Iowa's Miserable Season Finally Ends

The veteran sportswriter's view of Iowa's disappointing season......

Iowa's basketball season is finally over, and the end didn't come any too soon.

The amazing thing was that 10,511 fans bought tickets to see the hapless team finish its 19-16 season with a 63-61 loss to LSU in the NIT-a tournament for losers.

Either hand it to the fans for being loyal or wonder about their intelligence. A guy I know said he wouldn't walk across the street to buy a $19 ticket to watch the Hawkeyes play in the NIT, but plenty of others came from further away than across the street to see Luke and Reggie's swan song.

At least Iowa's athletic department powers-that-be didn't try to bilk the public the way Minnesota's did. Minnesota charged $29 for tickets to its first-round game against New Mexico. A gathering of 4,097 showed up for the game-and, to show what a sorry show the NIT is, Minnesota is also expected to be awarded a second-round game at home next week.

But back to Iowa. This was a season that saw fans and non-fans openly question whether Steve Alford could coach. He went from "Boy Wonder" to "How Can We Get Rid of This Guy?" in a hurry. He wore all those fancy suits and had his hair brushed and sprayed in just the right GQ way, then looked bewildered all night while being outcoached by everyone from Jim O'Brien to Jerry Dunn. In the case of Penn State's Dunn, that takes some doing.

After the Hawkeyes went 5-11 in the Big Ten's regular season, a few fans got excited when they did well early in the postseason tournament. But a 17-point loss to Ohio State in the title game brought the situation back to reality.

Reader feedback, as you might expect, has been lively.

"By winning three straight games in the tournament, Alford exposed what a horsecrap coaching job he did in January and February,'' an eastern Iowa man familiar with Hawkeye athletics said in an e-mail to me.

By the way, he used a much stronger word than "horsecrap'' to describe the coaching job Alford did.

"Alford is 8-2 in the tournament and 18-30 in regular-season Big Ten games,'' the man continued. "Go figure.''

A reader from outside the state, who has been keeping a close watch on the Hawkeyes for a number of years, says, "Here's the real point, I think: If one wants to blame Alford for the team's problems (and why not?), look at two factors:

"1. Pierre Pierce. He apparently scored about 40 points a game in suburban Chicago, probably on dunks because he can't shoot. He also is not a point guard and probably never will be. Why Alford started him all season is a mystery, unless some sort of recruiting promise was involved.

"Chauncey Leslie and (even) Brody Boyd were more effective running the team when I was watching them. Iowa finished the deal at the Big Ten tourney last season because they had a good point guard, and Dean Oliver put them on his shoulders and carried them to the title-an underrated feat by an underrated Hawkeye, plus, Pierce was a freshman this season. Why let an underclassman undermine a season that was supposed to ride on the shoulders of two all-Big Ten seniors?

"Which brings us to….

"2. Evans. He did not improve between seasons; was exactly the same player, and teams figured out how to defend him. He's a ferocious rebounder, but shoots as if he's wearing oven mits (remember Alvin Robinson?) He has two post moves: Spin left, spin right. Why didn't he improve? Evans may not have been receptive to tutoring, but ultimately his failures are those of Iowa's staff (same criticism stands for the handling of Jared Reiner, who probably would be averaging about 18 points and 10 rebounds at, say, Ball State).

"Incidentally, my guess is these two problems led to the bad-attitude syndrome that set in after about three Big Ten losses. Frankly, I think it's to Alford's credit (though mostly Recker's) that Iowa played so well in the Big Ten tournament. Alford clearly can coach (see: Southwest Missouri State vs. Wisconsin in 1999), but his people skills may still be developing.''

Alive in Clive, not his real name, thinks Iowa should have "thrown the doors open'' at Carver-Hawkeye Arena after it became evident there wouldn't be a capacity crowd at the LSU game.

He also thinks Georgetown's coach wasn't right in turning down his team's invitation to the NIT.

"I believe the kids play round ball because they enjoy part of it,'' Alive in Clive said. "Just because the NIT is like kissing your sister doesn't mean the team would not enjoy a game against a worthy opponent.''


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