INTRODUCTION - The Gathering Storm (Tuesday, 6pm)
Why do Cyclone fans descend on Kansas City every March like locusts with an insatiable hunger for warm Miller Lite served in wax paper cups and gyros (purchased with a handful of wadded up ones decorated with pocket lint) from the back of a dilapidated panel van? How can representatives of one team out of a group of twelve worthy teams move into the shadow of a rival who happens to be a NATIONAL POWERHOUSE in college basketball and make themselves at home? Because of the hue & cry from my fellow Cyclone fans for a follow-up to my travelogue from the Independence Bowl in Shreveport (NOTE: My writing is a lot like my dating life back in my late teens/early 20's ….. the absence of a restraining order = "they must want me"), I decided to document my observations of the 2005 Big Twelve Basketball Tournament and share them with the world. Or at least that part of the world that logs onto Cyclone Nation……and clicks on the heading for my article……..and doesn't immediately hit the "back" button on the toolbar.
The "merry band of mental defectives" that I go to the games with has members who have been coming to Kansas City for the tournament for the last 20 years. I've been coming down on a regular basis since '94, but I also made the trip in '87 (my freshman year). Over the years, our numbers have varied from four to twelve, but barring childbirths, military deployments, and stints in prison (j/k, as far as I know, none of us have ever been CONVICTED of a felony), we have settled into a solid eight-man rotation. Winterset, Huxley, Rowley and Des Moines are represented from the great state of Iowa, with Pinconning, MI, Denver, CO and St. Louis, MO fleshing out the roster. Our eighth man is currently in limbo – somewhere between Wisconsin and Minnesota due to a promotion. Wives are discouraged from accompanying the fellas, but we have made one official exemption to that rule. Since Kent's wife lived on our sister floor in Maple while Kent was still in high school, we've granted her an honorary "Y" chromosome for the weekend – but she's still got to find her own accommodations, since the hotel room is strictly MALE TERRITORY from Wednesday night to Sunday morning.
I'm the transportation coordinator whenever the games are in KC since I always drive (let's put it this way: If our trip to KC were actually an old episode of "The ‘A' Team", I would have to cut my flowing locks of lettuce into a mohawk and practice saying "I PITY THE FOOL" in every conversation). I need to be at KCI by 6:45 Wednesday night in order to pick up the first two celebrants. Right now, I'm not sure who else is going down with me after work on Wednesday, but several relatives have notified me that WHEN Iowa State beats the "Texas Tech Pink Chargers" on Friday, I should immediately look for Saturday tickets for all of them. Whatever, we're not exclusive –there's PLENTY of room on the bandwagon for everyone.
THE PLOT THICKENS – "I love these guys, but AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!"
This year's Cyclones have truly been on a roller coaster. They showed flashes of brilliance last fall, followed by a descent into Dante's Inferno in mid-January. The losses of Faulkner and George, combined with Stinson's multiple trips to the hurt locker, really could have given this team an excuse to go in the tank for good. Everyone seems to be citing the Colorado game as the low point of the season, and I expect that most of them were actually there & witnessed the carnage. We sat dumbfounded in the upper deck at Hilton watching ISU lose to the Big 12's version of The Washington Generals, and doubts began to seep into my brain. "Dude, I really like him, but maybe Morgan really IS in over his head?" I hate it when the voices go negative. My brother-in-law Hooter joked after the game "Hey, at least we'll be able to save money on game tickets in KC this spring." Things were looking bad, to say the least.
All of a sudden, BAM! Iowa State starts treating their opponents like red-headed mules (or rented step-children, if you prefer). Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas State all felt the sting of a trip to Hilton, and the "STREAK WHICH SHALL NOT BE NAMED" finally died on an overcast Saturday afternoon in Austin. Not only did these kids bust up the streak, but they started up a brand new streak while they were at it. Nebraska fought valiantly, but they were no match for an ISU team with 4 years of road celibacy to make up for. Kansas? As Jamaal Tinsley once said about The Phog; "it's just another gym". We were getting mucho love from national talking heads (except for Dick Vitale, who is apparently still smarting from Johnny Orr's insults on Selection Sunday in the early 90's), but the letdown in College Station brought us back down to earth. I wasn't too worried about it – you could tell we were running on fumes during that phenomenal run, but the Nebraska loss at Hilton was more troubling, IMHO. With their backs against the wall after these losses, the ISU basketball team sacked up and took care of business against Mizzou at Hilton and Colorado at Boulder. The Colorado win was especially sweet, since that road trip has always been our team's version of Thanksgiving at your "crazy cat-lady" aunt's house.
Right now, I'm sitting at home with the laptop on the coffee table trying to project what will happen over the next five days. Baylor? We can beat them, but 2001 is still a bitter memory. If anyone reading this was in KC for that game – the bunch of drunken morons sitting in the crowd wearing beige Dockers & black Addidas mock turtlenecks – yeah, that was us. Assuming that we can avoid overconfidence and Baylor doesn't make a deal with Pazuzu in the next 36 hours, I think we should win that game. That puts us in the arena with the Texas Tech Red Raiders early Friday afternoon.
As far as the other survivors of Thursday go, I'll go out on a limb and predict that Texas beats Colorado handily, Texas A&M puts KSU down for the count and in the toughest game of the day, Mizzou "wins one for the hairdo" and beats a scrappy Nebraska team with a flurry of threes. Texas Tech is a mentally tough team, but assuming that Braet & Neal can play significant minutes on Thursday and help Homan & Stinson conserve some strength for the second round, I'm going to call this one for the ‘Clones. Given their previous problems with out "shifting antigens" defense, maybe Coach Morgan will have the team play straight man to man for 40 minutes to REALLY freak out "the General".
The other Friday games? Oklahoma vs. Missouri is a matchup that has produced some GREAT games over the years – this won't be one of them. Quin Snyder can go back to hitting on his players girlfriends (**ALLEGEDLY**) after Friday night's game, because his season will be over, unless they decide to go to THAT OTHER TOURNAMENT. Kansas should beat Texas A&M, but I can't decide if calling for an upset on this game is coming from my respect for the Aggies, or my total disdain for the Jayhawks. What the heck, let's go with the Aggies here. Oklahoma State has some payback coming to them against Texas, and I think they'll get it – big time.
Saturday's matchups, if you believe I know what the heck I'm talking about, would be OU-ISU and aTm-OSU. Oklahoma State is a team with great mental toughness, and that goes a long way, especially when you've got actual talent to go with it. The Cowboys should beat the Aggies, but I predict a great game here. Iowa State has played great ball lately with a short bench, but I'm afraid that Saturday's game with Oklahoma will be the spot where our luck runs out. Homan will be the key to winning against Texas Tech, and expecting him to turn around and carry the load for us against OU isn't realistic. I hate picking ANYONE to beat ISU, but I've gotta go with the Sooners in this game. Guys, prove me wrong, please.
Oklahoma State will win the whole shooting match on Sunday afternoon, and the Big 12 will get SIX bids to the big dance, with Kansas State, Texas A&M and Missouri will all get invitations to the three-letter tournament (assuming that Mizzou doesn't turn down the bid), leaving Nebraska, Colorado and Baylor out in the cold. Nebraska is a close call, the loss to Mizzou that I predict would leave them at 14-14, and I cannot remember if the other tournament only takes teams OVER .500 or if they will take a team RIGHT AT .500, as if it matters.
IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT – we arrive in Kansas City and set up base camp.