Friday, March 10, 2006

Sorry, I Don't Think Underachieving Cyclones, Who Lost 7 Of Their Last 9 Games, Belong In the NIT. Why Would the Committee Want Them?

Here are a few of my opinions about Iowa State's underachieving basketball team:

I don't think it deserves to be in the upcoming National Invitation Tournament, and I have serious doubts about whether the NIT's selection committee even wants the Cyclones.

Why WOULD the committee want 'em?

Iowa State lost seven of its last nine games during the regular season, and seems to have lost any motivation it once may have had -- like when it swept the in-state table by beating Drake, Iowa and Northern Iowa.

Man, was that a long time ago.

The Oklahoma State team that the Cyclones clobbered, 68-52, not that long ago in Ames was much better prepared last night in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament and wound up winning, 79-70.

Iowa State's players looked like they wanted to be anywhere other than a basketball arena. Coach Wayne Morgan again appeared to not have a clue. He even turned his responsibilities on the postgame radio show over to his No. 1 assistant, Damon Archibald.

I guess I don't blame him. I, too, wouldn't want to talk about a team whose guards are pissed off at the forwards and centers, and a team that had a sophomore [Tasheed Carr] walk out the day before the Big 12 tournament began.

But stiffing Eric Heft on the radio show was kind of strange, considering it very well could have been Iowa State's last game of what turned into a horribly disappointing season.

The Cyclones are 16-14 overall and were 6-10 in what was considered a down year in the Big 12.

There's certainly no assurance Iowa State would get a home game in the opening round of the NIT. People who run the NIT aren't dummies. Just like every yay-hoo that wanders into Ames for a game knows, Hilton Magic is dead.

Somebody should wake up Johnny Orr [right] and bring him into the arena in a golf cart so he can pump some oxygen into the place.

I'd much rather bring the band into the joint, let 'em play, "He-e-e-re's Johnny!" and watch him strut from the locker room to midcourt than see this season's Cyclones attempt -- and miss -- three-pointers and play no defense all night.

I seriously doubt Cyclone fans are going to be lining up for tickets to what all players and coaches consider a second-rate tournament anyway.

The best bet is that Iowa State would be assigned to play at Creighton, where fans apparently will show up just to see if coach Dana Altman has any gravy stains on one of his white shirts.

Minnesota maybe avoided an NIT matchup by beating Michigan -- another team that should put its jockstraps in storage, but will probably be picked for the NIT anyway -- on the opening day of the Big Ten tournament.

It certainly seems to me that no one connected with the Iowa State program is saying, "I'll be saying my prayers at night and crossing my fingers all day Sunday --hoping the NIT takes us."

Somehow, this is starting to remind me of 1994.

Iowa State had a 14-13 record after losing seven of its last 10 regular-season games in what turned out to be Orr's final season.

Fred Hoiberg, who averaged 20.3 points, captained the team. Also on the squad was Loren Meyer, who averaged 22.3 points. That may have been the season Meyer got hit by a train at 3 a.m. in Des Moines [strange things happened in those days]. Also on the team was Julius Michalik, who averaged 20 points.

I remember sitting in the Olson Building at Ames at 11 p.m. on Selection Sunday. Obviously, Iowa State wasn't picked for the NCAA Big Dance. So the only hope was the NIT.

We sat there and we sat there. I sat there. Beth Haag, the basketball sports information director, sat there. Tom Kroeschell, the head of the publicity department, sat there. I don't know, there may have been two or three janitors who were sitting there, too.

The players, of course, were gone. They weren't interested in standing there. I'm sure Orr was sleeping.

No news came from the NIT. People kept calling New York. Nothing.

Finally, Orr woke up and was on the phone. He wanted to know if Jim Hallihan, his top assistant, had told the NIT selection committee that it might be Johnny's last season as coach.

The committee was aware that Johnny might be hanging 'em up.

Still no thumbs-up from the NIT.

Iowa State was stiffed. And that 1993-94 team with Hoiberg, Meyer and Michalik was better than this one coached by Morgan.

Orr retired a few weeks later.

* * *

My column a few days ago that quoted Gordy Scoles about saying that maybe Division III was where Drake's basketball should be headed brought this e-mail from Al Schallau:


"Please forward this email on to Gordy Scoles, and please send me his e-mail address. I cannot agree at all that the future of Drake University basketball in Division I is a lost cause.

"I think that if Drake hired Vance Walberg, head coach at Fresno City College, Drake would own the Missouri Valley Conference after his third year, and would be playing to sellout crowds at Wells Fargo Arena.

"Last year, Fresno City College was 38-0 and won the California State Junior College championship. Coach Walberg lost almost everyone off that team. So this year, his team has struggled to a 32-5 record and is now in the Final Eight of the 2006 California State Junior College tournament.

"From 1970 to 1973, I watched Lute Olson's teams at Long Beach City College. His teams went 104-20 during those four years, and played for the California State championship three times, finishing second to Compton in 1970 and 1973, and won it all in 1972.

"I could tell then that he was one of those rare coaches who would be a big winner no matter where he went. Lute's subsequent coaching records at Long Beach State, Iowa, and Arizona have proved that very nicely.

"Vance Walberg is one of those rare coaches. He is ready to leave Fresno City College and move on to Division I. His son is now a senior in high school, so he and his family would be ready to move if the situation was right.


Al Schallau

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: Al, you certainly did good things for Hawkeye basketball by suggesting to then-athletic director Bump Elliott that Lute Olson could be a winner. Olson stayed two or three years too long at Iowa, but otherwise brought respect to the program. I appreciate you recommending Vance Walberg [left] for the Drake job, but it likely won't be open for a year or more. Tom Davis has said he'll be back next season. After that, who knows? But Walberg certainly appears to be someone who is ready to jump into major-college coaching, and do well at it. By the way, you mentioned sellout crowds for Drake at Wells Fargo Arena. I'm sure the Bulldogs plan to continue using the Knapp Center as their home arena, and will leave the empty seats at the big gym downtown to the hockey team].

* * *

Mike Mahon at Drake sent this e-mail:

"While we are all awaiting NCAA Selection Sunday, hoping to get as many Missouri Valley Conference teams as possible in the Big Dance consider this following leftover note from the recent MVC tournament.

"The smallest player who participated in the tournament might have registered the most amazing stat line of any participant.

"Five-foot 10-inch junior guard Al Stewart of Drake came the closest of any player in recording the first triple-double in the 30-year history of the MVC tournament when he collected 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in the opening round game against Indiana State.

"Stewart's 10 assists were the most by any player in the MVC tournament since Evansville's Jeremy Stanton dished out 15 assists against Illinois State March 3, 2001.

"I enjoyed working with you again this winter. I will be at the NCAA Minneapolis Regional so hopefully our paths will cross again."

[RON MALY'S COMMENTS: Thanks for the note on Stewart, Mike. It was a tough year for the Bulldogs, but you did your usual first-class job. Don't freeze anything off in Minneapolis].