It's not often a team can go on the road, let alone to legendary Phog Allen Fieldhouse, do the following things and still win:
- Not start your best player because of an injury, disciplinary decision, or both.
- Shoot less than 40 percent from the field, 20 percent from the three-point line, and 70 percent from the free throw stripe.
- Have a minus-4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
- Have just two players score in double-figures.
- Blow a nine-point lead in the final two minutes of regulation thanks to six missed free throws.
- Have your senior captain and lone frontcourt threat foul out of the game in overtime.
Remember what it was like to see the Cyclones go on the road, play well, and then invent new ways to lose or get robbed? Now the suddenly hot Cyclones can go to Lawrence, hardly play their best game, and come out of the college basketball cathedral that James Naismith built with a victory over the second-ranked team in the country.
Take that Tom O'Neil, Paul Janssen, and Danny Hooker.
ISU has now won seven consecutive contests, and it did so by posting just its seventh road win ever over a ranked team. Saturday's 63-61 overtime outlasting of Kansas marked the first time since the 1995 Big 8 Tournament that ISU had defeated a team ranked in the top two in the national polls.
Be honest, when ISU was laying more bricks than Habitat for Humanity in the final moments at the free throw line, you figured why bother watching the overtime, right? Especially when the Jayhawks started the extra session by burying a wide-open three-pointer from the top of the key. And then Jared Homan fouled out.
But, you know, it was almost more impressive for the Cyclones to display enough testicular fortitude to overcome they're own puckering up down the stretch – along with a resurgent Kansas and the crowd – than it would've been if they had just made their free throws to close it out. Most teams are pretty much spent after wasting an opportunity like that, but not these tough-minded Cyclones.
If this is street ball than Wayne Morgan should check to see if Pootie-Tang and Problem Child have any eligibility left before the spring signing period begins, as far I as I am concerned. Speaking of "street ball," I haven't heard that pejorative uttered lately, have you? Isn't funny that nobody is pining away for a certain Southern Mississippi basketball coach anymore, either?
Right now the Cyclones are the hottest team in the land not playing in Champaign and Chapel Hill, and not even the Illini and Tar Heels have vanquished four top 25 teams in the last three weeks.
At 15-8 overall, the Cyclones are likely to pick up some additional votes in the rankings this week. And if they can win their two games this week, it's possible you'll see a team that started 0-5 in the conference in the top 25 next week. At the rate this is going you can stop thinking about the RPI, and start talking about seeding for the forthcoming NCAA Tournament.
Yet let's not sweat it, because we all saw this stunning turn of events coming, didn't we? Yeah, sure we did. Nonetheless, as Han Solo told a young Luke Skywalker, "That's great kid, don't get cocky."
On Tuesday night the Aggies, coming off a convincing win at Colorado, will be ready. They have a gaudy record, against largely soft competition, but have been tough at home this season while Billy Gillispie is beginning to make basketball a hot ticket in College Station. This game scares me, frankly, and I think ISU is poised for a letdown. That is a quick turnaround for Homan and a beat up Stinson. Rahshon Clark and Tasheed Carr will need to re-assert themselves offensively for the Cyclones to get out of there with their eighth straight triumph.
Following that is a Sunday matinee versus Nebraska at Hilton Coliseum, which the Cyclones figure to win. Then the final week of the regular season has the Not-So-Mighty Quinns coming to Ames followed by a visit to Boulder, where the Cyclones traditionally struggle.
If the Cyclones win out they're in the NCAA Tournament, obviously. If they finish 9-7 in the Big 12, which is quite possible, and win a game in the conference tournament they're also likely in. The bottom line is that they now control their own destiny in the final weeks of the season, and that's all you can ask for.
That means Bob Bowlsby, the University of Iowa athletic director who is serving as chairman of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee again this year, could return his arch-rivals to the Field of 65 while his own school is experiencing its longest NCAA Tournament drought since 1971-78. I'm sure that will go over well with the Hawkeye Nation when he gets back home.
After leading ISU to the second-biggest turnaround in college football this season, the Big 12 honored Dan McCarney as its Coach of the Year for the first time in his career.
Big Mac may be getting some company.
If the Cyclones make the NCAA Tournament after an 0-5 start in the conference there's simply no way anybody else in the league is more deserving of Coach of the Year honors than Morgan. The in-season rebound is fantastic enough unto itself, but it becomes downright incredible when you consider Morgan is doing it with just a seven-man rotation and eight total scholarship players.
And let's not forget Bill Fennelly. Why shouldn't he be a strong candidate on the women's side as well? Despite a heartbreaking loss at first place Baylor, his Cyclones are still a good bet for a 12-4 league finish and more than 20 wins overall. Not bad for a team pegged for the second division by the preseason pundits.
Has any school in any Division I conference ever swept the football, men's basketball, and women's basketball Coach of the Year awards in one season in the history of collegiate sports? Somebody at the ISU sports information office is probably looking that up as you read this.
Another question: how much money does Bruce Van De Velde have left in the already tight budget for payroll increases? Just goes to show that money can't buy happiness. Sure, facilities and budgets are nice weapons to have in your arsenal. However, success still comes down to hiring the right people, which has obviously happened at ISU.
On Friday, Dan McCarney spoke about his incoming recruiting class and other assorted offseason football matters at the Greater Des Moines Cyclone Club Luncheon. Here are a few highlights:
- It looks like Illinois State will be the season opener on September 3rd, pending the expected passing of NCAA legislation to do away with the waiver rule on beating Division I-AA opponents.
- It looks like ABC-TV will carry the Iowa-Iowa State game on September 10th.
- Mac says there are 21 players – no names provided, but you can probably guess who most of them are – that he spoke with last week about getting off the sidelines and contributing to the team this fall instead of just waving the towel for fans at home games.
- Mac says he is trying to "put out a fire" with one assistant coach right now who may be looking to move on, but he wouldn't name who it was.
- Mac said it was Tony Alford that Florida was after earlier this winter, and that East Carolina wooed Todd Fitch to be its new offensive coordinator.
- Fullback Tony Johnson is no longer enrolled at ISU. He has gone the JUCO route.
- Collins Eboh is not on scholarship any longer, but is still on the team trying to earn his spot back.
- Austin Flynn is working out as a wide receiver and that experiment will continue throughout the spring as well. That was happening even before the injury to Todd Blythe. Conversely, Terrance Highsmith is working out at quarterback again.
- One former walk-on to keep an eye on this year is Tyler Lorenzen, who has been moved to tight end, where he has a good chance to see playing time this year.
Another Satisfied Customer
So after a weekend that included a three-hour memorial for a friend that passed away, the in-laws checking in for a several day stay, and spending two hours with five four-year old girls at my daughter's birthday party, I received this email on Sunday night:
Subject: My Subscription WILL NOT be renewed
I will NOT be renewing my subscription to Cyclone Nation as long as you are the editor. I know that the only power I have if I don't like
the "programming" is to turn the channel and speak with my money. Hopefully others are doing the same and advertising will become harder to sell. I love sports but since you continue to push your conservative views constantly maybe I will get a subscription to Mother Jones instead. Goodbye.
(long time subscriber to Cyclone Illustrated and Cyclone Nation)
Nothing like a little tolerance and diversity of opinion, huh? And for the record, I'm trying to push Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, not my conservative political viewpoints these days. I guess if that's not patently clear by now, I'll have to try a little harder!
Besides, I'm not the editor of CN. Bill Seals is, and all he's pushing is the Cyclones. Speaking of Bill, he's on a much-deserved post-recruiting blitz vacation this week and won't return until Monday.
By the way, in case you were wondering Dave, our last ratings book was spectacular and all last week all of our commercial breaks were sold out of inventory. We've been very blessed by the Lord, and pray He does the same for you as well.
Sweet 16 Seeds
If this were Selection Sunday, these are the teams I would project as the top four seeds in each region of the NCAA Tournament.
(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.)