there. Consistently there.
Thus, back to that leap of faith. Maybe I do have a rationale for it after all? Maybe I just spelled it out? Maybe I'm on to something? Who knows, but I really have the sense the Cyclones are on the brink of something.
And if nothing else, at least I've given the Hawkeye Nation message board community something to link to their online buddies as further evidence that I've sold out to the 'Clones.
Let's premise our trashing of Saturday's officials in Lawrence by saying this up front, they're not the sole reason that Iowa State lost.
But they certainly didn't help, nor did they do their jobs. Instead, they were gutless.
Nonetheless, the Cyclones still could have made a free throw here (see Stinson at the end of regulation), or boxed out on the offensive glass there and come away with the win.
Now, with that said, back to that gutless officiating.
If I'm the commissioner of the Big 12 Conference, I've already relieved officials Tom O'Neill, Danny Hooker, Paul Janssen of their duties permanently.
To lose track of something basic like a free throw, allow Kansas to score, and then not go back and correct their error is, in a word, gutless.
I know the rulebook says you can't take points off the board once a mistake is made. However, let me pose this question: if this error had occurred at Hilton Coliseum, do you honestly believe that J.R. Giddens' three-pointer would've stood? Of course not, because those officials know they wouldn't have gotten out of the arena alive afterwards.
That wasn't their only mistake, either.
These three officials also chose not to review Keith Langford's game-tying triple with 28 seconds left. That's standing operating procedure in just about every other game I've seen the past couple of seasons. Say what you want for Ed Hightower, and I've said quite a bit, but there's no way he would've not reviewed the three-pointer to see if Langford's foot was on the line. Besides, Ed couldn't have passed up the opportunity for the spotlight.
Again I pose the question: does anybody honestly believe that if the game were played at Hilton that Langford's shot wouldn't have been reviewed? And don't tell me that Coach Morgan dropped the ball by not asking for a review. This is the N-C-A-A, not the N-F-L. Morgan doesn't have to formally ask for challenges.
I spoke to ISU athletic director Bruce Van De Velde this morning about the call and what retribution Cyclone Nation can expect from the league office in response to this officiating crime.
He says he has spoken with the Big 12 commissioner, director of officiating, and director of basketball operations asking them to review what went on. He says he won't formally ask for a reprimand or suspension for the officials. However, I got the sense it wouldn't break his heart at all if that was their response. Bruce is wise and courteous to show some public restraint.
However, I'm neither wise nor courteous, so I'll just ask for an outright dismissal of the terrible trio.
Sweet 16 Seeds
My weekly projection of the top four seeds in the NCAA Tournament if I were on the Selection Committee and today were Selection Sunday:
East--1. St. Joseph's, 2. Pittsburgh, 3. Wake Forest, 4. Kansas
West--1. Stanford, 2. Connecticut, 3. Gonzaga, 4. N.C. State
South--1. Duke, 2. Mississippi State, 3. Texas, 4. Memphis
Midwest--1. Oklahoma State, 2. Kentucky, 3. Providence, 4. Georgia Tech
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Central Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)