EPISODE FOUR: I Sure Didn't See That One Coming

<B>KANSAS CITY, MO --</B> (Saturday, 2am) This one is going to leave a mark. Not a really cool scar with a story that will impress women, like that scar you got on your arm when you drove a dirt bike through a barb-wire fence back in high school – or the scar on your cheekbone where the little five-year old version of you took a running header into the coffee table. This scar is going to be a big ‘ol reminder of how we ran out of gas in a game where we had it won. No *&%^, Sherlock.

We had it won. Up by 8 with about 10 minutes to go and we end up losing by 8 after a couple of minutes of "blooper reel" highlights. I sat in Kemper feeling elated about our chances to have a classic matchup with Kelvin Sampson's Sooners – but just when we thought we were out………….THE RED RAIDERS PULLED US BACK IN! I will now tell you why we lost that game, what it means to our NCAA chances, and the long term ramifications of this loss – all while juggling four oranges and singing the "Hagdalena Magdalena Lupensteiner Wallenbeiner Song" (if you're going to say that I'm lying about my miraculous feats of punditry, I will steal a line from noted Central Iowa attorney Alfredo Parrish to summarize my response: "Prove It".)

WHY WE LOST. Texas Tech scored 8 more points than Iowa State scored. It's really that simple, people.

We wasted some possessions early that came back to haunt us down the stretch. Our offensive rebounding looked great early in the game, but several of these possessions ended without a score, even after 2 or 3 rebounds for ISU. This was partly because of shot selection by our guys, and partly because of Texas Tech's defense, which blocked or altered many of our shots from midrange and from the paint. Turnovers, forced and unforced, helped the Red Raiders take the lead down the stretch. Our guys dribbled the ball off their feet, threw lackadaisical passes, and let Texas Tech take the ball right out of their hands.

Face it, this game wasn't "the JV versus the Varsity" – Texas Tech created much of this chaos due to their own talent and desire. Bobby Knight didn't just fall off the turnip truck last weekend (and if he had, can you imagine how much his "repositioning" of the turnip truck driver would probably mirror the infamous "torture" scene in RESERVOIR DOGS?). He's had an entire week to gameplan for ISU, and his team had plenty of motivation, considering the way ISU "ran their underwear up the flagpole" the last time they played. Losing this game to Texas Tech isn't the end of the world, but it does point out some problems with our team.

Iowa State needs three things to move up to the next level: depth, health, and experience.

DEPTH – right now, we're playing with an 8 man rotation (graduating seniors are capitalized). Neal, Blalock and Carr at guard; Clark, Stinson, Davis and STAPLE at forward; HOMAN at center; and BRAET at "sparkplug". The other guys work hard, but they weren't exactly "FIVE STAR" players coming out of high school. In order to keep the situation static, we need a starting center, a reserve guard/forward, and a "rolling ball of butcher knives" to come in off the bench when we need pure determination. This is just what we need to keep from sliding backwards: Personally, I think we need another center, a forward and a guard who can all contribute at least 10 or 20 minutes when called upon. By my math, that means we need two FIVES, two THREES/FOURS, and one ONE/TWO, which gives us a total of five new contributors. There are five players currently signed for ISU next fall (one forward, one guard, one center, and two forward/center prospects – call them "four and a halves"). If we take the pessimistic position and assume that one of our incoming "4.5" men will not make grades, we will need to bring in another big fella to give us the bodies we need – and that's assuming that everyone will be fully functional out of the box. Bill Seals has done an excellent job of tracking our spring period prospects, and everyone who is interested in recruiting should follow the links from the main page of CN to check out his work. I'll leave my attempt at recruiting analysis here, because this site only needs one guy to do that, and we should listen to the guy who knows what he's talking about.

HEALTH – Stinson is playing with more injuries than Bruce Willis' character in all three "Die Hard" movies combined. Davis is rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Agnew? Let's just say that he has some weight issues. If Stinson and Davis are playing at full strength next year, we'll be OK. Agnew is going to have a hard time slimming down enough to keep up with Blalock & Stinson and the rest of the fastbreak offense, but if he gets halfway there by next fall, he will be able to contribute some minutes.

I'm not ready to write off Aaron Agnew just yet. Someone in the bar tonight told me that he's heard a rumor (probably seventeenth hand, but supposedly from the coaching staff) that Aaron has great footwork and that the staff are still positive about his chances to contribute in the future.

EXPERIENCE – The probably starters for next year's team will be a senior (unless Davis' appeal for another year is granted, then he'll be a junior), two juniors and one sophomore (with another seasoned sophomore and a senior on the bench). That leaves room for one new player at the center spot. If we're looking into juco players who could step right in and play this spot, we only have to worry about finding one who's a good fit for ISU; HOWEVER, if we have to rely on a freshman to fill the center spot, we might be in for some growing pains until the conference season. I think the returning nucleus of this team will be able to demonstrate leadership next year, barring any unforeseen off-court incidents.

WHAT DOES THIS LOSS MEAN FOR OUR NCAA HOPES. I think we're already in. Our game against Texas Tech was mainly important for increasing our seeding. I spoke with Deacer tonight after the game, and he mentioned that the relative scarcity of good at-large teams will help us significantly this year. I concur. Iowa State fans should remain calm until Sunday night and trust in the judgement of the committee……………did I just say that? Wow, I don't remember drinking THAT much tonight.

WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS LOSS. I think the pain of this loss will fade quickly with a win or two in the NCAA tournament. The "ankle-biters" will trot out their usual "street ball" references, and we'll hear "testimony" from supposed fans of Coach Morgan's former school about how he's just not "head coaching material". All these complaints, with an extra $20, will buy you a copy of the Paris Hilton video. The vibe I got from talking to several ISU fans tonight was that this team has an enormous upside. Teams don't get that without coaches who can cultivate potential. An honest comparison of Coach Morgan with ANY former coach at Iowa State University would tell us that he has done nothing to dampen our enthusiasm for the program.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Me? I'm going to bed. Then I'm going to get up early and run a couple of errands. We reserved our rooms at the Embassy until Sunday morning, and we intend to use those rooms as long as we've already paid for them. Steve told me yesterday that Bill was going to be returning to Iowa after the loss, but since our trip to the Big 12 is as much about a yearly reunion for Kehlenbeck House residents from '85 to '89 as it is about the basketball games. This part of the narrative is where it could get dangerous for our intrepid heroes. The years where our group has had a day or two with no games to attend were great sources for war stories, but I don't know if we can handle a full day with no trips to Kemper. We've got two men missing in action as of 4am, and the other two guys in that room both came home from the bars without their room keys. Bad news, the front desk won't let them into the room unless the guy whose name is on the room comes down to get new keys, and that guy was the first one to "lose contact with the conscious world" tonight. No problem, we'll just roust him out of bed & help him walk down to the front desk. I fear tomorrow and what it will bring.

Next episode: my handy tips for dealing with ticket scalpers, random thoughts from the entire trip, and we (probably) get to meet Kansas City's finest. I hope they've been reading these articles and that they have very forgiving senses of humor.


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