So what do we make of this men's basketball team?
One night Iowa State loses to lowly Colorado at home, and only even gets the game to overtime because of a pre-game technical foul that gave it a 2-0 lead before the game started. Then a scant seven days later the Cyclones beat the hottest team in the conference, an exhilirating 74-66 upset of 13th-ranked Oklahoma. Don't forget that in the week before the Colorado debacle the Cyclones played mighty Kansas and Oklahoma State to near standstills.
Clearly this is a young team, a still-developing program, that consistently plays to the level of its competition.
What a difference a week makes, right? This basketball program in year two of the Wayne Morgan era is like the old saying about the weather in Iowa. Don't like the current forecast? Stick around for a while because it will soon change.
Just 14 days ago, after hanging tough against the real two best teams in the Big 12, folks were legitimately thinking a 9-7 or 10-6 finish in the conference was still possible. For the past seven days on these message boards, as well as our radio program, a small but vocal segment of Cyclone Nation wanted to re-fight the Eustachy Civil War in response to a troubling six-game losing streak. Prior to the Oklahoma game they had all but declared this season as forfeit.
I wonder how many of those folks were among the near-sellout crowd that rocked Hilton Coliseum on Saturday?
Thankfully, the vast majority of Cyclone Nation validated my faith in the fan base by showing up en masse to exhort a team that had done little to deserve such support over the past month. Apparently the Jihadic Wing of Cyclone Nation pales in comparison to their Hawkeye counterparts. Morgan, cleverly, thanked those fans in his post-game radio show while coyly separating them from the "two percent" (as he put it) who were doing the complaining.
However, despite the inspiring Sooner Slump Buster, a losing record for this team is still a very real option for a team down to a seven-man rotation. Now that Anthony Davis is likely done for the season with that nagging shoulder injury, ISU's miniscule margin for error just got even slimmer. While I agree it's completely justified never to be satisfied with losing seasons as a fan, I think there is a way to separate the disappointment of the current campaign with the overall direction of the program.
Morgan is right to point out that in just 21 months on the job he has been unable to assemble four classes of quality players. The freshman and sophomore classes are well-stocked when combined. Another solid recruiting class is on its way. Senior captain Jared Homan has a future in the NBA. But where is the junior class? Where are the other seniors?
According to our parent network Scout.com, ISU signed five four-star prospects in 2002: Tim Barnes, Adam Haluska, Jerome Harper, Jackson Vroman, and Chris Alexander. Only Vroman finished his career in Ames. That is a stunning rate of attrition, even by today's college basketball standards. Where are Tommie King, Adam Schaper, and Ricky Morgan from the Class of 2001? Your guess is as good as mine. From 2001-2003, the Cyclones signed 13 players to letters-of-intent, if you count Justin Holt. Over half of those players had little or no impact on the program whatsoever.
Frankly, when a program has those many recruiting washouts in such a short timespan it's amazing they were able to manage one trip to the NIT, let alone two.
Patience is a verboten word in today's, Church-of-What's-Happening-Now sports culture we live in. Yet it will be essential for the Cyclone fan over the next 12-16 months. It will take time to coach up Shawn Taggert and Kellen Lee for the Big 12 frontcourt wars once they arrive. Morgan has a coaching staff to finalize this offseason as well, and that task could get harder if another school hires Damon Archibald to be its head coach. Rahshon Clark could be a great player here with another 15 pounds of muscle, but it's not going to appear on his lanky frame overnight.
In the meantime, I think there are three reasons Cyclone Nation should keep the faith in the direction of the current program, although it may finish sub-.500 this season when all is said and done.
1) Defense wins championships…Lost in the rancor of the six-game losing streak was the fact this program was playing perhaps the best defense in the Big 12. The Cyclones have forced an average of 18 turnovers per game in their last six league contests, and lead the conference in steals. Hard to believe they're just 1-5 in the league with those numbers. That means despite the dearth of depth and experience Morgan's multiple, trapping style of defense is beginning to take root. Sure, it may not be the in-the-jockeyshorts man-to-man defense Cyclone Nation grew to love during the Floyd-Eustachy era, but it can be just as pesky. Especially when the Cyclones contest the perimeter shooters as they did versus the Sooners. As more athleticism is added via recruiting the rebounding numbers will improve in this system.
2) Curtis Stinson & Will Blalock…When they let the game come to them and maintain their composure and focus these two are as good as any backcourt in college basketball. The complement each other so well. Blalock has the great cross-over dribble and vertical leap. He's also beginning to develop a solid, overall floor game. Meanwhile Stinson's savvy and tenacity make him nearly unstoppable. Heck, about the only person I've seen stop Curtis Stinson so far in his Cyclone career is Curtis Stinson. These guys are just sophomores, albeit somewhat older ones. As they mature so will this program.
3) Fan support…Is there another major-conference school in the country that could start league play with a 0-5 record under a second-year coach without a hefty resume and play a home game with just 406 empty seats? I doubt it, but that's exactly what happened on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. That's why it's called Hilton Magic, and beyond the personal relationship with the coaching staff that sort of atmosphere will do more to win over visiting recruits than anything else.
Signing Day Just Days Away
If you're a subscriber to this site, make sure you camp here on National Signing Day on Wednesday. Just like last year, I'll be hosting a live chat from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. to keep you updated on the progress of the class as the Letters-of-Intent come rolling in. We'll expand the chat as large as we can to fit in as many folks as we can.
Then, later that evening, our website will have tons of great coverage from Bill Seals and Steve Waters. But that doesn't end CN's coverage of ISU's 2005 football recruiting class, because right after all the signatures are in we'll immediately begin work on our annual football recruiting blowout in CN Magazine, easily our most popular issue of the year. You must be a subscriber by February 13th to receive this great issue conveniently in the mail. To subscribe just click this linkhttps://secure.scout.com/store/view.aspx?s=171&p=6 or call 1-888-501-5752.
And finally don't forget to attend our third annual football recruiting party at Third Base Sports Bar in West Des Moines on Thursday, February 10th. The festivities will get underway at 7:30 p.m., and you'll get to see the highlight video of the incoming recruiting class as well as ask members of the ISU coaching staff about the team and the new recruits. We'll also have great prizes from Off Campus Apparel & Novelties.
Sweet 16 Seeds
For the fellow March Madness geeks out there like myself. If today were Selection Sunday these would be the top seeds in my opinion.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)