Monday, November 29, 2004

No Happy Ending Yet to Drake's 'Feel-Good' Story

The way I had it figured, this would be the year for it finally to happen.

A Drake basketball victory over Iowa, I mean.

Setting the scene…..

Tom Davis is in his second season of coaching the Bulldogs after being dumped by Iowa because he was getting old, not recruiting particularly well, losing talented players from this state [surely you recall Kansas’ Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich] and not doing much at the Big Ten or national level.

Suddenly, after noticing that Davis had played lots of golf and stayed away from lots of basketball arenas for four years, I started wondering if he might be interested in returning to coaching. He has a great basketball mind, and I figured he’d be an excellent fit for the right kind of team.

Fortunately, Drake athletic director Dave Blank agreed. He called Davis, who somewhat surprisingly, decided to abandon the easy retirement life in Iowa City and take the job.

It was a feel-good story. The gray-haired coach, who always seemed to make ordinary players better and won some games he shouldn’t win, would end Iowa’s 25-game winning streak over Drake before a packed Knapp Center on a snowy, emotional Tuesday night in November, 2004.

But not every story ends the way the storyteller thinks it will end. Iowa went to the Maui Invitational last week, upset Louisville and Texas in the first two rounds, then was overmatched against North Carolina in the championship game.

Suddenly, it’s clearly obvious this will be, or at least should be, Steve Alford’s best Hawkeye team. He has some guys—Greg Brunner, Pierre Pierce and Jeff Horner--who can play the game the way it should be played. They are game-breakers.

He’s got a 6-11 shot-blocker in Erek Hansen and he’s got some folks on the bench like Mike Henderson, Carlton Reed and Doug Thomas who could start for a lot of teams.

“I was surprised Iowa wasn’t rated near the top of the Big Ten in the preseason, based on their returning talent,” Davis said today, marveling at the Hawkeye players.

After seeing them on the tube in Maui, I’m marveling, too.

But it’s taken the rest of America a long time to marvel. Former boy wonder Alford, with the slicked-back hair and the GQ apparel, at times seems to be pedaling uphill these days.

He’s been victimized by player defections and questionable recruiting. He rarely gets any credit for his coaching ability. Far too often, he appears to be in over his head when matched against the Roy Williamses and Bobby Knights of the world.

He appears to be a direct opposite to Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz’s teams get better as the season goes on, Alford’s teams get worse.

As far as I’m concerned, it would be good for the major-college basketball scene in the state of Iowa if Drake could beat Iowa in tonight’s game at the Knapp Center. The Hawkeyes have won 25 straight games in the series—including the last 12 in Des Moines.

Some of Iowa’s victories have been by embarrassingly large margins. That’s not good for any rivalry.

But, as much as I’d like to see a more competitive Division I atmosphere in this state, I don’t see much chance of the Bulldogs pulling off the big upset tomorrow night. Iowa has far too many weapons.

I expect the Hawkeyes to win by 12 points. Something like Iowa 87, Drake 75.

It’s going to take a couple more recruiting classes for Davis to be able to match up with the place that thanked him by showing him the door after he became the school’s all-time winningest coach.


Tom Davis reacted to my question about his feelings concerning the “Big Four” series of games involving, Drake, Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa the way I thought he would.

After his Iowa State team clobbered Drake, 73-46, last week at Ames, coach Wayne Morgan seemed to be a bit confused.

First he indicated he might like to make some changes in the future regarding games against the other Division I schools in the state.

Then Morgan changed his stance the next day, saying his remarks were “misinterpreted” and that fans from all four schools “love to see the games.”

Drake will always have two games against Northern Iowa every season in the Missouri Valley Conference, and Davis said the games against Iowa and Iowa State are “great” for his team.

“Whatever [coaching] chair you sit in. you might look at it differently,” Davis said. “Obviously for Drake, they’re terrific games because your players want to get tested by the best and they want to get tested by Big 12 teams and Big Ten teams and see if they can play up to that level.

“Of course, there’s so little expense involved in terms of travel and you don’t miss class time. I hope those games have also helped develop basketball in our state and I hope the fans at all four institutions feel the same way about the games…..

“Drake has certainly been the weak sister among the four schools, but we’re going to do our best to be more competitive in those games.”

The in-state rivalries must stay the same. There’s nothing better in November and December than Iowa playing Drake, Iowa State playing Drake, Northern Iowa playing Iowa State, Northern Iowa playing Iowa and Iowa State playing Iowa.

Anyone who says Howard and Wagner against Iowa State and Western Illinois against Iowa are better games should be living on another planet.


Something very good is happening on Iowa State’s future football schedules. The Cyclones will play a game against Army at West Point, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2005. Sign me up for that one. I want to be there. And that’s not all. Army will be Iowa State’s season-opening opponent Sept. 2, 2006 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. The Black Knights no longer are mentioned in the same breath with Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, their “Mr. Inside” and “Mr. Outside” of the powerful Army teams in the 1940s [the team was 27-0-1 in their three seasons together], but Iowa State scheduling the military academy sure beats playing Northern Illinois and Troy State. Bobby Ross, who coached such teams as Maryland, Georgia Tech, the San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions, is now drawing up the X’s and O’s at Army.


Be honest now, Cyclone fans. You really don’t want to go back to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport again, do you? On the other hand, be glad the Big 12 Conference no longer has a tie-in with that bowl game in Boise, Idaho. The game in Boise, as well as the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, put the old coaches’ belief that “there’s no such thing as a bad bowl” to a severe test.


Am I the only guy who thinks Jared Homan has already played 10 seasons for Iowa State’s basketball team?


Maybe Bret Bielema, Wisconsin’s first-year defensive coordinator, isn’t ready for college football’s prime-time yet. In other words, I guess the former Iowa player and assistant needs a few more years before becoming a head coach. The Badgers gave up 82 points while winning their first nine games this season, then surrendered 79 to Michigan State and Iowa in their last two. The so-so Spartans socked them, 49-14, and Iowa belted them, 30-7. Coach Barry Alvarez got a lot out of his Badgers before their Rose Bowl ambitions were rudely halted in November.

Vol. 4, No. 280
Nov. 29, 2004