Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cyclone Fans Rooting Hard For UNI Against Spartans

The similarities are eerie. On Friday, the UNI Panthers face the Michigan State Spartans in their biggest game in school history. Nearly 10 years ago to the day, the Iowa State Cyclones also faced Michigan State in its biggest game in school history. The Panthers are trying to advance to the Elite 8. The Cyclones were playing in the 2000 Elite 8 with a spot in the Final 4 at stake. The Cyclones had only 4 losses entering its game against the Spartans. The Panthers also have just 4 losses entering its contest. Iowa State was the Big 12 regular season AND tournament champions in 2000. UNI won both its regular season and conference championships this year. Iowa State’s #2 seed was its highest seed ever in the NCAA Tournament. UNI’s #9 seed is its highest seed ever. ISU’s Marcus Fizer was the Big 12 Player of The Year. UNI has this years Missouri Valley Conference Player of The Year in Adam Koch. When the Cyclones faced Michigan State in 2000, the Spartans were led by an All-American point guard by the name of Mateen Cleaves. When the Panthers take the court on Friday night, the Spartans will…not be led by an All-American point guard. Kalin Lucas, Michigan State’s preseason All-American candidate, is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The question is, will that injury prove to be the difference for or against the Panthers? UNI is, suddenly, expected by many to win that game—a position no one would have ever dreamt the Panthers would be in during the Sweet 16 round of the tourney. A week ago, the nation had no idea who Ali Forokhmanesh was. Now, he’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And everyone knows about the curse of SI. Last week, UNI was flying under the radar against a more talented Kansas team, but also a school that has a knack for losing to underdogs in the tournament. This week, UNI is on everyone’s radar as they again face a more talented team in Michigan State…and potentially the best college basketball coach in America, who’s had nearly a week to prepare. Undoubtedly, the Spartans have taken notice of the overnight national love affair with the Panthers. You can bet that Coach Izzo reminds them of it daily. You can also bet that Coach Izzo reminds them that no one thinks they can win without their star point guard—all the more reason the Spartans will give the Panthers everything they’ve got.

Ten years have passed since Michigan State dashed the dreams of Iowa State fans the night of March 25, 2000. The Cyclones led by 9 points with 5 minutes to go, before Cleaves and Mo Peterson took the Spartans on a 25-5 run to end the game. They went on to win the National Championship. On Friday, the UNI Panthers can avenge that loss for the state of Iowa, advance to their own Elite 8, potentially the Final 4, and—just like Michigan State in 2000--the National Ch….ok, let’s not get too carried away.

The Panthers beat the Cyclones early this season on ISU's home court, but you better believe that Friday night, Cyclone fans (and Hawkeye and Bulldog fans for that matter) will all be rooting for the purple and gold.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Biggest Win in Iowa Collegiate History

Confession time. Before tonight, how many casual basketball fans in the state of Iowa knew the name Ali Forokhmanesh? Well, after UNI’s improbable, shock-the-world win against #1 Kansas, that will change forever. Yes, Ali Forokhmanesh is a name that will live among sports legends in the state of Iowa...and the state of Kansas, I’m guessing. Kind of like Bucky Dent in Red Sox Nation. Kansas wasn’t just a #1 seed, they were THE #1 seed, and the top rated team in the country! I know my sports history in the state of Iowa pretty well, and I can’t think of another win in Iowa collegiate history that even comes close to this one. The Iowa Hawkeyes win over Michigan which featured the #1 and #2 college football teams in America in 1985 was pretty big, but it was #1 against #2--it was supposed to be close. And this is the NCAA Tournament—one of the biggest stages in all of collegiate sports. The University of Iowa basketball team had a pretty big win of its own too back in 1980 when Steve Waite had a three point play against Georgetown that catapulted the Hawks into the Final 4. But I still think this one is bigger. Kansas was favored to win the National Championship; UNI was not even on the national radar screen. They sure are now. Here are some final thoughts about UNI’s monster upset over Kansas:

1.How much did Jordan Eglseder improve his NBA draft stock tonight? He was phenomenal.
2.How far can UNI go? They just knocked off #1, so anything’s possible now, right? I think they match up better against Maryland than Michigan State, so hope for a Terps win over Sparty. An Elite 8 match up would most likely be against Ohio State. My prediction is UNI to the Elite 8, then bowing out in a close game against the Buckeyes.
3.The Panthers get to play their next round(s) in St. Louis—the same place they played, and won, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. This could prove to be a huge advantage for UNI—they’re familiar with the area, they’ve been successful there, and they should draw a good pro-Panther crowd.
4.How much pressure will this win put on Gary Barta at the University of Iowa to hire Panthers Coach Ben Jacobson? A Lot!! There’s no doubt Jacobson’s a good coach, but is he too similar in style to Lickliter and McDermott? The feeling here is "yes," but that win over the nation’s #1 team puts Barta in a precarious situation—definitely one to watch in the next week or two.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Eley Named Des Moines Register 3rd Team All State

19 Points Per Game
7.5 Rebounds Per Game
5.1 Assists Per Game
4.4 Steals Per Game
1.7 Blocks Per Game


NCAA Tourney Breakdown

I’ll say it right up front--I think the committee did a horrible job with these brackets. On Saturday, I wrote down my Final 4 teams, not knowing who was going to be set up where. They were Kansas, Ohio State, Georgetown and Kentucky. Now, three of those teams are all in the same bracket (the Midwest). Temple and Wisconsin were two of my dark horses. They’re set up to play each other in the second round. St. Mary ‘s and Richmond were two of my Cinderella possibilities. They meet in the first round. Meanwhile, two of the brackets—West and South—are really weak, especially the West.

Final 4 candidates by region:
--Midwest: Kansas, Georgetown, Ohio State
--West: Syracuse. Kansas State is the #2 seed—they’re not Final 4 material. Neither is the #3 seed Pitt.
--South: Duke, Baylor, Notre Dame (This may be the region a surprise Final 4 team comes from. I’m not sold on #2 seed Villanova.
--East: Kentucky, Wisconsin, West Virginia

My upset specials:
First Round: UNI over UNLV; Murray St. over Vanderbilt; Louisville over Cal; St. Mary’s over Richmond; Missouri over Clemson

Who plays the role of Cinderella?
Murray State—I pick them to advance to the Sweet 16.
St. Mary’s—I pick them to advance to the Sweet 16 also.
Baylor—I pick them to advance to the Elite 8.

Bracket Busters:
The hardest region to pick is the South. I think it’s wide open with Baylor, Notre Dame, Richmond, St. Mary’s, and Villanova all as Elite 8 candidates.
This is one of those regions that will separate the contenders from the pretenders in office pools. I think the winner of Baylor and Notre Dame meets Duke
in the Elite 8. The Richmond/St. Mary’s contest is the hardest game of the entire first round for me to pick. I think the winner upsets Villanova in the Second round.

Who’s my Final 4?
If you want to win your pool, you have to take some risks. Logic would tell me to pick Kansas over Kentucky, with Syracuse and Duke rounding out the Final 4. But picking all the #1 seeds is just flat-out boring. I LOVE this Ohio State team—and I’m not a Big 10 fan. They remind me so much of the Kansas team led by Danny Manning back in 1988. They have that “it” factor and the nations best player in Evan Turner. I choose the Buckeyes to cut down the nets in a Championship match up against Duke. Duke has great guard play, and plenty of size and depth in the frontcourt. My other Final 4 picks are Syracuse in the West and West Virginia in the East.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Office Pool Prep 101; Part 4

We start to separate the men from the boys here in these last two segments. Seeds 4,5 and 6 break us into the top 25 teams.

6 seeds—UNI, Wake Forest, Texas A&M, Tennessee
--The big question everyone around here wants to know is, “How far can the Panthers go?” They have the lofty record (28-4) and are Missouri Valley Conference regular and tournament season champs, have good inside-outside play and the #2 rated scoring defense nationally. But their biggest wins are against Old Dominion, Iowa State, and some of the other Missouri Valley elite—which isn’t saying much. I think UNI can make a Sweet 16 run, and with some luck, MAYBE an Elite 8. Wake Forest has lost four of its last 5 (wrong time of year to do that), but has wins against Gonzaga, Xavier and Maryland. See how they do in the ACC Tourney, then gauge them from there. They are 4-0 in Overtime games. Texas A&M is 22-8. All losses are to tourney teams except one. They have good senior leadership and good guard play. Tennessee is 23-7 with wins over Memphis, Kansas and Kentucky. They also have 4 losses by ten or more points, so be careful with the Volunteers. They’re a prime candidate to be upset in the first round.

5 seeds—Temple, Butler, Texas, Wisconsin
--Temple, Butler and Wisconsin all fit well together here. They are all slow tempo teams that play solid defense and are hard to prepare for. Wisconsin and Temple both rank in the top 10 in scoring defense nationally. Temple has wins against Virginia Tech, Villanova and Xavier, and finished 14-2 in a very good Atlantic 10 conference. Watch out for them. Wisconsin defeated Maryland and Duke in back-to-back games this year, and also defeated Marquette, Ohio State and Purdue. I really like this Badgers team—they could be a Final 4 surprise. I’m not sold on Butler (maybe it’s the Lickliter thing?)—their best wins are against an Evan Turner-less Ohio State team and Xavier. Texas is a mess (6-8 since January 18th).

4 seeds—Michigan State, Pitt, BYU, Gonzaga
--Before the season began, the Spartans were one of my Final 4 favorites. Then they hit a rough patch when Kalin Lucas got hurt. They’ve got the pieces to make a title run if they start hitting on all cylinders. See how they do in the Big 10 tourney, then make the call. Pitt is tough to figure. They play in the nations best conference and have wins over Syracuse, West Virginia and Villanova. On the flip side, they lost to Indiana and have four losses by 10 points or more. I don’t trust them. BYU is 28-4, they have good guards led by Jimmer Fredette (20 ppg), and go 9 players deep. Two of their four losses are to Steve Alford’s New Mexico team. Their best wins are against UNLV and UTEP, and haven’t played a great schedule. This may be the most difficult team to gauge in the field of 65. I’d play it safe and not pencil them in past the Sweet 16. Gonzaga defeated Wisconsin and Memphis this year, but also lost to San Francisco and Loyola Marymount. Not enough quality wins here to impress me too much. I think they’re another candidate for an early exit.

As we start to separate the men from the boys with these seeds, I like UNI, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, with a possible deep run by Temple. Be careful with Tennessee, Pitt and Texas.

Seeds 1 through 3 are the cream of the crop. The National Champion comes from this group most of the time.

Kansas—The most talented team in the tournament. They have it all—a great floor leader in Sherron Collins, good inside play with Cole Aldrich and Marcus Morris, and great depth. The Jayhawks rank fourth nationally in scoring; eleventh in rebounding margin; and second in margin of victory.

Purdue—The loss of Robbie Hummel is crushing. Don’t bet on the Boilermakers beyond the Sweet 16.

Kentucky—As talented as Kansas, but not as experienced. Watch out though, we’ve seen teams full of diaper dandies go deep in recent tournaments—see Memphis, Syracuse, etc…

Syracuse—The match up zone they play is deadly come tournament time. Teams don’t have enough time to prepare for that different style of play. Throw in five guys that average double digits, size and depth, and Player of The Year Candidate Wesley Johnson, and you have a legit title contender.

Villanova—Great guard play, led by Scottie Reynolds, and a top ten ranking for most of the year in the Big East. But, Nova has been shaky lately, losing 5 of their last 7. Careful with the Cats. They are 3-5 against the top 25.

West Virginia—This team is scary good in a scary good conference. Three of their six losses were by a total of 6 points. Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in college basketball. They played the #1 toughest schedule in America this year according to the Sagarin poll.

Duke—Duke has three solid scorers—Scheyer, Singler, and Nolan Smith all average over 17 points per game. They also have good depth with their big men—something they have lacked in recent seasons. Duke is #18 in scoring offense nationally, #18 in rebounding margin, and #3 in margin of victory.

Kansas State—2 of the Wildcats 6 losses are in overtime. 2 others are by less than 6 points. Pullen and Clemente are as good a guard combo as any.

Vanderbilt—They won’t be a top 3 seed and could be a one-and-done. Not impressed with the Commodores, although they did beat Tennessee twice and played Kentucky to within two points.

New Mexico—They’re coached by Steve Alford. Enough said.

Georgetown—I like this team a lot, but like Ohio State, they’re not very deep. And they’re 4-4 in their last 8 games. The Hoyas played the #2 toughest schedule according to the Sagarin Poll.

Ohio State—Since January 12th, OSU has lost just two games by a total of 9 points. Both of those losses were to top ten teams. If they can keep all 5 guys on the floor and out of foul trouble, OSU may be a Final 4 team, maybe a dark-horse National Title contender with National Player of The Year favorite Evan Turner.

Stay tuned for all my selections after Selection Sunday. It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Office Pool Prep 101; Part 3

This segment focuses on the always-hard-to-pick 7,8,9 seeds. Flip a coin. And don’t bank on them winning more than one game.

9 seeds—UTEP, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Oklahoma State
--I don't like any of these teams in the tournament. UTEP is 24-5, but has no marquee wins, and most of their out-of-conference games against anyone of significance were a loss. They are 0-2 against top 50 teams. Virginia Tech is 23-7, and their biggest wins are against Clemson and Wake Forest. Louisville is 20-11, but has only won 3 straight games once since January 1. They did manage to somehow hand Syracuse two of their three losses. Go figure. Oklahoma State is 21-9 with wins against Kansas State, Texas A and M, Baylor and Kansas. But they too have not been able to put a winning streak of more than three games together since January 1. They also have 6 losses by double digits. They have one and done written all over them.

8 seeds—UNLV, Baylor, Clemson, Florida State
--UNLV is 23-7 with some nice wins against Pitt, Louisville, Arizona and BYU. They go 9 deep, but are very young—no seniors of significance. Baylor is a team to watch out for. They are 24-6 and none of their losses were by more than 7 points. They’re my “All Name Team.” Baylor’s top 3 scorers are named LaceDarius, Tweety, and Ekpe. Clemson is 21-8 with wins over Butler, Maryland and Florida State. They don’t have any losses to “bad” teams. Clemson has just one go-to guy though—Trevor Booker. Florida State is 22-8 with wins over Marquette, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. They suffered big losses at Florida, at Ohio State, and at Duke, and are 0-6 against the top 25. They are dominated by underclassmen. Watch out for FSU in the next couple years.

7 seeds—Xavier, Maryland, Missouri, Richmond
--All seven of Xavier’s losses came to opponents that will make the NCAA Tournament, although they are 2-6 against the top 25. They beat Florida, Richmond and Dayton. They have great guard play, led by Jordan Crawford. Maryland has won 7 straight and 9 of last 10. They are peaking at just the right time. The Terps are led by a solid group of seniors, that includes leading scorer Greivis Vasquez. They have one of the best freshmen in the nation in forward Jordan Williams. Missouri is 22-8. 4 of their losses are by 5 points or less. Their best wins are against Old Dominion, Kansas State and Texas. Richmond is 23-7 with wins over Mississippi State, Missouri, Old Dominion, Florida, Temple and Dayton.

In summary, I really don’t like many of these 7,8,9 teams. The best of the bunch are Baylor and Maryland. Maryland is the team I would choose to do some damage.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cyclones Win Over #5 K-State An Insult

Are you kidding me? Now they decide to show up? This is like the bride and groom showing up late for their own wedding reception, hours after all the guests gave up and went home. This is like when everyone leaves the game early because their team is getting blown out, only to find out when they get to the car that there was a miraculous comeback. This is like your high school kid getting F’s on all his math tests over the course of a semester, and then acing the final exam. This is the kind of stuff that makes you throw your hands up in the air and say, “I give up.”

The Iowa State Cyclones just defeated #5 Kansas State. On the road. In overtime. Why am I not jumping up and down for joy? Because this was exactly the kind of win that should have locked up an NCAA Tournament birth, or a top 25 ranking, or a top 3 finish in the Big 12, something BIG! But instead, it means nothing. NOTHING! Three months ago, if you would have told me that Iowa State was going to finish their regular season by knocking off the #5 team in the country on the road, what would I have thought? I would have thought that ISU was finishing off a magnificent season, maybe contending for a Big 12 championship, certainly ranked in the top 25, maybe the top 15. It would have been the magical ending to a magical season--three months ago. Now, I’m just flat out mad. Mad that this win means nothing. Mad that this team didn’t live up to expectations all year long. Mad that I was so excited for this season, only to be frustrated for most of it, only to finally see they really did have the talent to knock off a top 10 team…on the road no less. But don’t be mistaken—the Cyclones did everything they could to screw this one up too. Diante Garrett’s foul on a three point attempt with ten seconds left and the Clones leading by four was priceless. That’s what we have come to expect from our Cyclones this year. And normally, that bonehead move would have been the difference between a victory and a loss.

Congratulations to Coach McDermott for finally getting a win against a top 25 team. Congrats to Craig Brackins and company for shocking the basketball world tonight. Congratulations for beating the dirtiest program in college hoops since Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV. Only question is—“What took you so long?” The only thing that can nullify this victory is an improbable, miraculous run through the Big 12 Tournament to somehow make the field of 64. Shame on you if you fool me once. Shame on me if you fool me twice.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Office Pool Prep 101; Part 2

This segment focuses on seeds 10, 11, and 12. Again, these are based on Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology predictions on February 22nd.

12 seeds—St. Mary’s, Cornell, Siena, Dayton
--I would disregard Siena. They don’t have any big wins and most of their losses are by 10 points or more. Same thing with Cornell, although they did play well at Kansas, losing only by 5, and they are one of the most dangerous three-point shooting teams in college basketball, ranking third with over 9 made per game. Dayton is a team to keep an eye on if they get in. With a 19-10 record, they probably need a couple more wins, but the Atlantic 10 conference is one of the most under-rated in the country this year. All of Dayton’s losses are against good teams and most of them were within 4 or 5 points. They beat Georgia Tech, Old Dominion and Xavier and they go 10 deep. The team I like the best out of this group is St. Mary’s, a potential Cinderella. They are 24-5, with 3 of their losses coming against top 15 teams. St. Mary’s is the 13th highest scoring team in Division 1, and rank #14 in three-pointers made per game. They have 5 players that average double figures in scoring, led by 6’11” senior center Omar Samhan, who averages 21 points and 11 rebounds. So far, if I had to pick one Cinderella, the St. Mary’s Gaels are my choice.

11 seeds—Rhode Island, Old Dominion, Florida, Marquette
--Rhode Island is 20-7 with wins against Oklahoma State and Dayton. Florida is on the bubble at 20-10, but has quality wins against Michigan State and Tennessee. They have balanced scoring with 5 players that average double figures, but they are quite young yet. Old Dominion doesn’t have a big win. Marquette is the best of the bunch and a sleeper to watch out for. They are 20-9 in college basketball’s best conference. They have wins against Xavier, Georgetown and UConn, and three of their last four wins were all in overtime, all on the road. 3 other losses were by a combined 5 points to Villanova and West Virginia, both top 10 teams. Watch out for Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler, and the Marquette Golden Eagles.

10 seeds—Georgia Tech, Cal, Illinois, UAB
--Illinois is on the bubble (18-12). I’m really not impressed with them or Georgia Tech (19-10), who plays in an overrated ACC Conference. GT has lost 4of last 6. UAB is 23-5 with two of their losses against Kentucky and UTEP, both top 25 teams. Their best win is against Butler, but I’m not sold on them. The team I like the most out of this group is Cal. They began the year with a lot of injuries, but everyone is healthy now. They are 20-9, with three of those losses against top 10 teams. They have great guard-play and senior leadership—two big things that lead to success in the tourney. Their top four scorers are all seniors, led by Jerome Randle’s 19 ppg. Even though the Pac 10 is way down this year, I think Cal is a real sleeper team.

In summary, the teams I like seeded 10-12 are: St. Mary’s, Marquette, and Cal. Next segment, I’ll review the 7,8,9 seeds.