Monday, December 19, 2005

Drake Hasn't Won At Iowa City Since 1967--And That Was In the Fieldhouse! Don't Look For Any Miracles By the Bulldogs Tuesday Against Alford And Iowa

Numbers man and teleconference expert extraordinaire Mike Mahon started Tom Davis’ session today with reporters by handing out the good news:

1. Davis’ Drake basketball team ranks third nationally in steals with an average of 12.7 per game.

2. The Bulldogs’ 53.3 field goal percentage ranks No. 12 nationally and leads the Missouri Valley Conference.

3. The Valley is No. 3 in the national RPI [conference power rankings] –- the highest it’s ever been and ahead of the No. 4 Atlantic Coast Conference, the No. 5 Big 12 and the No. 6 Southeastern Conference. The Big Ten is No. 1 and the Big East is No. 2.

Later came the bad news. There’s always some of that when you’re talking about Drake basketball.

Chuck Schoffner, looking ahead to Tuesday night’s Drake-Iowa game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, pointed out that no Bulldog team has won a basketball game in Iowa City since 1967.

Schoffner, talking as though he'd barely gotten out of diapers in '67 [but all of us know better], wanted to know what Davis [pictured at the lower right] was doing that year.

“I was an assistant coach at the University of Maryland,” Drake’s third-year coach said. “The point it makes is that it shows how much work we’ve had to do to try to get Drake out of these doldrums. Gary Garner [the Bulldogs’ coach from 1981-1988, and the man pictured at the upper right] had some good years. Since then, it’s been a pretty long struggle.”

Indeed, Garner was the coach when Drake had its last winning season. His Bulldogs went 17-14 in 1986-87.

Earlier, I mentioned the 1967-68 season –- the last time a Drake team won in Iowa City. Maury John [center] was the Bulldogs’ coach then, and was still a season away from having the team that went 26-5 and finished third in the NCAA Final Four at Louisville.

Heck, in 1967, Carver-Hawkeye Arena wasn’t even in anyone’s thoughts or drawing boards in Iowa City. Iowa was playing in old Iowa Fieldhouse in those days, and most people figured that would remain the Hawkeyes’ home for the next century, or at least until Lute Olson quit blowing big games in the last 3 minutes.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena didn't open until 1983.

On Dec. 16, 1967, Drake beat coach Ralph Miller’s Iowa team, 74-65. And that certainly was no patsy of a Hawkeye squad. The starters at forward were Sam [we called him "Super Sam" in those days] Williams and Glenn Vidnovic, the center was Dick Jensen and the guards were Ron Norman and Chad Calabria--and they went on to tie for the Big Ten championship.

Without a doubt, Davis is taking his best Drake team to Iowa City for tomorrow night’s game against Steve Alford's Hawkeyes. The Bulldogs, who won at San Jose State, 82-64, Saturday, have a 6-3 record and don’t seem to be bothered by playing on the road.

Davis is doing a good job of bringing Drake's program back from the dead. But make no mistake about it. The Bulldogs will be out of their league tomorrow night. Their pressure defense won't work against Iowa any better than it worked against Iowa State. The Hawkeyes might look like they have a lack of direction and don't know what they're doing at times, but they could -- and should -- be an outstanding team. When that happens is anybody's guess. But look for them to win Tuesday's game, and win easily.

When I asked Davis about the game at San Jose State, he said, “With young ballclubs --– and that might be true of this Drake team –- they might play looser on the road than they do at home.

They understand the fans are trying hard to support them [at home]. We’ve been getting some nice support in greater Des Moines. Players sometimes feel the heat of that, but on the road they might play looser. We played pretty loose and pretty well out there [at San Jose State].

This will be the second game for Davis against Iowa in Iowa City, where he became the Hawkeyes’ winningest coach from 1987-1999. Davis’ team lost at Iowa two seasons ago, 74-56. The Hawkeyes won in Des Moines last season, 91-75.

The anticipation that stretched statewide of Davis taking a Drake team to play against the school he coached for so long won’t be present this time, he feels.

In response to Jim Ecker’s question, Davis said, “It was harder two years ago, as you can imagine, because of the emotions involved……Two years down the road, this is a little more straightforward – we have two more games, then the conference season starts.”

When Susan Harman asked why Drake is shooting 51.3 percent, Davis said, “It’s partly due to defense, partly due to point guard play. The more solid guard play you get, the better shots you get.”

Asked by Steve Batterson how well Drake is playing, Davis said, “I’ve been pleased with the team. We’ve still got some soft spots. I think you’re going to see an improved Drake team. We’re better, but we still have some areas we need to improve if we’re going to be competitive at the upper end of the Missouri Valley.”

Davis said Sean Tracy has missed the last few days because of a hip pointer sustained in practice, and isn’t expected to play against Iowa.


Don't say I didn't tell you.....

Iowa 79, Drake 61 [the beat goes on]