The Good and Bad of Big 12 Season

All of us would have liked to have seen Iowa State go 16-0 in the Big 12 this year and make a trip to the NCAA Tourney with a top seed. But, reality told us that it wasn't going to happen, so we watched and waited through the first month of the 2003-04 season to see what we should expect…or hope for.

Now that it's officially "tournament time" for the Cyclones, this is a good time to reflect on the yin and yang of the Big 12 season. Here goes…

GOOD: Curtis Stinson. Last fall, there was a lot of talk about how good ISU's two freshmen guards would be. But to my recollection, most of the hype centered on Will Blalock, who Coach Wayne Morgan compared at one point to Allen Iverson. (I'm not dreaming that, am I?) But, Stinson proved to be the finest newcomer in the conference, averaging 15.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.7 steals. Plus, he simply took over at the end of a handful of close victories at Hilton Coliseum.

BAD: The officiating during Iowa State's game at Kansas. Hey fellas! He gets TWO shots…someone might want to blow their whistle before the Jayhawks score 10 to 15 "gift" points. Geez. Possibly the most ridiculous rule in the book and the officials should have never allowed it to happen. If that game was in Ames, there is no doubt in my mind that the points would've been taken off the board. This error alone MAY end up keeping the Cyclones out of the Big Dance.

GOOD: Jake Sullivan. The senior guard has had a fantastic career for Iowa State. Plus, he has handled himself in a manner that represents the University well. I've heard several stories about how Sullivan takes the extra time to sign autographs for kids or to offer a word of encouragement. His work ethic in the face of some turbulent times the last three seasons is a testament to what Sullivan is made of. One of my all-time favorite Cyclone athletes.

BAD: Bob Knight. I just can't stand this guy. From his profanity-laced, completely unnecessary rants on ESPN to his ridiculous, completely unnecessary spat with his boss at a salad bar. I'm sick of watching him scowl, grimace and scream on his sideline. Blechh! I am really NOT looking forward to Knight breaking the all-time D-1 record for coaching victories. I'm sure that every major news outlet will be fawning all over him as he nears that mark. Oh well, maybe it will take the attention off of Duke and Coach Krazkeakzsskseki for a few minutes anyway.

GOOD: Eddie Sutton. OK, maybe YOU don't like him. But, I met him once in Washington D.C. and he was a very nice guy. At least, he stopped and visited for a few minutes before rejoining his wife for lunch. His teams are always disciplined, play hard and play solid team defense. As long as the Cyclones weren't going to win the Big 12, I was happy to see the Cowboys do it.

BAD: Iowa State's loss at Baylor. Ugh. Probably the toughest loss of the year, as far as how it negatively affected the rest of the season. This SHOULD have been the game that ended all the "road losing streak" talk. It SHOULD have improved the Cyclones' records to 12-3 overall and 3-1 in the conference. But, Jared Homan had to sit out with an ankle injury…and Baylor promptly kicked ISU in the stomach with this outcome.

GOOD: Iowa State's victory over Texas. What a comeback. Another fine example of Hilton Magic! The crowd was absolutely crazy during the final 10 minutes of action and Damion Staple hammered a two-handed dunk with about a minute remaining to give the Cyclones a lead. The last few seconds when the Longhorns attempted a few tip-ins seemed to last about four minutes…but it was quite a rush when the final horn sounded.

BAD: Colorado center David Harrison. Just shut up, already, David. And grab a tissue while you're at it. Boo hoo.

GOOD: John Walters as the Cyclones' radio play-by-play man. In his first full season in the seat, Walters handled the duties with his usual enthusiasm, professionalism, intelligence and sense of humor. He and Eric Heft do a terrific job of explaining the action on the Cyclone Radio Network every time Iowa State takes the court. We're lucky to have these guys.

BAD: That damn road losing streak. How long is it now? 25 games? That's unbelievable…isn't it? The last time that Iowa State won a Big 12 game on the road, I think Trent Dilfer had just won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. Seriously.

GOOD: Coach Wayne Morgan. Iowa State's first-year coach has done a very good job with this Cyclone team. First, he had to keep the players together through some pretty awful and unsure times last summer. Then, he had to help them believe in each other…and his system…while mixing in some brand new faces. Finally, he was within an eyelash of becoming only the FIFTH Iowa State basketball coach to finish his first season with at least a .500 record in the conference. I think this team improved pretty well as the season progressed, giving some good teams a real fight on the road and knocking off some very good teams in Ames. Rebounding was a weakness early in the year, but kept getting better as the season moved along. I think Coach Morgan and his staff are to be commended for the excitement the Cyclones provided this season at Hilton Coliseum.

BAD: The in-bounds play at the end of the game in Lincoln. Ugh.

GOOD: The improvement of Jared Homan. The big guy from Remsen looked like a "project" a couple of years ago, but he has developed in a solid interior player, who was even a National Player of the Week once this season. If Homan can continue to improve offensively, he should really be a force as a senior next season.

BAD: Aaron Miles. I still think Homan owes this guy a little something after last season's game at Kansas. But, maybe that's just me.

GOOD: Jackson Vroman's performance. I'll admit that I wasn't in favor of giving Vroman a (whatever the number was) chance back in the fall. I thought he had used up his opportunities in Ames. But, the post player came through during his senior season…on and off the court. He had a tremendous season, averaging 13.6 points and 9.9 rebounds, and stayed out of trouble. I think he has improved his offensive skills to the point that he could…COULD…make an NBA team next fall. It would have to be the right team, but Vroman runs the floor extremely well for a 6-10 player…and he rebounds with a passion. It was nice to see the big guy make good on the final chance given to him by Coach Morgan. It would have been a real shame to have thrown all that away.

Of course, with the Big 12 Tournament fast approaching, followed by an invitation to either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT for the Cyclones, I am hoping that the best is yet to come.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)


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