Wow, what a great day of basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday!
We saw the Cyclones beat a decent, not great, conference rival before an energetic crowd. Iowa State's dynamic backcourt combined with a stout senior presence in the pivot to frustrate the opposition with its balance. After an absence from March Madness the past several years, it appears that ISU is using last year's NIT run as a springboard towards returning to the NCAA Tournament and national rankings this season. Right now ISU has surprised the Big 12 by challenging for the title, and that means its head coach has to be the favorite to be named the conference coach of the year.
Of course, I'm speaking about the ISU women, who are now 15-1 and in first place in the league. Fooled you, didn't I?
The sad thing is we had realistically hoped this mid-term report would've applied to the men's program this season as well. But after a listless, embarrassing, lifeless, abysmal, demeaning, distressful, give-me-my-money-back loss to Colorado, this once-promising squad was booed off the floor by some of its own fans.
We can debate whether or not their own fans should ever boo college players, but you can't argue that was an effort worthy of scorn and contempt. Both my KXNO and Cyclone Nation email inboxes are already well stocked with angry fans complaining that they had just witnessed the worst exhibition of basketball in Ames since Lynn Nance was stalking the sidelines.
It's hard to argue with that. It's at least the second-worst home-loss off the 21st century, along with a 52-50 defeat to lowly Texas A&M on January 29th, 2002.
The Cyclones were out-composured by a Ricardo Patton-coached team. Uh-oh. ISU was dominated on the glass by the 11th best rebounding team in the league. It doesn't take a genius to figure out who is now number 12, I suppose. The Cyclones were beaten by what we thought might've been the worst team in the Big 12. What does that now make ISU?
It all added up to the Buffaloes' first win at Hilton since 1991. Remember 1991? The year of Terminator 2, Jack Morris, Mark Rypien, Garth Brooks, NWA, and Arsenio Hall?
I'm not even sure where to begin. Ominous signs that I overlooked in consecutively close losses to elite teams Kansas and Oklahoma State finally mushroomed into a cloud that exploded over Cyclone Nation. The level of anger and frustration from ISU fans right now even eclipses the way fans felt about the football team after the Homecoming loss to Texas A&M. Yet in that case you still had a large segment of the fan base rightfully loyal to Dan McCarney, and he rewarded that loyalty with an Independence Bowl victory.
Thus far Wayne Morgan has only been on the job for 21 months. During that time-span he had to assemble and re-assemble a coaching staff on the fly, and re-assemble a roster that was in flux because of poor personal behavior as well. He had to re-sell his program to a skeptical public, along with himself. Despite all of this, he became the first Cyclone coach not named Tim Floyd to win 20 games in his first year. He guided ISU to wins over three Elite Eight teams last season, as well as the mythical state championship. Despite this year's struggles he still has a 28-20 overall record for a .583 winning percentage. If he were to maintain that over the course of his tenure here, that would rank him third all-time at ISU behind only Larry Eustachy and Tim Floyd.
Nevertheless, if ISU were to decide to fire Morgan this morning in the wake of the Colorado loss I'm not sure what kind of public outcry it would cause. This has gone beyond the Church of What's Happening Now the entire sports world seems to worship at.
Why the short fuse?
I talked about this on the radio last week. Originally I thought the references to "street ball" and "George Raveling" were rooted in intellectual laziness at best or unintended bigotry at worst. I've never heard of a white coach labeled as a good recruiter who can't coach, have you? Perhaps the laid-back Morgan was having trouble connecting with a fan base used to emoting head coaches that shared their same pigment color?
Almost from the start people were complaining that he was sitting down too much and not yelling at his players and the officials enough. A notion has crept in that Morgan was just scouring the AAU circuit for the best playground ballers he could recruit, and then just coddling them instead of coaching them once they arrived on campus. Along that same lines, conventional wisdom says Morgan could care less about defense and rebounding, characteristics that make teams good on the road, as long as they made the highlight reel at home.
The truth of the matter is that Morgan isn't responsible for the streak- which-must-not-be-named, he inherited it. Morgan is responsible for Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock being here, not his predecessor. Morgan's style of play brought excitement back to Hilton Coliseum after his predecessor suffered the two biggest home-court blowout losses in school history.
That's not to say that Morgan's predecessor wasn't a great coach, because he was. His resume speaks for itself. But he also allowed this program to suffer on his watch, and for off-court distractions to exceed critical mass. He also dropped a 500-pound stink-brick on this state on his way out the door, meaning that anybody who took this job after his dismissal was going to have a rough go of it initially. Let us not romanticize the end of the Eustachy era, because some of the folks complaining now were empty seats at that time. Don't forget the last two seasons under Eustachy each saw a $300,000 shortfall in revenue profits. People were voting with their pocketbooks.
And that's where I think the short fuse comes from.
Consider this nothing more than a hypothesis, but the winter of our discontent seems to be a continuation of the circumstances that eventually led to the hiring of Morgan in the first place. Cyclone Nation has never fully reconciled itself completely of the division that arose over Eustachy's termination, the manner in which occurred, and the athletic director they think was responsible for a clumsy search for his replacement.
It seems as if we all moved on, and just chose to ignore the festering scab that remains to this day. I'm guessing that the segment of folks most upset today about the Colorado fiasco were also the same folks most against Eustachy's firing 22 months ago. They've never been satisfied with the explanation or rationales given for the move, or the athletic director who gave them. As a result, to them the current basketball coach is seen as a constant reminder of that controversy. To them Morgan is an eyesore, and it seems to flare up every time the Cyclones lose.
That's not to excuse Morgan for what is now a season on the brink. Execution is up to the players. However, preparation and effort is up to the coaches. If last week we were praising Morgan and his staff for the way the Cyclones played against the Jayhawks and Cowboys, we now must criticize them for what transpired Saturday night. Sure, there were some mitigating circumstances, like the program's two best players being banged up and unable to practice all week.
But that doesn't explain the rebounding disparity. That doesn't explain the free throw misses down the stretch. That doesn't explain the lack of determination and grit in the first half. That doesn't explain the chirping and body language. That doesn't explain flagrant misconduct by one Cyclone, who is old enough to know better, that led to Bruce Van De Velde apologizing to the Buffaloes in their locker room after the game.
This is a team that lacks an identity, chemistry, and mental focus. It all adds up to a squad playing to the level of its competition. An 8-7 start is not acceptable, and I doubt that Morgan thinks it is as well. If this team lacks a power forward to complement Jared Homan and a shooter to extend the defense, that's on the coaching staff since they're responsible for recruiting the players.
It's hard not to wonder aloud if Morgan is close to losing this team, let alone making a strong second half run. It's hard to think next season could bring a return to the NCAA Tournament, given the youth and inexperience on the baseline. That would make it five straight years without March Madness, the first time that has happened at ISU since 1984. This season appears to be an opportunity lost, and last season was even more so in hindsight. If only that team could've found a way to win a road game or two.
I don't even have a problem with booing the team. They're not boys, for goodness sakes, they're young men. If they can't handle a little scrutiny after a performance like that they should turn in their scholarships. You're paying good money to see a product, and you certainly didn't get one on Saturday night.
However, the notion that the coach should be fired is ridiculously premature. He's been on the job 21 months! 21 months! He has a winning record, and is coming off a 20-win season, one of just 11 in ISU history. Give the guy some time to recruit the class of 2006 and fully implement his program.
If we're still sitting here two years from now and the team hasn't gotten any better, then I'll be the first person to say it's time to move on. Iowa State's current program, facilities, fan loyalty, and recent tradition should aim higher than a coach that misses the NCAA Tournament four straight years. But it's way too early to write the obituary and abandon ship.
But it's not to early to look forward to the start of spring football practice, or hop back on the Bill Fennelly bandwagon.
The Bergen Dilemma
There's always one of these every recruiting season, isn't there?
You know what I mean, the hotshot football prospect that keeps grown men sometimes thrice his age, who have never met him, in a constant state of suspense about whether he'll don the cardinal-and-gold or not. The truth is that every school has a Will Bergen story every recruiting cycle, because it's the nature of the beast when dealing with young people trying to make a big life decision.
In case you've been away from the website here the past few days, you've been missing out on a saga that had Cyclones and Illini clinging to the edge of their seats. Last week a report came out which said Bergen – who was also offered by Pittsburgh, South Carolina, Oklahoma State, and Purdue – had committed to Illinois before he even visited there. Then we broke the news that he pledged to the Cyclones during an in-home visit with Coach Mac on Thursday night.
Just 24 hours later, one of Scout.com's Big Ten recruiting experts broke the news Bergen had committed to Illinois during an official visit there over the weekend. Then, 24 hours after that, Bergen – while he was on his Illinois visit – told our Bill Seals that he was indeed still firmly committed to ISU. Guess what happened 24 hours after that? Yep, he then reversed himself again and told Bill he would play for Ron Zook at Illinois after all.
I know it's tempting to rip Bergen for pulling a fast one, slow-playing ISU while waiting for the offer he really wanted, or not keeping his word. Chances are all of those criticisms are valid, but why should we expect an 18-year old to be a man of integrity when so many other much wiser paragons of our communities aren't?
I might suggest just wishing Bergen good luck at Illinois and moving on. Sure, he was a big-time recruit. However, it's not like ISU lost out on a U.S. Army Bowl All-American. It's just as likely that Bergen will be All-Big Ten one day as it is he will be a total washout. There's other fish in the sea.
Sweet 16 Seeds
ISU's NCAA Tournament chances are now all but extinct, yet that doesn't mean we just forget about the best sporting event in America does it?
The 3rd Annual CN Recruiting Party
This year's event is Thursday, February 10th beginning at 7:30 p.m. It will
be held at Third Base Sports Bar, which is located at 1720 25th
Street in West Des Moines inside the Westwood Entertainment Center.
This place is much bigger than our former venue, so we should be able to pack them in. In case you've never been to one of football recruiting parties in the past they are blast! Members of the ISU coaching staff donate their time to come down and break down the incoming recruiting class that just signed, answer questions from the audience about the class and the team, and show the highlight tape of the incoming class as well.
Plus, we always have a ton of great prizes to give away. You won't want to miss it!
(Publisher Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)