Hawkeye Grab Bag

Is the Big Ten as good as it used to be on the men's basketball front? Or is the league just in a down cycle, waiting to bounce back and become one of the best leagues in the nation? Are the Iowa and Iowa State wrestling programs headed for an amazing three-year battle? Is Brent Metcalf on pace to be the best wrestler in Iowa history? We'll discuss these topics & more...

There has been a bit of discussion on the message boards and sports talk radio shows this year in the ‘Big Ten Footprint' as to whether or not the league is down related to recent years.

Plenty of folks are providing plenty of opinions. Some support their opinions with statistics, some support their opinions with the eye test.

Either way, the debates have been entertaining and in my opinion, with merit.

I am one that believes Big Ten basketball circa 2008 is a shadow of its former self, or at least the brand of Big Ten basketball that I grew up watching in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's.

Now, each decade may see a year or two where things aren't so rosy; these things are cyclical and no conference is immune to dips and blips. It happens that way in football, too, as I think the Big Ten is in a down cycle in that sport as well.

Personally, I don't need statistics to tell me what my eyes have been seeing; the Big Ten brand of basketball has been boring, lethargic and way too old school for my taste. Not old school as in 20 years ago, I mean old school as in peach baskets and laces.

The game seemingly hit it's zenith in the decade of the 1980's. Think back to that era of hoop:

Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State and Illinois had some of their best teams in history. Scoring 100 points in a game, in conference play, was not an oddity on par with the return of Haley's Comet as it is now.

One might say that teams play better defense now, but I don't think that's it. One might argue that the game has been affected by a reliance on the three-point shot, but that should mean more opportunities to attack the basket by spreading the floor.

Athletes are bigger, stronger and faster today than they once were, but they are not as graceful as they were in the 1980's. I can't sit here and pretend to be an expert on strength training, but those lean looking players from 25 years ago played the game with more fundamental skill than we see now, and there were several high fliers from that era as we..

Roy Marble, Gerry Wright, Kevin Gamble, Ed Horton, B.J. Amrstrong…you are talking about some fantastic athletes with great basketball skills. Ed Horton seemed huge back then, but he was 6-8, 225-pounds. That's more like a small forward in today's game, and Horton was a bruiser.

Kendall Gill, Glenn Rice, Gary Grant, Dennis Hopson, Kenny Norman, Nick Anderson…the league was full of amazing players year after year.

Perhaps the Big Ten is just caught between youth, new coaches and different philosophies right now. But when I look around the nation, the collective boorishness of the Big Ten sticks out like a sore thumb.

Still, I can appreciate the methodical approach and success that Wisconsin has produced. That is their system, and they continue to hang banners in the Kohl Center. I don't think Todd Lickliter's approach at Iowa will be ‘first one to 50 wins'; he had to play that way this year.

When I look at the Big Ten and the NCAA tournament, I don't necessarily use that event as ‘the' measuring stick against the rest of the leagues around the nation. It's certainly fun to watch, and I will be pulling for every Big Ten team in this year's draw. But it's a one off setting; one game, lose and you are done, win and you move on. You might get a favorable draw, you might get an upset that helps you advance farther in the tournament than you might have…

To me, the regular season grind is a more useful measure.

But for the folks that like to define a league's worth by the NCAA tournament, here is a nugget that I found on Tuesday while reading the Indianapolis Star: The Big Ten had six men's teams in the 2006 and '07 NCAA Tournaments. But only Ohio State last year advanced past the second round. The rest of the teams in those two years were a combined 7-11. Five schools seeded sixth or better lost in the early rounds.

There will always be some crème in the Big Ten, but right about now, the other eight or nine teams in the league have some catching up to do…

Congrats to Lisa Bluder's Hawkeyes as they qualified for the NCAA tournament as a nine seed. They will play against Georgia on Sunday, with the winner likely going up against #1 seeded North Carolina in round two.

Some folks are having a hard time with Iowa getting a nine seed, as the co-champion of the Big Ten, while an Iowa State team that finished 7-9 in league play gets a seven seed.

To which I say; ISU beat Iowa this year, and the Big 12 was the best conference in the nation.

Still, it was good to see the women make it into the tournament. Hopefully they can win on Sunday and then pull off an upset to give the program a boost heading into next year.

The Iowa Wrestling team takes the mat on Thursday morning in St. Louis for the National Championships.

The Hawkeyes qualified nine of their ten wrestlers, with eight of them earning seeds. They have to be considered the favorites to win the title, but it should be a close race. Iowa State qualified all ten, but just six of their wrestlers earned seeds. They will be in the mix as well. Minnesota qualified nine, but two of their wrestlers face injury problems that caused them to forfeit their final matches at the Big Tens.

Get used to the Hawks and Clones going head to head for titles, as that is something that will be taking place over the next two or three national tournaments.

8 of ISU's 10 wrestlers at nationals are sophomores or younger, while 7 of Iowa's 10 are sophomore's or younger.

That's how it should be, and I think that is good for the sport to have both Iowa and Iowa State at the top of the college wrestling world. It's going to be a fun stretch here, and it begins on Thursday.

I spoke with Mike Finn of W.I.N. Magazine on Tuesday and he said that Brent Metcalf is being talked about as being the best wrestler of all time at Iowa. Well, if he keeps on doing what he is doing, that is.

That is certainly quite a mouthful, considering the history and tradition of the Iowa wrestling program. Mark Ironside was 65-0 his final two years at Iowa and he was a four-time Big Ten champion.

Metcalf is the #1 rated wrestler at 149 pounds heading into this year's tournament, and he might hold onto that ranking until he is done wearing the black and gold singlet. He is on a 27 match winning streak since getting pinned early this year.

Would it really be a surprise to anyone if he won the rest of his matches at Iowa? While I don't expect for that to happen, I will not be shocked if that is what happens. He has just been that dominant.

He might not win the Hodge Trophy this year as the nation's best wrestler, due to getting caught with that pin. That award typically goes to an undefeated wrestler, and Jake Varner of Iowa State might be the man that takes that trophy home.

Varner is a great wrestler and was a runner up at last year's national tournament as a freshman.

But if someone is an overall better wrestler that Metcalf, I would love to watch that person on the mat.

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