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.

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