Friday, December 29, 2006

...And a Happy New Year

Sorry, my apartment's wireless internet is on the fritz, so I haven't had a chance to post this week. I don't know when the problem will be fixed, but I should be back next week sometime (even if it means I have to go to Barnes & Noble and sip on Frenchy coffee drinks while I'm writing).

In the meantime, Happy Second Anniversary of The Catch*...

* - By the way, my favorite is #34, who appears to be vomiting. It's even better than Vin Diesel giving us the flabbergasted Vin Diesel face.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas


Well, for the moment, all is quiet on the western front. Hostilities between me and the state of Texas are being put on hold while I take a brief Christmas vacation.

I'll be back Tuesday. Until then, Merry Christmas to you and yours. On Iowa and Go Hawks.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Revenge of Dr. Tom

So, I haven't commented on the greatest night of Dr. Tom Davis' life. Saturday night. Drake massacred Iowa. The game was not anywhere approaching close. It was not a fluke.

And you know what? Deep down, I loved it, and I doubt I'm the only Iowa fan who will say that.

Dr. Tom got a raw deal. Sure, he was often criticized for lackluster recruiting, thoroughly average performance, and that never-ending press on defense. But Iowa is, at its heart, a football school. Dr. Tom understood this and planned accordingly. His teams may not have ever been great, but they was never awful, either. They did enough to keep up interested and, occasionally, a little more. Look at the raw data on Davis' thirteen years with Iowa:
  • Overall record of 269-140 (.658 winning percentage)
  • Big Ten record of 117-107 (.522 winning percentage; at least he was over .500)
  • Only three seasons in 13 in the bottom half of the conference
  • Nine trips to the tournament, with one regional final and two more sweet sixteens
Nobody's going to confuse Tom Davis with John Wooden, but those numbers aren't too bad. His numbers are far better than the Golden Boy has posted to date. He won, and he did it with a style that matched the state: Simple, understated, unassuming. He always seemed a little lower in stature than the other coaches in the Big Ten (and not just because he's short and troll-like), but that seemed to fit well. And, say what you will about his recruiting (I think "pathetic" repeatedly applied), he always got more from his teams than anyone believed he could.

Then came 1998. When Bobby Bowlsby botched the Stoops hire, and thereby put his job on the success or failure of the unknown Kirk Ferentz, he needed a big name signing to divert attention. That meant the good doctor was gone and the Golden Boy was in. It was to be a new era of Iowa basketball, where fans would watch talented and well-coached teams that could compete for a conference title year-in, year-out. Gone were the days of J.R. Koch and Guy Rucker.

Except Dr. Tom wasn't going quietly. Publicly snubbed and coaching as a lame duck, he took his final Iowa team to the sweet sixteen with an upset victory over Arkansas and a near-victory over #1 UConn. Even with the promise of the Alford era, the departure of Davis never felt right. And so when Dr. Tom took over at Drake, a significant number of Iowa fans were openly rooting for him. Finally, Saturday night, as the final seconds ticked down on Dr. Tom's best impersonation of Beatrix Kiddo, we all got our wish. We gritted our teeth and lamented the sorry state of our program, but we were grinning inside.

Dr. Tom has Hattori Hanzo steel

The great irony in all of this is that the Iowa team that got stomped by Drake Saturday night looked exactly like one of Dr. Tom's Iowa teams, right down to the slow-footed small forward named J.R. wearing a t-shirt under his jersey. Sure, Tyler Smith looks great, but Iowa gets a great recruit every once in a while regardless of the coach. The promise of the Alford era has never materialized. Our qualms about the end of the Davis era proved to be true.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Notice Board: Alamo Bowl Edition

OK, let's get to it.

On Saturday, December 30, at 3:00 P.M., the Iowa Hawkeyes will face off with the Texas Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl. Yes, that's right. What better way to end the most disappointing season in recent memory than a game with the #16 team in the country, the defending national champion, in their own backyard? We'll get to the breakdown of this game closer to kickoff (believe me, it ain't pretty), but you've all been waiting for a target list.

I've never really had a problem with Texas. I've always found them somewhat pathetic, to tell you the truth. But that's not going to stop me from putting them on notice:


Guys in cowboy costumes: OK, so my position on Lames is pretty well-known. I loathe them. And that picture of the ISU Greek parade was quite possibly the greatest thing I have ever seen. At least until I saw this:

3 Reasons to Mess With Texas

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Up until this point, I didn't really have a problem with UT. Now, I want to stomp them just to ruin these douchebags' weekends. And yes, by the way, I think that's Brandon Flowers from The Killers on the left. Somebody told me...he is a jackass...

Mack Brown: This guy is a treat. Look, he did an awfully good job with North Carolina before coming to Texas, he recruits pretty well (for having the nation's best non-Florida recruiting base), and he seems like a pretty decent guy, but the man is a pathetic game coach. If you haven't noticed, it's not too often that Mack comes from behind to win. It's even less often that he beats a team with anywhere near the same talent as his. UT almost never wins a close game, and rarely even competes with talented squads. Every season, he loses to at least one team with comparable talent (this season, tOSU), one team with a vendetta against Texas that he can't match (A&M; Brown has been saved up to this season by the equally inept Dennis "Tears of Thunder" Franccione), and one team that doesn't deserve to be in the game with his team (K State and, maybe, Iowa). Mack routinely makes such great football minds as Lloyd Carr and Ron Zook look positively brilliant.

And then he won a championship, and he beat USC to do it. I can't figure it out, either. Nevertheless, he is the reason I think Iowa has an outside chance.
"Oh God, Vince, thank you for winning despite my incompetence!"

Austin, TX: The home of the University of Texas and, by all accounts, a completely enjoyable place to live. I've never been there, and I don't have any ammunition against the city.

Except, of course, for this.

The Wikipedia entry for Austin states: "Two of the candidates for President in the 2004 race call Austin home. Michael Badnarik, mentioned above as the Libertarian Party candidate, and David Cobb of the Green Party both have lived in Austin." Of course, there was a third candidate who once called Austin home: President Bush. I guess nobody wants to claim the poor bastard anymore.

The Wonderlic Test: Vince Young did not graduate from UT. Apparently, it's kind of amazing he lasted three years, considering he scored a six on the fifty-point Wonderlic test that is administered to NFL Draft applicants. That's right. Six. It's a multiple choice test, so Barbaro would theoretically score about 12. The president of Wonderlic, Inc. has said "A score of 10 is literacy. That's all I can say." Of course, that means the average ISU graduate averages about 9. And yet Young, the savior of Texas football and the player who could overcome the walking mental deficiency that is Mack Brown is, ironically enough, mentally deficient.

By the way, Vince has been ca$h money in the National Football League since taking over in Tennessee. Doesn't this prove that Ron Jaworski may be slightly overthinking this game?

Gene Chizik: Former UT defensive coordinator. New head coach in Lames. Natural object of my scorn.

Roger Clemens: Look, I loved the man. He screwed the Red Sox, won a couple of championships with the Yankees, threw a broken bat at Mike Piazza, and then retired.

Except that, he didn't. He had a year left on his contract and walked away in most glorified way possible (including standing ovations in Fenway during the ALCS and Yankee Stadium during Game 3 of the World Freakin' Series), only to show up five months later in Houston. Steinbrenner, who had given Clemens a motorcycle for his retirement, was so angry that he took the bike back. Why was nobody other than me and Big Stein angry about this? Why wasn't there a 10-part Bob Ley special, with live feeds from Pedro Gomez from the bushes outside Clemens' house? Last season, he holds Houston hostage (alliteration, anyone?), and now he's talking about coming back to the Bronx. You know what? I don't want you back.

Reefer Madness: Ricky Williams. Former Heisman winner and NCAA career rushing yardage leader. A player so good he forced Mike Ditka into a dreadlock wig. Now?

...Well, not so much with the greatness. Puff puff pass pass, Mr. Williams.

UT Cheerleaders: Just an excuse to show you this:

Man, did I pick the wrong school.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Speaking of Hawkeye State...

So, lost in the shuffle of my never-ending basketball preview was the fact that Iowa put the smack down on Iowa State in wrestling (really, the only sport where both programs can be considered in the upper echelon). The Clones were #4 in the country coming in. Of course, nobody told Tom Brands, resident badass. Needless to say, they were a little lower in the polls afterwards.

Do you think this guy would ever lose to Iowa State?
Or to anyone, for that matter?

Now, this win was particularly sweet for me for three reasons (beyond the fact that it's another win over Lames).
  • Two of ISU's best wrestlers, Travis and Trent Paulson, are twin brothers who went to elementary school with my brother. They were jackasses then. I'm assuming they're jackasses now. After all, they go to Lames. Well, Mark Perry came from 4-1 down to beat Travis Paulson at 165, and redshirt freshman Ryan Morningstar beat #1 ranked Tyler Paulson 3-2 in the last match of the night at 157. And, by the way, if you look for a picture of Ryan Morningstar on Google, the first three hits are 4-H hog show pictures from 6 years ago. Priceless.
  • The Greatness That is Cael Sanderson is the coach, and he got absolutely spanked by Brands. I swear, if I have to hear one more yokel talk about The Greatness That is Cael Sanderson, I'm gonna bust out the cross-face chicken wing on his overall-wearing ass.
  • Well, OK, part of it is the fact that it's Iowa State. I hate those bastards.
UPDATE: Apparently, after the Perry comeback against Paulson, Brands was celebrating and nearly got into a fight with one of the ISU coaches. When Dan Gable (hereinafter "God") went out to get him, the Lames assistant dropped an F-bomb on Gable. Now, you probably shouldn't use the F-bomb on Brands, but you DO NOT use it on God. Of course, this wasn't on the IPTV broadcast.

UPDATE:
At least Lames has plenty of heavyweights

I'm sorry. I can't help myself.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hoops Preview, Pt. 7: The Missouri Valley Conference

Now, the real basketball conference.

Remember how I said the Big East wasn't quite ready for prime time? Well, that's how I feel about Missouri Valley conference basketball. Once again, the MVC has a group of top-notch teams that would be competitive in just about any conference in the nation. They are brought down, once again, by a group of truly horrendous squads at the bottom of the conference. That being said, I think the Mo Valley is a better conference than either the Big Ten or Big XII this year, and that will be proven out over the course of the year.

So, how did we get here? How did an otherwise mid-major conference, filled with schools that routinely play second fiddle to their in-state counterparts, become the dominant basketball conference in the Midwest? That's difficult to answer. In some part, it is a result of the one-and-done mindset of top basketball recruits; the best players rarely play college ball through their junior years, making experience a commodity. However, the Big Ten and Big XII haven't been hit by the mass defections that have hurt other programs (just think of the good, senior-laden MSU and ILLINI teams of the past few seasons). Basketball also lends itself better to offensive gimmicks and recruiting in line with those gimmicks (doesn't every Creighton squad look identical?)

And I think a combination of those two factors has brought us here. A program like Wichita or UNI can build a reputation based on a specific style of offense, recruit based on that style (digging up and developing local talent), build players for 4-5 years (rather than expecting an immediate impact) and win ballgames. I think you need a combination of talent and experience to compete for a national championship, but the extreme lack of teams with both opens opportunities for those with one. That might not make any sense, but that's how I think it's happening. Now, a quick rundown of the MVC:

THE BOTTOM FEEDERS:
10 - Indiana State - Seriously, for a school that once had Larry Bird, this is embarassing. They're terrible.

9 - Illinois State - Ditto. And this is why the Valley won't be taken seriously again. Neither of these teams have a counterpart in the power conferences (even with Minnesota as bad as it is).

8 - Evansville - Slowly building, but never-ending backcourt troubles and a complete lack of a bench will eventually do them in.

THE PRETENDERS TO THE THRONE

7 - Bradley - Lose too much from last year; it's a rebuilding year for one of the better MVC programs.

6 - Drake - Well, they went to Lames and beat the Clones last week. And they've lost to Utah State and Troy. In other words, I don't have a clue what this team is capable of doing. I don't think they yet have the talent to contend, but they'll make it interesting for some teams.

5 - Missouri State - Here's where it starts getting interesting. Missouri State was criminally omitted from the NCAA's last season. At the time, Nantz and Packer were screaming about how too many MVC teams were in the Dance; two weeks later, we realized it was too few.

"So, Billy, partner of mine, do you think you can stick your head further up your ass?"
"Oh, I'm sure I can, Jim."



They return Ahearn at the point and experience in the backcourt. They're undersized but athletic in the frontcourt. They have already beaten Wisconsin and played tough with Oklahoma State. Their Achilles' heel (as with a number of other Valley teams) is a complete lack of depth; one injury could end the season. They also need to find some more scoring. That being said, I think Mo State goes slightly over .500 in the Valley. In the end, it's a third straight appearance in the NIT for the Bears.

4 - UNI - Lost their starting guards from last year's team. I was at the Iowa-UNI game this week, and trust me when I say they will be fine. I don't know if they're consistent enough from the outside to prevent teams from going zone and packing it in; that will, in the end, be the ultimate question. There is no doubt about their frontcourt. Stout and Coleman are the real deal, and are more than capable of dismantling larger opponents. You aren't dreaming, folks: UNI is the best basketball program in the state. And the irony is that they built it on in-state recruiting (with occasional trips to Minnesota), while Iowa and Lames have largely ignored Iowa kids to their obvious detriment. Come March, I think UNI gets the Valley's fourth NCAA tournament spot.

THE CONTENDERS

3- Creighton - The other Valley team I have seen live this season. They beat George Mason (aka America's Team), and thank God for that. Larranaga was an amazing jackass through their tournament run last year.

The space between Jim Larranaga's head and a
video camera is more dangerous than Fallujah.



Anyway, there's plenty to like about CU. They have Dana Altman (who has 8 straight 20-win seasons and is the safe pick as the best coach in the Valley). They have Nate Funk (honorary captain of the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars). They come off a season plagued with injuries, and that has given Creighton depth that you don't find in the other Valley squads. Anthony Tolliver could be a draft pick come June. The rest of the team knows their roles and plays them well. In other words, it's your typical Creighton squad. Oh, and by the way, they just signed the best recruiting class in school history.

The questions surround the health of a group of players who were injured last year, and those can't be answered until March. The other question is their play on the road; so far, they have lost at Nebraska and at Dayton. If they stay healthy and start winning the occasional road game, there's nothing keeping this team out of the NCAA's.

2 - Southern Illinois - Would have been #1 if I had put this together 3 weeks ago. They have the formula for MVC success: They return two starting guards, both seniors. They return two starting big men, both juniors. And the remaining starter, a sophomore, saw plenty of time last season (enough to be MVC freshman of the year). Experience, experience, experience. They also have experience on the bench, along with size. Barring injury, there aren't any glaring weaknesses. If Lowery has been gearing up for a run deep into the Big Dance, this is the year to do it.

1 - Wichita State - I don't think they would have been my pick on November 1. But then they beat LSU on the road. And then they beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Oh, and they return four starters from last year's Sweet 16 team. Sure, they lost Paul Miller, but every starter can score (the only Valley team who can say that). They have a great home court. And they're well coached. Put it all together, and it's going to be a great season for WSU.

It Remains the Hawkeye State


Later this weekend...
  • The UNI debacle (maybe it's the Panther State)
  • Mo Valley/Big XII preview
  • The triumphant return of This Week in the Premiership (I know you all love that)
Until then, death to the Cyclones...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hoops Preview, Pt. 6: Dear God, Make it Stop

We'll be working through a much less specific rundown of the Big XII and Mo Valley soon (not to mention a look at Iowa-Texas at the Alamo Bowl), but we've gotta put this Big Ten thing to rest. So, the final three.

3rd Place, Big Ten Conference: ILLINI

So, there's a problem here: I'm completely sold on Bruce Weber the coach. I'm not at all sold on Bruce Weber the recruiter.

The Good News: First, there are the returning players. Specifically, Rich McBride and Jamar Smith in the backcourt, and Brian Randle and Shaun Pruit in the frontcourt, give ILLINI experience and all-around players. All four of these guys play sold defense, see the court well, and can fill it up. So far, Weber has been divvying up playing time among everyone, looking for the guys he can rely on, but it seems apparent that these four will have to be a part of that picture.

Second, the schedule works well. ILLINI avoid road games against both Wisconsin and tOSU and hit what appears to be a low point in their current run during a relatively weak Big Ten year.

Third, there's Weber. He might have a reputation as a disciplinarian and a bit of a jackass, but he's a pretty damn good game coach and always seems to get more than he should from the talent at his disposal.

The Bad News: Well, it's more for the future than the present, but Weber's done it all with Bill Self's guys, and the word from Champaign is that the recent recruiting classes don't have that same level of athleticism or talent. As I said, Weber gets the most of what he has, but the mark of a top-notch program is having talent to go with the coaching. For this season, the biggest concern (and the largest hole in losses to Maryland and Arizona) is the lack of a true point guard. Dee Brown created so much offense with his ability to drive and dish; there doesn't appear to be an heir apparent.

Best Name on the Roster: I guess it's Richard Semrau or Rich McBride, but there's not much here. Does Ron Zook count?

All-Time Great Player: Probably Eddie Johnson.

Program High Point: They went to 3 Final Fours in 4 years in the late '40s-early '50s, but nobody remembers that, so we'll go with their 2005 run to the national title game.

Program Low Point: Their perfect regular season was spoiled by the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Projection: Mizzou might get them this year. If so, they finish 12-3 non-conference. I have them at 11-5 in the Big Ten. That's good for a 23-8 record and a #5 seed in the Big Dance.

2nd Place, Big Ten: WISCONSIN BOOZEHOUNDS



The Good News: Experience, experience, experience. As we saw last year with Iowa, experience and team chemistry can trump raw talent. Well, Kammron "Chris Rock" Taylor, Alando Tucker, Brian Butch, Jason Chappell and Michael Flowers are all back. That's all five starters from the end of last season. And those five have more talent than Brunner/Horner/Hansen/Haluska; in fact, Tucker is probably the best returning player in the conference. There's also plenty of experience on the bench. Throw in the typically huge Wisky homecourt advantage (72-5 since Bo Ryan arrived in 2001) and it's a recipe for success.

The Bad News: Despite dodging a bullet in the Big Ten/ACC Farce, the schedule is brutal. They already dropped one to Missouri State and still have games at Marquette, at Georgia, and against Pitt. Plus, they close with a home-and-home against MSU and at tOSU. Not pretty. But that's the only thing to find wrong about this team.

Best Name on the Roster: Doesn't Brian Butch sound born to play for Wisconsin?

All-Time Great Player: Michael Finley in a landslide.

Program High Point: A miracle 2000 trip to the Final Four

Program Low Point: Well, before Dick Bennett, they were terrible, so it's pretty much everything between 1940 and 1995.

Projection: They'll drop 2 of the aforementioned 3 tough ones and finish 12-3 non-conference. An 11-5 conference record (where they'll be at or tied for the lead heading into the last 2 weeks, then drop 2 of 3) gets them a 23-8 record, the same #5 seed as ILLINI, and an unexpected early exit from the tournament.

The Winner, Big Ten Conference: THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY

Holy crap.

The Good News: Did you watch the North Carolina game? I don't care that they lost. If Greg Oden is 65% of what has been advertised, they're practically unstoppable. Play the perimeter guys and Oden eats you alive. Pack it in to stop Oden and they shoot you out of the gym. They're faster, quicker, more athletic, and simply better than anyone in the conference. And Thad Matta is no slouch. And the program somehow avoided sanctions stemming from the Jim O'Brien era. Things are looking up, tOSU'ers.

The Bad News: Well, it's all contingent on Oden. His first game against Valpo wasn't on TV, but I've been told he looked pretty good (14-10 in 23 minutes). Still, it's a big leap from Valpo to the Big Ten. Plus, he may be spending too much time dancing with pantsless coeds. Should be OK, so long as he refrains from meeting up with Mo Clarett and getting his Goose on.

You! You right there! Take off your pants and dance with Greg Oden!
C'mon, do it for THE Ohio State University!


Best Name on the Roster: Othello Hunter. Apparently, Othello's parents thought Iago was totally cool.

All-Time Great Player: Sure, they have John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas, but is it too soon to say Greg Oden? No!

Program High Point: Forget the program. This is the highest point for the state of Ohio (unless, of course, you include the William Howard Taft administration).

Program Low Point: Jim O'Brien resigned in disgrace after giving $6000 to Serbian center Alexander Radojevic and an undisclosed amount to Boban Savovic, another Serb. O'Brien's apparent goal was to start an ethnic conflict with the Croats playing for Northwestern. Ironically, the moves actually led to a certain amount of reconciliation between the nations, as Savovic and Vedran Vukucic bonded over stories of singlehandedly destroying Iowa.

Projection: They still have to go to Florida, but could win that if Oden is OK to go. I'll say they finish 11-2 non-conference, 13-3 conference (nobody gets through the Big Ten unscathed), take a 24-5 record and get a #2 seed in the Big Dance. The Ohio State University should have a great shot at the Final Four (and they may even be able to keep the banner this time!)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Hoops Preview, Pt. 5: The Final Five

5th Place, Big Ten: HOOSIER DADDY

They would have been in yesterday's post had it not been for the Duke game. So, the question is: Was indiana underrtated, or is Duke overrated? I think maybe a bit of both (though it is difficult to ever imagine Indiana basketball being underrated).

The Good News: D.J. White is healthy and looks great. And he adds to a decent amount of returning talent like Wilmont and Ratliff. Plus, it's Indiana, and home court is always worth at least 5 points. But, to tell you the truth, there's not much more.

The Bad News: There's plenty here. I always thought Kelvin Sampson was a capable, if unspectacular, coach. He recruited well, won the games he should have won, blew an occasional close one, generally imploded in the Tournament.

And then came Duke.

How you get your team back into a game, then blow all your timeouts before the 3:00 mark, is beyond me. After all, with TV timeouts and 30-second timeouts, there are about 30 chances to stop the clock per team. So, when his team was withon one possession, Kelvin decided it was time to use everything he had left. What happened was inevitable: Indiana got the ball back with about 10 seconds to go and down by 3, and inexplicably tried to drive to the basket before taking a desperation three. This should never have happened.

Throw in the departure of Robert Vaden, who left for the Mike Davis-led UAB (Dragons), and there are a couple of problems. Vaden was absolutely unstoppable at times (as in, at Carver Hawkeye) and will be sorely missed.

Finally, there's not much inside. Ben Allen is a perimeter player disguised as a center. D.J. White is generally the same. I don't know if there's enough here.

Worse News: Kelvin can't recruit off-campus this year because of more than 500 inappropriate calls placed to recruits at Oklahoma. Whoops.

Best Name on the Roster: The exquisitely named Xavier Keeling.

Greatest All-Time Player: Isiah Thomas has destroyed the CBA and the Knicks. Steve Alford has come damn close to destroying Iowa basketball and my psyche. Neil Reed destroyed Bobby Knight's coaching career. So we'll go with Walt Bellamy, who is in the Hall of Fame, set the record for most games played in an NBA regular season with 88, and hasn't destroyed anything to my knowledge.

All-Time High Point: They've won 5 national championships. Let's go with 1987.

All-Time Low Point: Well, that season led to this:




...OK, let's go with 1981.

Projection: They still have UK and UConn on the schedule, so an 8-5 finish against a tough nonconference slate isn't out of the question. I don't think they go any better than 8-8 in the conference (they only play tOSU and Wisky once, but they also only play Minny and Northwestern once). The Sampson era kicks off at 16-11.

4th Place, Big Ten: IZZO'D (a.k.a. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS)

Good News: Tom Izzo is still at Michigan State. The man is such a good coach that they wanted to give him the football job.

Bad News: They lost four starters. But you know what? It doesn't matter. They have Izzo. Bow before his majesty.

Best Name on the Roster:

All-Time Great Player:


Program High Point:


Program Low Point:


Projection:

13-2 non-conference
10-6 conference
23-8 overall
and it's all because of Izzo.