Monday, March 13, 2006

Ron Maly Is Happy NIT Selection Committee Is Reading His Columns and Doing What He Tells It To Do; Meanwhile, the Iowa, UNI Feel-Good Stories Continue

I’m glad to see that the guys who run postseason basketball tournaments are paying close attention to what I write.

Remember, I said in a column last Friday that Iowa State had no business being picked for the National Invitation Tournament.

“I have serious doubts about whether the NIT’s selection committee even wants the Cyclones,” I wrote after Iowa State’s 79-70 loss to Oklahoma State in the opening round of the Big 12 Conference tournament. “Why WOULD the committee want ‘em?

"Iowa State’s players looked like they wanted to be anywhere other than a basketball arena,” I continued. Coach Wayne Morgan again appeared to not have a clue. He even turned his responsibilities on the postgame radio show [after the loss to Oklahoma State] over to his No. 1 assistant, Damon Archibald.”

Obviously, plenty of people forwarded that column to the guys who made decisions on the 40-team NIT field.

They read it -- or had someone read it to them -- and they agreed with me.

Meanwhile, those connected with Iowa State’s underachieving team – and plenty of reporters who covered their games during a 16-14 season – took it for granted that the Cyclones would automatically be picked for the NIT just because they won two more games than they lost and despite having a couple of starting guards [Will Blalock and Curtis Stinson] who had more mouth than game in a disruptive season..

Things got so bad at Iowa State that sophomore guard Tasheed Carr quit the team on the eve of the Big 12 tournament.

I guess he knew something.

That should have been a strong indication of the cancer influencing the team.

It wasn’t stunning and it wasn’t shocking – as some headline writers wrote -- that Iowa State wasn’t picked by the NIT. It was clear to me during a maddening downhill February-March slide that the Cyclones didn’t belong in any postseason tournament.

Everybody knows the NIT is something no coach and no player really wants to be picked for after the 65-team NCAA field is chosen. But at least the Iowa States , Oklahoma States and Michigans of the world should at least act like they want their season to continue.

The Cyclones didn’t even do a good job of that. Too often, when it appeared obvious there was no NCAA in their future, they played like the NIT was a disease for which there was no cure.

In the end, Iowa State deserved just what it got – an early exit from what should have been a pretty good season. After all, the Cyclones won the state collegiate championship by beating Iowa, Northern Iowa and Drake early in the season, and looked to be in great shape for the school’s fourth straight postseason appearance.

But poor defense, no inside game, no leadership on the floor and subpar coaching finally caught up with a team that lost whatever was left of Hilton Magic. Blalock, Stinson and the rest of the players now get to watch Iowa and Northern Iowa play in the NCAA tournament this week, and you and I know it’ll make them sick.

I hope Morgan will somehow find a way to give this team a personality transplant between now and next October. If it doesn’t happen, there are ways for athletic directors to solve the problem – and you can bet Jamie Pollard, the man who is in his first year in charge of Iowa State’s department, will find a way to make changes.

Meanwhile, two wholesome basketball stories continue to unfold in other parts of the state.

They, of course, are at Iowa and Northern Iowa.

Iowa somehow continues winning despite having a coach who seems destined to take the Indiana job when the season is over. If Steve Alford – a one-time Hoosier golden boy as a player – isn’t headed to the coaching job at Bloomington, he’s sure got me fooled.

I have yet to hear him say, “I appreciate any interest Indiana might have in me, but I’m happy at Iowa and I want to stay at Iowa.”

It would be kind of nice, don’t you think, for Hawkeye fans to hear it from Alford that he actually likes it in Iowa City? Until I hear it, I’ll be assuming he’ll be sitting on the Hoosier bench at Assembly Hall next season.

So I say the hell with him. Let him go. Good riddance.

I’m just glad Iowa has a bunch of first-class kids from this state – Greg Brunner, Jeff Horner, Adam Haluska and Mike Henderson and others – who have taken it upon themselves to play well while rumors swirl that their coach is bailing out on them.

Four of the Hawkeyes’ starters are Iowans, four of the Hawkeyes’ starters are white as they continue climbing mountains in what is regarded as a black players’ sport.

It’s not over yet. It’s possible for Iowa to win two or three games in the NCAA, starting with one Friday against Northwestern State at Auburn Hills, Mich., in the Atlanta Regional.

Northern Iowa’s assignment at Dayton, Ohio, against Georgetown isn’t easy, but nothing ever comes easy to the Panthers and their coach, Greg McDermott.

McDermott is one of the hot names in coaching right now, and my guess is that he’ll find a way to be competitive against Georgetown -- a university with a very high-profile basketball name coached by someone with a high-profile name [John Thompson III].

Then, when UNI finishes its NCAA business – whenever that might be – the university will have to find a way to keep McDermott.

It doesn’t figure to be easy.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[Ron Maly is a four-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and also is the best-selling author of "Tales from the Iowa Sidelines," which is in its second printing as both a hardback and softback book. The book is about the rich football tradition at the University of Iowa. Maly has a heck of a lot of fun doing what he's doing. Ron's columns about sports, newspapers, his family, medicine, travel, the people he knows, the people he doesn't know, a few people he'd like to know better, a few people he once knew and is trying to forget, a few people he has already forgotten, and anything else that trips his trigger appear regularly at and]