Saturday, December 03, 2005

Tom Davis' Team Could Be Drake's Best Since Garner Went 19-11 In 1985-86--And the Bulldogs Can Make A Strong Statement Monday By Beating Iowa State

There’s no doubt in my mind that the basketball team Tom Davis [right] puts on the Knapp Center court Monday night against Iowa State is the best in his three seasons as Drake’s coach.

Indeed, maybe –- just maybe –- it could be the best Bulldog team since coach Gary Garner’s 1985-86 outfit went 19-11 and lost to Marquette in the National Invitation Tournament.

Whether this Drake team, which has a 4-1 record, is good enough to beat premier guards Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock and the rest of the talented Cyclones remains to be seen.

But this is how I feel about the game, which starts at 7:08 p.m., and will be telecast by KDSM in Des Moines and KFXA in Cedar Rapids.

The Bulldogs certainly need to play very well, but this is a game they can win. And it’s one in which they can make a strong statement about the progress Davis is making with his program if they do win.

Davis hasn’t beaten either Iowa or Iowa State so far, and he’ll be able to open the eyes in a big-time way of basketball fans around the state and the nation if he can pull off a victory Monday.

Say what you want about beating Northern Iowa and Creighton. Sure, it’s good for Drake’s program. But being strongly competitive against, and occasionally defeating, Iowa State and Iowa is what longtime Bulldog fans want.

Drake will get the respect it covets when it finally knocks off Iowa State and Iowa.

The Drake-Iowa State rivalry is the oldest in the state. Iowa State has a 103-61 lead in a series that began Feb. 29, 1908. The Cyclones have won four of the last five games, including the last three.

Beating Iowa will be a much tougher challenge for Drake, of course. As much as Davis, who became the Hawkeyes’ winningest coach from 1986-1999, wants to drill his old school, it’s going to be very difficult this season because the Dec. 20 game is at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and Iowa is showing signs of being very good.

Iowa hasn’t lost to Drake since the 1978-79 season and figures to be a heavy favorite again later this month.


To me, this is hard to believe.

There are about 1,000 tickets, priced at $25 each, left for the Drake-Iowa State game.

That’s all the more reason Drake should play all of its home games at the Knapp Center, and not move any of them to the much larger Wells Fargo Arena in downtown Des Moines.

As you know by now, I’m not a fan of Wells Fargo Arena for collegiate basketball.

And, as you know by now, lots of other people aren’t fans of Wells Fargo Arena for much of anything.


Collegiate basketball coaches probably don’t do this stuff – well, maybe one or two of them do – but, if I were Davis, I think I’d assign one of my assistant coaches or veteran players – to remind the young guys on Drake’s team of what happened after the Bulldogs’ 73-46 loss last season to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum at Ames.

Cyclone coach Wayne Morgan [left] indicated after the easy victory that a couple of the in-state rivalries –- I guess with Drake and Northern Iowa –- didn’t mean that much to him.

He acted as though he wanted more big-name schools on his schedule for TV purposes. I guess Mountain State, Portland State and Howard [all of which were on his 2005-2006 schedule] were what he had in mind.

It was dumb for him to say something like that.

Someone obviously pointed that out to Morgan because a day or so later he did what other coaches have been known to do. He blamed reporters for what he said.

He said his comments about not wanting to play some of the in-state teams were “misinterpreted.”

That sounds like something an athletic director [Bruce Van De Velde was the man in charge at Iowa State at the time] or a savvy sports information director who is always on top of things [let's see, Iowa State publicity boss Tom Kroeschell is a Drake graduate] told him to say.

This is the way I feel about it. I think Iowa State should play Drake, Northern Iowa and Iowa every season. In the old days, the Cyclones played Drake twice a season -- once in Des Moines, once in Ames.

That doesn’t sound like a bad idea now.

It sure as hell beats the Cyclones playing Mountain State.


Gone from Iowa State’s roster is Jared Homan, who was such an outstanding center in recent season.

When I asked how good the Cyclones are, Davis said, “It’s hard to tell this early in the year. Coaching is hard enough without opposing coaches building you up. They’re good. They’ve got some other guys back and added people who give them some strong dimensions.

“Homan was terrific, and it takes a while replace someone like that. They have a nice blend of speed, size and strength. There’s some new blood int here. They had a good run at the end of the league season last year [that resulted in a trip to the NCAA tournament]. I’m sure they’re thinking that way again.”


Morgan, whose 4-2 team lost to Fresno State, 84-77, Saturday night at a Hilton Coliseum that suddenly is showing no "Hilton Magic," said on his postgame radio show that Monday night's game "will be a great game.

"I obviously have all the respect in the world for Tom Davis. I think he is one of the great coaches in America. Drake is playing very, very well. I know they played a great Boston College team to a three-point game, so we'll have our hands full."


You read it here first:

Drake 78, Iowa State 75 [overtime]