Monday, March 14, 2005

Arrogant Huggins, Cincy Right Where Iowa Wants Them

If you ask me, Steve Alford and his Iowa basketball team have those fat-headed Cincinnatis right where they want them.

The headline on Paul Daughterty’s column in today’s Cincinnati Enquirer said it all:

Potential UC-UK matchup has us licking our chops

No mention of Cincinnati’s first-round game. No talk about Iowa.

Hell, the Hawkeyes might as well put their jockstraps away and start searching for off-season jobs at Cub Foods.

Daugherty said Cincinnati is already looking forward to a second-round game against Kentucky.

How about those words “has us licking our chops?"

Did this guy learn his newspapering from the master of the "we" and "us" -- the late Al Grady?

Forget about Thursday’s game against lowly Iowa at 1:50 p.m. in Indianapolis,
Daugherty is saying.

Bring on Tubby Smith’s Wildcats.

All of the Cincinnatis are arrogant.

The players are arrogant.

I even hear that the ball-boy is arrogant.

The school president, too.

Huggins is more arrogant than Alford.

Daugherty may even be arrogant, although these are tough times for newspapers, so it's probably not a good idea for sportswriters to be arrogant in public.

Cutting through all this arrogance,here’s what Daugherty wrote:

Let's get ahead of ourselves.

Let's take it two games at a time. Let's overlook. Iowa-Shmiowa.

We aren't playing. We aren't coaching. We don't have to worry about players' heads being elsewhere. All we have to do is watch. So let's get too high about Saturday.

Let's start yapping this morning and keep yapping until Thursday, at least. Then, when Kentucky beats Eastern Kentucky and UC (fingers crossed here) beats Iowa, we can really start slinging the trash. My god, the talk radio will be magnificent.

UC-UK? You kidding?

"That's what everybody wants to see," observed UC's Eric Hicks.

UC could have had a better club than this, for its first showdown with UK in more than 14 years. Or at least one playing better than this group played Thursday night. But the timing can't be helped. "Over the last 14 years, I've learned I don't have a vote," said UC coach Bob Huggins.

Hand it to the Tournament Selection Committee. These gentlemen have a sense of humor. They know how to get things done. The last time UC and UK met was Nov. 28, 1990. The next time they met threatened to be never. Huggins and Tubby Smith are good friends: Smith spoke at Huggins' basketball clinic as recently as last fall.

They're frequent guests at celebrity roasts and golf tournaments.
Still, UK has not scheduled UC.

The notion is that the Wildcats view the Bearcats the same way the Bearcats view Xavier. Cincinnati needs Kentucky more than vice versa. Could be.
Thanks go to committee chairman Bob Bowlsby and the boys laying waste to that hotel suite in Indianapolis for giving us what we want.


"I came here four years ago," said UC's Jason Maxiell. "Each year, I asked Coach P (former UC associate head coach Dan Peters) and Huggs, 'Can we play Kentucky?' It never happened."

If the Bearcats can get their heads back into the daylight, it just might. After losing to South Florida, you wonder if it will. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

Huggins was so pleased with his players after the South Florida debacle, he ordered them on a bus at 6 a.m. Friday for the eight-hour trip home. "It reminded me of junior college," said senior Nick Williams, late of Chipola College.

The coach's displeasure with his players lingered. As of 7:30 p.m. Sunday, he hadn't seen them since they got off the bus. Nor was he looking. Huggins watched the pairings at home; his players watched them elsewhere, but not as a team.

The first college team I covered was the 1984 Virginia Cavaliers. That team lost its opener in the ACC Tournament. The loss ticked off then-coach Terry Holland so much, he called officials from the NIT and asked them not to offer his 17-win team a bid.

As it turned out, Virginia made the NCAA Tournament and reached the Final Four, before losing by three to Akeem Olajuwon-led Houston.

Anything can happen. But we digress.

The troops aren't quite rallied yet. They have a few days.
"We can't afford for somebody to have a bad day," Huggins said. "We can't bring people off the bench to compensate, because there virtually is no bench."

It says here Huggins has done one of his better coaching jobs this year. This is a team with a come-and-go point guard, no great player, no offensive consistency more than 10 feet from the basket and no depth on the front line. How many more times might UC have won with one player it could count on to play big when the clock got small?

Even so, the Bearcats had only one bad loss, on Thursday night. They lost twice to Louisville, one of the hottest teams in the country. Losing to Wake Forest, Illinois and by one at Charlotte were not capital crimes.

On the flip side, the Bearcats don't have any monumental wins.
They have shown they can hang with a Kentucky-caliber team, at least at home, taking Wake down to the wire. But they haven't beaten anyone with a pedigree.

The question for the Bearcats this week will be: Does the South Florida loss wake them up, or shake them up?

"I don't think they have a confidence problem," Huggins said.
Fantastic. Let's dispatch with the preliminary Thursday and get straight to the main event.


No such talk out of Minnesota.

Iowa State is being treated with a little more respect by the newspaper folks up there.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune took time out from trying to figure out why Vikings coach Mike Tice scalped his Super Bowl tickets to write something about the Gophers’ NCAA game against Iowa State at 11:30 a.m. Friday in Charlotte, N.C.

Jeff Shelman was able to shoehorn this story between the Tice and Randy Moss stuff today:

Dan Monson sat in the front row as the Gophers men's basketball team awaited word of its first NCAA tournament berth since the 1998-99 season.

Around him were very tangible reminders of just how long and arduous the rebuilding of the Gophers program has been.

When Monson arrived in Minneapolis in the summer of 1999, he was fresh from leading Gonzaga on a tournament run that included a first-round victory over the Gophers, and he was only days away from getting married.

On Sunday afternoon, as the long-awaited invitation came -- the eighth-seeded Gophers will face No. 9 Iowa State in a first-round game Friday at 11:30 a.m. in Charlotte, N.C. -- Monson was with his wife and three children.

Yes, the rebuilding of the Gophers from an academic fraud scandal that made Minnesota the punch line of jokes about student-athletes into a NCAA tournament team was a long one. That's why the cheers in the basement of Williams Arena were loud when the pairings flashed on the television screen.

"When you look back and reflect back and this program keeps heading in this direction, you're going to look at this as a benchmark," Monson said. "But we're not looking at this today, we're looking at what this team accomplished. This is a team day, this is about three seniors [Jeff Hagen, Brent Lawson and Aaron Robinson] who persevered through the process and never wavered ... Right now this is a lot more about them than the process."

There was only one thing that could be considered a negative Sunday: The 8 and 9 seeds have the unenviable task of taking on the No. 1 seed -- North Carolina in this case -- in the second round. No. 1 seeds are 68-12 since 1985 against either No. 8 or 9 in second-round games.

Still, when the season began, there were no expectations that the Gophers would reach the tournament. They were inexperienced, they lacked a proven scorer and were coming off a 12-18 season.

"A year ago today, that's when everybody started taking off and [the tournament] became difficult to imagine," Hagen said. "But once the new guys came around, we realized we had a chance to do this."

As this season progressed, the idea of reaching the NCAAs seemed more plausible. In non-conference play, the Gophers hung with Alabama and Oklahoma before losing, then won at Nebraska. In Big Ten play, the Gophers got off to a fast start and proved they could win on the road. And down the stretch, the Gophers won their final four regular-season games and solidified a NCAA tournament berth with a victory over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament.

Monson wouldn't say the Gophers (21-10) were certainly in the field until the pairings were announced.

"I've said for two weeks [this team's] deserving and the committee rewards teams that are deserving," Monson said. "They certainly did that today."

Said Lawson: "There was a lot of suspense watching that show, but it was really exciting. We were expecting it to come, but I was a little bit nervous wondering if it would come. When it came up we were really relieved."

The draw and the geography are intriguing for several reasons.

Despite being separated by only 215 miles of Interstate 35, the Gophers and Cyclones haven't played since the 1992-93 season, a 99-65 Iowa State victory at Hilton Coliseum.

Coached by Wayne Morgan, the Cyclones are extremely athletic and have several eye-catching victories in the past six weeks. After opening the Big 12 season with five consecutive losses, Iowa State (18-11) won seven in a row, beating Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Kansas in the process.

"Obviously the 8-9 game is the toughest game in the first round, and I think it's going to be a huge challenge for us, but these guys have faced challenges all year," Monson said. "We have a higher seed in the NCAAs than we had in the Big Ten going into the season."

Guard Vincent Grier is much of the reason. The left-hander leads the Gophers, averaging 18.1 points per game, and he's carried them at times. His reward? Grier gets a return trip to his hometown of Charlotte, N.C.

"It's like a dream come true," said Grier, who spent his freshman season at UNC Charlotte but hasn't been back since last spring. "I'm going to be like a new dude in the city, it's been so long since I've been home."

Monson said he thought it was fitting that the Gophers will travel to Charlotte.

"I think it's almost poetic justice that Vince came in here and came to our house, came to Minnesota to help us fulfill our dreams," Monson said. "He carried us through to those dreams and now we can go back, and he can bring us back to his place and hopefully we can do the same thing in his home."


Then there’s Northern Iowa.

The Panthers – who were made to seem like some second-cousin with droopy eyes, a chronic cough and a limp by TV announcers yesterday – play Wisconsin at 6:20 p.m. Friday in Oklahoma City.

A couple of Wisconsin newspapers were fairly nice to UNI today.
A headline on Jon Masson’s story in the Wisconsin State-Journal in Madison said:

Badgers familiar with Northern Iowa

Masson’s story:

Many of the players for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team didn't know much about Northern Iowa, their opening foe in the NCAA tournament Friday in Oklahoma City.

But the two coaching staffs are well-acquainted.
"Greg (McDermott) knows us better than 90 percent of the coaches out there," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said of his counterpart at Northern Iowa. "He knows what we do. That's a tough matchup for us."

McDermott said the biggest connection is with former UW director of basketball operations Saul Phillips, in his first season as an assistant at North Dakota State.
"I've known coach Ryan for a number of years," McDermott said.

"Saul was my grad assistant at Wayne State (in the late 1990s). As a result of that, I've gotten to be close with Bo and his staff. Obviously, when Saul went to (UW-)Milwaukee and Wisconsin with Bo, I followed his progress. (I) just have tremendous respect for the job they do and have known 'Gardo' (assistant Greg Gard) and Robby (associate head coach Rob Jeter) and that whole gang there. It's going to be a fun game for us."

Ryan said he still kids McDermott about the time UW-Platteville, where Ryan coached, defeated Northern Iowa when McDermott played there (Platteville won, 72-68, Dec. 3, 1986).

"I have pictures of Greg McDermott in a uniform on a videotape that can go to the highest bidder," Ryan said. "He's always been a great competitor and always a coach that's been anxious to learn about the game, X's and O's-wise. He studies a lot of tape. Saul Phillips has worked with him. Saul promises that he hasn't given away all the secrets we have."

UW senior forward Zach Morley said he also knows the Northern Iowa coaches because they recruited him as a freshman at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College.
"I know they are a tough team," Morley said.•


The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Mark Stewart wrote this story for today’s paper:

After watching the Wisconsin Badgers' offense go south Sunday afternoon, maybe the NCAA selection committee deemed it best to send the rest of the team in that direction, too.

The Badgers' seventh straight run in the NCAA tournament begins Friday in Oklahoma City, where they will face Northern Iowa at 6:20 p.m. It's a team with which UW coach Bo Ryan is quite familiar.

The Panthers (21-10) are coached by Greg McDermott, against whom Ryan once coached when McDermott was a player at Northern Iowa in the late 1980s. In recent years, McDermott worked with former UW assistant Saul Phillips, a former player of Ryan's at UW-Platteville.

Milwaukee fans should be familiar with Panthers, too. Last year, they nearly beat Georgia Tech in a first-round tournament game at the Bradley Center before falling, 65-60.

"Greg knows us better than 90% of the coaches out there," said Ryan, who watched the selection show at the United Center in Chicago after his team's 54-43 loss to Illinois in the Big Ten tournament championship game.

"He knows what we do. You take a look at how they play and what they bring to the table and it's a tough matchup for us."

Vol. 4, No. 321
March 14, 2005