Friday, April 30, 2010

Who has the Most Risk in the Iowa State Coaching Situation?

Now that the freshness of the Fred Hoiberg coaching hire is over, we can now analyze who carries the most risk: Hoiberg or Iowa State. Or is there really that much risk?

This would not be an issue if "The Mayor" had some head coaching experience. But the negative people seem to make issue with Hoiberg's blank resume.

Iowa State has little risk. The athletic department just endured four straight losing seasons. The program was pretty low. At times, Cyclone hoops were about as exciting as watching cars travel down Main Street on a Saturday night. Translation: it couldn't become much worse. Athletic Director Jamie Pollard hired a Cyclone hero in Hoiberg. Fans will probably flock back to Hilton Coliseum and give Iowa boy Hoiberg lots of rope in the rebuilding process. If Hoiberg flops, Iowa State just brings in another coach

Hoiberg has more risk but not that much. Could his glory boy status become tarnished if he cannot lead his alma mater to prosperity? I doubt it. Plus, if it doesn't work out, he could probably return to a NBA front office. Hoiberg's people skills will not have him lacking for gainful employment.

I like the hire and view it as much more reward than risk. Hoiberg will surround himself with talented coaches whether on the bench or on the speed dial. If he happens to become more of a public relations/CEO coach, it wouldn't be the first time in college athletics. Remember that football coach at Florida State with the first name of Bobby?

But I think in due time, Hoiberg will return the Cyclones to respectability. I'm not predicting Final Four in the next few years, but how about a few winning records for starters?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

McDermott Returns to the Proper League

A little more on the Greg McDermott situation.

McDermott made the right choice when he took the Creighton job and returned to the Missouri Valley.

McDermott failed to collect a winning season in four tries at Iowa State. His tenure was marked by unhappy and transferring players. Things were not going to get better at Iowa State and he recognized it.

McDermott is a good coach. He proved that at Northern Iowa when he took another Missouri Valley team to the Big Dance on three occasions. He will do better in a league that has more long-term players and players that perform for the team. Valley players focus more on team goals while other major conference players look to the NBA. It's also no shame to try and then fail.

I look for McDermott to soon have the Bluejays playing for the conference title and a bid in the NCAA. It's been a little dry on the postseason front for Creighton lately, so McDermott arrives at a good time.

Look for those Creighton-Northern Iowa (rivals now)games to contain extra meaning too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Mayor Takes Over at Iowa State

Former Iowa State basketball star Fred Hoiberg was formally introduced today as the Cyclones' new coach.

Hoiberg dazzled Iowa State fans in the 90's with some solid basketball ability. For his efforts, he earned the nickname "The Mayor." He also played when the basketball arena was affectionately called "Hilton Magic."

Hoiberg said in his press conference that he wants that magic back.

The Mayor returns to Ames without any coaching experience. He comes from the Minnesota Timberwolves where he served in a front office capacity for a number of years.

Iowa State is definitely taking a risk with this hire, but a good risk. Hoiberg is Iowa State through-and-through and he will pump much needed life into the program. Cyclone fans are desperate for success again and it would become storybook if one of their favorite sons could deliver.

He said all the proper things at the press conference such as playing an uptempo style, making players go to class, recruiting Iowa players etc. Hoiberg even displayed a great sense of humor.

I think he will put people in the Hilton seats again in good numbers. That will be the easy task. But can he recruit strong Big 12 Conference talent and keep them around for consistency sake in the program? Plus, will Hoiberg be able to coach?

Hoilberg basically said that the Iowa State job was a dream one. Cyclone fans hopes this favorite son's dreams will results in many victories.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Iowa State Owes Oregon a Thank-You Note

The Iowa State men's basketball program received more good news early this week.

The University of Oregon hired Creighton's coach Dana Altman to run its program. Creighton then quickly turned to Iowa State's Greg McDermott. Suddenly, the Cyclones' coaching chair was vacant. Most times when another school takes a coach away from your school, you are sad and disappointed. Iowa State was actually happy.

As I wrote in this blog before, McDermott needed to win next season at Iowa State or he was probably out. For whatever reason, the Iowa State basketball future under McDermott looked dismal. And he knew he was in trouble. So his options were to stay at Iowa State essentially under a one-year contract or sign a 10-year deal at Creighton.

McDermott's decision saved the Cyclones some probable embarrassment. They didn't have to fire the coach and admit that the marriage didn't work. They also don't have to buyout the remaining years on his contract. Plus, Iowa State will collect $800,000 from Creighton for McDermott's early departure.

The interesting aspect of McDermott's move is his son, Doug. Now, he will play for his dad at Creighton rather than begin his career at Northern Iowa. The kid was probably good enough to play at Iowa State, but both dad and son were realistic about a long-term relationship there together.

And Iowa State really needs to send its thanks to of all places--the University of Oregon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

There's a Nurse in the House and a Grayer Too

The Iowa State men's basketball program made two interesting hires this week in Nick Nurse and Jeff Grayer. Finally after all the bad news about player defections, there is some good news coming out of Ames, Iowa.

Maybe these new coaches will actually land some talented players and actually help keep them on the team. Plus, maybe Nurse and Grayer can help restore some luster to a needy Iowa State basketball program.

Nurse offers excellent coaching credentials. He was a head coach in the NBA Development League and also coached overseas. You might think this is a coaching step down for him, but he sounds excited to join his former college teammate in Cyclone head man Greg McDermott.

The Grayer appointment excites me the most. I watched him in person as one of the most celebrated players in Cyclone history. He is Iowa State's all-time leading scorer and a former All-American. Grayer IS Iowa State basketball and helped land the Cyclones on the national scene. Grayer doesn't bring a whole lot of coaching experience (two years in the Continental Basketball Association), but it sounds like he wants to give back to his alma mater. And connections in basketball rich Michigan (he's from Flint), cannot hurt either.

In recent years, Iowa State fans have been beaten and broken down. There is really only one way to go with this program and that's up. These hires present hope that "up" isn't far away.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Did the NCAA Cave?

There is talk that the NCAA is going to a 68-team basketball tournament next season. We await the official word, but if that is true, it appears the NCAA switched gears.

During the NCAA tournament time, the word was the NCAA wanted a 96-team tournament. High seeds would receive first round byes, the NIT would die etc. The basketball public shouted foul. It was a load outcry from fans, columnists and sports talk radio. The sentiment became, "Why mess with a good thing."

I think the NCAA actually listened to the basketball public. The same public that buys tickets, eats food, sleeps in hotel rooms, buys gas or a plane ticket and watches TV. If that was the case, the NCAA made a wise adjustment. One of the important rules of business, don't knowingly upset your customer.

True, the basketball chiefs are expanding the tournament. But I think most people would rather have three more teams than 32. So, we get more play-in games. At least it won't require two pages to list your brackets.

There are some people who think the NCAA will eventually make the huge expansion jump and it just moved slowly this time to pacify fans. That's an interesting theory and could happen. But until it does, I will continue to enjoy the tournament and not worry about the 11th place team in the Big East or Big 12 making the field.

Are you glad the NCAA capped its expansion plans to 68 teams?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Is UCONN's Success Good for Women's Basketball?

The debate continues. Is the University of Connecticut's dominance in women's basketball good for the sport?

These gals are head-and-shoulders above others in the women's basketball world. UCONN has won 78 consecutive games and wrapped up its second straight undefeated season earlier this month.

UCONN's success has kept women's college basketball in the headlines on a consistent basis. That is a good thing because let's be frank, the women's game still lacks much interest compared to the men's game.

But on the downside, has UCONN's run discouraged the competitiveness of the game? Are teams going into games really thinking, "What the use against these gals we will just lose anyway"? Are women's college basketball fans tired of UNCONN's streak and thus pay little attention these days?

It also begs another question. Should UNCONN be penalized for being good? Should the NCAA reduce the number of scholarships in the women's game?

These are difficult questions. Meanwhile, UNCONN will continue the march. UCONN is well within sights of the longest undefeated streak in all of college basketball--88 by the UCLA men's teams.

Can these gals accomplish that feat? I believe they can.

But until UCONN loses again, the major question will linger. Perspective determines what side you are on regarding this one.

So, is UCONN's success good for women's college hoops?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Barnes is an Outstanding Basketball Player

Folks across the country will enjoy watching Harrison Barnes play basketball at the University of North Carolina next season.

Barnes, a 6-7 wing talent, helped Ames, Iowa High School in crushing about every opponent the Little Cyclones faced the last couple seasons. When opponents played Ames (and battled Barnes), it was basically a question how large the Little Cyclones' victory margin would become.

Barnes can play anywhere on the floor: guard, forward or center. The guy has a great first step. He is fluid. He can rise and dunk. The potential seems unlimited.

Barnes will have his defensive game questioned in college. But most high school stars must focus more on that part of the game at the next level because they aren't forced to do it in high school. North Carolina Coach Roy Williams will definitely demand it and I'm sure Barnes will respond to the challenge.

Barnes is the most celebrated boy's basketball player in the state of Iowa. This guy is a game changer. When people watch him they will discover why.

Look for Barnes to provide a major positive influence on the Tar Heels next season.
Williams certainly hopes Barnes becomes a vital ingredient in bringing North Carolina back to the top of the college basketball world again.

Are you looking forward to Barnes' career at North Carolina?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thoughts on Conference Expansion

Just like the outdoor grilling season, talk of conference expansion is heating up.

In recent years, we have had some sizzle but little steak on this never-ending expansion talk. Not since the ACC and Big East provided some movement a few years ago has there been realignment.

But this time the talk seems centered on the PAC-10 and Big 10. I know, the Big 10 expansion talk is really old news. It sounds like it might happen however in the near future. This from a conference that calls itself the Big 10 with 11 teams. Change must be hard. And they are talking major change with expansion in this black spikes league?

So maybe Rutgers or Missouri might be interested? Notre Dame might reconsider its stance on football conference membership. The Irish are hardly a national power these days and might appreciate some security in the Big 10.

The PAC-10 might go calling on some Mountain West schools. I heard Utah is one target. But this is one conference that needs a splash. Right now, it has Phil Knight, Nike and the University of Oregon. And they might also consider moving the conference. Starting times make it difficult for anyone east of the Rock Mountains to keep trace of this league.

Being old school, I don't have much problem with the way the leagues (across America) are presently aligned. But it's the sign of times. People think bigger is better. I say, be careful what you wish for?

What are you opinions on college expansion?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Is It Time for a Help Wanted Sign?

Iowa State announced yesterday that yet another Cyclone basketball player is leaving the program. Iowa State has lost so many players since the season's end that fans will really need a program to learn the players next season.

Here is the current count: three transfers, one declaration to the NBA and one denied another year of eligibility. That leaves just six scholarship players remaining from a 15-17 year.

Who is really to blame the players or the basketball environment? A team expects some turnover each season due to transfers, graduation etc. But this is getting to become a pattern at Iowa State and this year is the worst.

Iowa State coach Greg McDermott is under enough pressure already. I blogged before that I believe next season is a keep-your-job-or-lose-it one. McDermott needs success or I predict he is gone.

But all this departure news makes next season's success highly doubtful. And some question whether coaches really do earn their money.

Anyway you look at it, McDermott and Iowa State have a big problem. They need players and players who want to stick around for a good while. Maybe they should post some help wanted signs.

Iowa State fans are a patient group. But these turn of events must challenge the most optimistic Cyclone fan.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Finding New Funding Critical for Mid-Major Athletic Programs

Mid-Major athletic programs are finding it increasingly difficult to fund their programs due to lack of state monies. And these schools are being forced to ween themselves off this type of funding.

Here in Iowa, the state legislature has basically told the University of Northern Iowa to become more self-supporting. Northern Iowa takes the most athletic money from the general fund of the state's three public universities.

Last year, Northern Iowa dropped its baseball program because of budget problems. There were also cries that the Panthers should consider dropping football too or at least play a non-scholarship brand. This about a program that is a consistent playoff team in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (former Division 1-AA).

The problem with the football program is it loses money.

But according to a study discussed in The Des Moines Register, findings suggest no real financial change if the football program switched status.

By the way, the men's basketball team is the only program that makes money at Northern Iowa. The Panthers improved their standing with a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament this season.

So Northern Iowa, like many other programs in the country, will need to raise large sums of private money to keep athletic departments and sports afloat. The days of just showing up and requesting public money are history.

It's a new day for many in college athletics without the fun and games.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Just Don't Understand It

I enjoy college football almost as much as the next guy or gal. But this fascination with spring games puzzles me.

Why do fans flock to spring games? It is because they receive free admission? The weather? Sociability? Must have their football fix? Do they want to see how the battle for second-string tailback or linebacker is processing?

I have been to spring football games because of work obligations. If left to choose on my own, I would have chosen no. Frankly, the games are about as exciting as watching paint dry. Or with all due respect to my sister, spring games are like kissing your sister.

Most spring games feature scrimmages. The first team or variation goes up against the reserve players. The quarterback wears a different shirt or puts on a vest and is off limits for tackling or hitting. Plays are plain old vanilla because you don't want to give away any valuable information just in case an opponent scouts you.

The score usually ends up 27-20 or something similar.

Really folks, nothing hardly happens of significance on this spring football day. Or sure, some unknown player might have a good performance or a starter may have the misfortune of sustaining an injury, but that is basically it.

It might spice up the game a bit if schools could actually schedule its scrimmage against another college team. But I don't look for that happening.

So, go ahead and get into spring football if you must. I'll begin gearing up for the season in August when all the players are on campus, the real competition for playing time begins and there is an actual opponent in the not too far distance.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Letter to My Favorite Basketball Coach

Editor's Note: My friend, Tim Maloney, is Director of Basketball Operations at Baylor University. He is in my doghouse because Maloney never told me he landed at Baylor last summer. I discovered it off the web. The following is a humorous attempt to inform him he messed up and to attempt a reconnection.

Dear Maloney,

Congratulations on a fine season at Baylor. Remember me? I'm Paul your friend. The tall, skinny guy.

You are officially in my doghouse for not telling me you took a basketball position at Baylor. I found out about it on the World Wide Web. Nice, huh? Because I live in Big 12 Conference territory, I would also see your mug occasionally on television. Hey, you look good in green, but maybe not so much in green and gold.

How in the world do you land in Texas? You told me once that you didn't think the eastern guy could coach in Oklahoma. By the way, Texas in just one state down from Oklahoma.

Waco is your home now. Isn't that where that David cult guy put Waco on the map?

Anyway, I hope you are having a good time in Texas. I'm been there a few times. It's a big state. Don't get lost. Speaking of lost, what about the Brooklyn accent for the southern drawl? I have a feeling you won't ever lose that accent.

I met your coach Scott Drew once. He seems like a good guy. Maybe the Maloney charm won him over and Drew just had to hire you. Never underestimate the Maloney charm.

I hope this find you well. If you are not a web person, maybe somebody in athletics at Baylor will find my letter. Maybe even Nick Joos. Nick and I were on the same staff at a previous stop. We called him the righhander because he was big into baseball.

Please contact me sometime or you will lose your status as my favorite basketball coach. But because I still care for you (maybe it's that Maloney charm), I can tell you my list isn't too long.

Your buddy still in Iowa,


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hey NCAA, Please Change the Rule

The University of Kentucky announced this week that four freshman basketball players were declaring for the NBA. That folks is distributing news.

Frankly, the NCAA boasts about promoting student athletes. Well, players who leave school after one season are obviously gifted athletes, but I question whether they are students.

This NCAA rule about requiring players to go to school for one year before jumping to the pros has been cause of much debate. The rule keeps players from going directly from high school to the NBA.

I say toss the rule like a bad bounce pass.

Why not tell players they have two options. Either go to the pros directly out of high school or wait two years before leaving. Option one weeds out players who aren't probably interested in college anyway. Option two allows students to try the college experience for an extended period before deciding whether to stay or leave.

If the NCAA is really serious about promoting student athletes at its member schools, this becomes the proper course of action. Right now, its seems the NCAA is renting players for its own purposes.

Higher education is in the business of educating students. Sports are a wonderful activity, but despite the big business of collegiate athletics, it is still the second word in the student athlete concept.

What are your thoughts on the one-and-done aspect of college basketball?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Stevens and Butler: a Great Marriage

The feel good story about the Butler basketball team continues to grow.

Butler announced yesterday that coach Brad Stevens has agreed to a long-term contract extension.

This is obviously great news for Butler and good for college basketball.

The deal ended any speculation that some big boy school would come in and take away the coaching darling of this year's NCAA tourney.

Stevens values his Butler job and appreciates the fit. He believes the grass is pretty green on his side of the fence and doesn't need to go looking for better grass and a much bigger paycheck.

I say good for him.

It's a victory for mid-major programs across the country. It says that even a successful coach at a smaller program will not always take the big money and run to the big school and the big conference.

College basketball benefits because outstanding coaches at the mid-major level increases further underdog success at NCAA tourney time. And America loves this type of story.

I hope Butler and Stevens remain a competitive program for many seasons. Hopefully this marriage will serve as a model when other mid-major coaches consider the big money, bright lights and big lure of a major program. True success is often relative and it can be found at a smaller school.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Tale of Two ACC Basketball Coaches

It has been a busy week in the ACC coaching merry-go-round.

First, Oliver Purnell leaves Clemson for DePaul. Purnell complied a 138-88 record in seven years with the Tigers. He took them to three straight NCAA Tournaments but the Tigers lost all three games.

Okay, those were the facts. But why did Purnell depart Clemson? If it was for the money, enjoy it. Is DePaul a better job, I double doubt it? Was it because Clemson is a football school and the Blue Demons don't field a football team? I just don't understand it?

DePaul is a tough job in the tough Big East Conference. DePaul is no longer a basketball school. The glory days of Coach Ray Meyer are gone. The Blue Demons are off the college basketball radar screen.

Purnell is obviously looking for a challenge. I sense most coaches were not begging to land the DePaul job.

Good luck, coach. Enjoy Chicago. Don't forget to bring your winter coat and snow boots.

Up the ACC road at Wake Forest, Dino Gaudio is done after three seasons. Gaudio guided the Demon Deacons to a 61-31 overall record. However, the rub was a 1-5 postseason mark.

But that one postseason win was in this year's NCAA Tournament. It's not often a coach earns a trip to the tournament, wins a game and gets fired. Oh, the joy of coaching.

Wake apparently sensed apathy in its program. Does the term, "We need to go in a different direction" sound familiar?

The question for Wake is can it do better with a different coach? Reportedly the Deacons have a top-10 recruiting class on the way. But Tim Duncan is not one of those players.

At this late stage in the coaching hire game, Wake will find it difficult to land a high-profile replacement. But the Deacons can always dream. Maybe Duncan can return to Winston-Salem.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

No Cinderella Here

Butler's role in the NCAA Tournament is a continued hot topic.

Was Butler a Cinderella team in this year's field? Many in the press made that statement with their stories, columns or broadcast pieces. Many have also cried that the Bulldogs were not a Cinderella team.

I tend to agree with the latter group in this debate.

Butler was a No. 5 seed in the tourney. With the Bulldogs' seed, the selection committee didn't deem them as a Cinderella. They were also consistently rated in the basketball polls during the season. Plus, Butler has a recent history of playing in the Big Dance.

Butler WAS the feel good team of the tournament not the Cinderella. Cinderella needs to move up from the back of the bus maybe as a No. 10, 11 or 12 seed. The Bulldogs were sitting near the front of the bus in plain view. Before the final, they hadn't lost a game since December.

I agree Butler was a great story. Here's a small, mid-major school with talented players but none with eye-popping skills. The Bulldogs defeated some heavyweights in the tournament and played in the Final Four in their hometown.

People also tried to link them with the Hoosiers movie theme. But about the only connection there was both teams hailed from Indiana.

Even if Gordon Hayward's three-point try would have dropped in the bottom of the basket and gave Butler an amazing victory, it would have only capped the feel good story with a perfect ending.

No need to talk slippers here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

You Either Love Them or Hate Them

Duke won its fourth national championship last night. That definitely stirred feelings in most serious college basketball fans and probably several non serious fans as well.

Duke does that to people. You either have strong feelings for the Blue Devils or you have strong feelings against them. No sitting on the fence with this one, unlike say if Boston College won the tournament.

Duke basketball is similar to John Wooden's successful run at UCLA. UCLA won so many national titles in a row that people wanted someone else, anyone else to win one. Duke has been pretty successful, but not that successful. Still, I think The Blue Devils are the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Lakers of their sport.

Sadly, I think it's human nature to root in sports against a consistent winning team. People want their team to win and when someone else grabs the victories often, they don't approve of it. It provides the person a reason to always cheer for the team playing against the so called hated team.

Duke is like any other college basketball team in the country. The Blue Devils play to win. And to the delight of their fans (and maybe a few others) they win often.

I venture to guess there were many fans that cheered for Butler last night in hopes that Duke would not become national champion. Yes, they probably enjoyed Butler's story, but hey, there were also playing Duke.

I know this house was favoring Butler.

What are your thoughts about Duke? Are you for or against them?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

And The Winner Is...

I consider myself a big fan of college basketball, but this Final Four is a ho-hum one for me. None-the-less, my television will be on for some of the action today. I need to see if my championship predictions become a slam dunk or an air ball

If you recall, I picked Duke and Michigan State to play Monday night. Butler is my heart's favorite and it would bring greater interest to me if the Bulldogs win tonight. But I'm afraid the Spartans have too many skilled athletes for Brad Steven's bunch.

In fact, I like Michigan State to win the whole thing and beat Duke Monday night.

The Spartans are too tournament-tested, too tough and too focused to not gain the championship. I have been praising Michigan State coach Tom Izzo in this blog for days and why stop now? The guy could probably select eight players at the East Lansing YMCA and mold a competitive team.

Duke is also a tournament-tested team, but it has been a while since it played for these high stakes. Frankly, I am not too impressive with Mike Krzyewski's squad.

But with all that said, this tournament started wide open and it remains wide open. During Final Four time, there are no upsets. The team that does win Monday night will definitely deserve it.

Who is your pick for national champ?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Peril of the NCAA Tournament

It is down to the final four teams for the national collegiate men's basketball tournament.

Sixty-one teams have already gone home disappointed. Three more will experience that fate. You can call it a high risk, high reward kind of tournament.

That is the beautiful of the tournament. Teams do lose on last-second shots. Teams do lose by one meager point. Top seeds do have a bad game and go home. Underdogs do stage upsets, but then in the next round go home too.

The losers are quickly forgotten. The focus is on the winners. However, come Monday night that focus will center on only one team--the national champion.

March is to weed out the participants. April is for those still standing. They are the heavyweights of the 2009-10 season.

But who will the lone heavyweight be come Monday night. Are you picking Butler, Michigan State, Duke or West Virginia?

Let the fights begin.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Talking Final Four

My heart says Butler, Butler and Butler in the opening semifinal NCAA game Saturday. However, my head says Michigan State, Michigan State and Michigan State.

The Butler Bulldogs are the darlings of the Final Four. It's a mid-major, undefeated team playing in college basketball biggest event in the Bulldogs' home city of Indianapolis. It's the new kid against the standing invitation-type in Michigan State. Butler will no double experience nerves, the Spartans will look at the game as another step on the journey. They will leave their nerves in the locker room.

America will favor Butler. Michigan State will rally around the 'us against the world" theme. Tom Izzo is a master motivator and will use anything in the rah-rah line to gain an advantage.

I look for Butler's magic slipper to drop in a competitive game.

In the second game, my head says Duke, Duke, Duke. My heart says I don't care, I don't care and I don't care.

Maybe West Virginia is a nice story playing in its first Final Four since the 50s. But I doubt if I will watch much of this game. This eastern battle brings me no anticipated excitement.

So, I'm looking for Michigan State to play Duke in the final Monday night.

What excites you about this year's Final Four?