Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Getting Off the Road

Tomorrow, Feb. 1, is national signing day. Football recruits will officially declare with the stroke of a pen which school they will attend.

You think the political season lasts a long time? There are numerous college coaches across the country that would say football recruiting season is a close second. But the end is soon and the coaches must be prepared.

I’m sure they are many coaches offering their final pitches to various recruits. The time is short and the vote will be casted. Does it remind you of an election? College coaches are asking recruiting to vote for their school.

Some say recruiting is almost as important as playing actual games in the fall. That’s why coaches hit the trail almost as hard as politicians logging many miles and giving lots of speeches.

Tomorrow there will be plenty of weary assistant coaches. They will be glad to sleep in their own beds, eat some decent food and love on their families.

And do you blame them if they don’t want to go near a car or airplane for a long, long time?

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Magic Returns

Iowa State men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg said when it took the Cyclone job over two years ago that Hilton Magic needed to be a part of the Iowa State landmark again.

Hoiberg got his wish Saturday when the Cyclones rolled No. 5 Kansas in Hilton Coliseum.

“Hilton Magic” is a term to describe the game day atmosphere in Iowa State’s basketball facility and the tremendous home court advantage the building seems to provide.

The place was rocking-and-a-rolling Saturday. Even via the TV, you could tell the building was extremely loud. The fans were “willing” the Cyclones to grab a victory.

Probably more than any other team in the Big 12 Conference, Kansas knows all about Hilton Magic. The Jayhawks often come to Ames highly ranked and often leave Hilton Coliseum highly disappointed. So the Kansas ending was familiar on another Saturday.

The outcome wasn’t without some drama however. The Jayhawks kept it close until the end. Contrary to popular brief, Iowa State’s Royce White can make free throws. Kansas fouled the much maligned free throw shooter hoping to get back into the contest in the later stages. White calmly sunk two free throws with 1:47 remaining. It was like a knife to the heart for Kansas.

We’ll see if Hilton Magic is here for an extended stay or just a glimpse of the past. Kansas State appears in the building Tuesday. Iowa State should expect a tough game because the Wildcats were upset by Oklahoma in Manhattan Saturday. The Cats should be angry.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Missouri Lays an Egg

Missouri ran into a team that was hungrier than it was Wednesday. Oklahoma State rode some hot shooting, emotion and crowd noise to upset the Tigers 79-72.

Yesterday, I wondered if Missouri could handle the prosperity of being ranked No. 2 in the nation. That question was definitely answered.

The Tigers will survive. It’s only their second loss of the season. But last night belonged to an Oklahoma State team that had few bright spots in its season entering the game.

The Cowboys were on a mission. They were hunting some Tigers. Mission accomplished.

Two freshmen sparked Oklahoma State in Le’Bryan Nash and Brian Williams. Nash collected 27 points and Williams tallied 22. It seems Williams was always at the free throw line in crucial second half stages. He made 10-of-12 free throws for the night. The Cowboys shot 59.6 percent from the field and held Missouri to just 40 percent.

Although now just 10-10 on the year, Oklahoma State served notice that it will be a difficult home team probably the rest of the season.

Missouri will drop in the polls but don’t feel sorry for the Tigers. They have the tools to make some serious noise in the postseason.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How Will Missouri Handle the Hype?

The Missouri Tigers are off to an 18-1 start (5-1 in the Big 12 Conference). The Tigers moved up to No. 2 in the national polls this week after an impressive win last week at Baylor.

But now the real fun begins for Missouri. How will it handle the favorable press, the back slaps and the celebrity status? We are about to find out tonight.

The Tigers play at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are one struggling team with a 2-4 league mark and a 9-10 overall record. On paper, this is a mismatch. Missouri should blow the Cowboys out of their own arena.

But the paper trail doesn’t account for emotion. Oklahoma State should be fired up. A victory tonight would make its season. If Keiton Page, the Cowboy’s three-point specialist, finds his shot, things could be interesting.

Missouri has only seven scholarship players. If the officials blow lots of whistles, the Tigers could be in trouble.

Missouri is the now the hunted one after hunting teams in the past. It’s definitely a difference for the Tigers. The real challenge begins tonight.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

College Basketball Race is Wide Open

The college basketball rankings and the Republican Party have a lot in common lately: they are both in flux.

The college basketball polls took a major reshuffling Monday because of upsets over the weekend. Syracuse lost its No. 1 slot falling at Notre Dame. Two other top-10 teams, Baylor and Duke, both lost at home. Kentucky and Missouri are now No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in both major polls. The question is for how long?

Murray State is the only undefeated team left in the nation. Pollsters are still not giving the mid-major a lot of respect as the Racers are ranked No. 9 and No. 11. Murray State has a chance to remain undefeated in the regular season, but watch out in the postseason.

There are several teams in the hunt for the national title with no clear favorite. Syracuse seems to get some major love, but will a weakened Big East Conference harm the Orange in a title run? How about Kentucky? Possibly. How about Ohio State? Maybe. Duke? Go ahead and insert your team here.

Missouri is an interesting team. But does it have the staying power. That team is extremely quick, shoots well and plays solid defense. The rub is the Tigers only feature seven scholarship players. Will they run out of gas and/or foul out in tight games.

It’s safe to stay only one thing when we get to March. Murray State will not win the national title. March is shaping up to be quite fun. I think this year it will definitely live up to the March Madness term.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What about Joe Paterno's Legacy?

Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s death raises the huge question of what legacy the man leaves behind.

A few months ago this was a slam dunk. Paterno was Penn State. He had led the Lions to a truckload of victory over decades. He ran a pretty clean program. His players graduated. He and his wife, Sue generously gave their financial resources back to Penn State. But then the sex scandal hit last fall accusing one of his longtime assistants, Jerry Sandusky, of allegedly molesting boys.

Paterno was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case. At this point, other than the victims, Paterno had seemed to suffer the most. He was fired and couldn’t depart on his own terms. Then he developed lung cancer. The disease didn’t take long. A couple months and Paterno was dead.

Some say JoePa could have done more to stop the sex scandal. Some say he should have been more proactive going to the authorities. People are upset it was covered up over a 10-year period.

Paterno wanted to tell more of what he knew about the story. But he ran out of life.

Some say, people should judge Paterno on his whole career. The problem is that most people have short memories. They only remember what happened recently.

And the recently was bad, really bad.

But maybe one day, public opinion about Paterno will turn more positive. Folks will forget and give the ‘ole coach some grace.

However for the time being, Paterno’s legacy is in doubt and definite sides have been drawn.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Buckle Your Seatbelts for This Game

ESPN offers a dandy Saturday afternoon when a pair of top-10 teams tangles in Waco, Texas.

The Missouri Tigers, ranked No. 7 in the country, will provide the opponent for No. 3 ranked Baylor.

Both teams are 17-1 and their only loses are to Kansas schools. Missouri fell to Kansas State in Manhattan and Baylor lost to Kansas in Lawrence.

Look for this one is become an up-and-down affair with the overall speed of Missouri against the length of Baylor.

Baylor obviously needs to defend its home court. Some question if Missouri has played a tough enough schedule and whether it will have the composure to secure a signature road win.

The winner will definitely stay in the race for the Big 12 Conference crown. Kansas is in first place and undefeated in the league. Missouri must still play the Jayhawks twice. Baylor has a home contest remaining with Kansas.

So if you watch this game, be sure and buckle your seatbelts, it could be a wild ride. It just may have the feel of a NCAA tournament game.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Bank Stays Open Late Night

Iowa State’s Scott Christopherson is a definitely a three-point sharp-shooter. But normally the senior guard shoots them straight on. However, he was glad the bank was still open late Wednesday night.

Christopherson’s successful bank shot with less than a second left on the clock provided the Cyclones with a three-point home victory over Oklahoma State.

Even Christopherson’s shot looked long on television. But I figured the worst that can happen to Iowa State was overtime. The interesting thing was how Oklahoma State allowed him to be that open in taking the shot.

Actually, junior college transfer Tyrus McGee deserved the game ball. He shot a game-tying three-point basket with about 30 seconds left and then forced an Oklahoma State turnover with about 15 seconds remaining.

It was a game Iowa State desperately needed if it wants to build a NCAA tournament resume. Oklahoma State is a mediocre team that outplayed the Cyclones in the second half. It just didn’t feel right for Iowa State even near the end.

But sometimes feelings aren’t true. The bank was open and Iowa State enjoyed the deposit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Iowa State's Royce White Turns Heads

The Iowa State basketball team has a host of transfers this season, but one stands out literally and figuratively: Royce White.

White, a 6-8, 270-pound sophomore from the Minneapolis, MN area, is simply a talent. The most amazing thing about this guy is he brings the ball down the court like a point guard and he does it well. He appears like he enjoys passing the ball and getting an assist as much as he does scoring. White is still raw in basketball terms. Wonder what he will display when he receives more experience?

White brings a presence to the Iowa State squad and his teammates respond with their own increased play. White is the hands down leader of this team.

He leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 13.4 and 9.6 per game respectively. He also paces the Cyclones in assists with 73. The nearest teammate has 45. What other big man in the country can boast that whopping assists total and lead?

But his game is far from perfect. He is painful to watch shooting free throws. His form is frankly terrible. His free throw stats reflect as much—53 percent. Can you say Shack O’Neil? White also leads the team in turnovers. Although he has high assist numbers, his assists-to-turnover ratio is about equal. That’s bad.

But the bottom line is White has people in the Big 12 Conference talking about him and Iowa State. Many view the Cyclones as a dangerous team with White the main reason.

Oklahoma State and head coach Travis Ford will have a front row seat tonight as the Cowboys battle Iowa State in Ames. White will certainly have their attention.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kansas Puts Major Hurt on Baylor

If you were Baylor last night, facing Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse had to present some worry. The Bears were 17-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country. They were ripe for picking.

Kansas didn’t just beat Baylor; the Jayhawks destroyed their visitors by 18 points. Welcome to Kansas and Allen Fieldhouse.

You knew Baylor would lose sometime. You figured the Bears were going to give Kansas a good game. But the Jayhawks did what they wanted to when they wanted to do it. The scene was very familiar to other visiting teams. Kansas has now won 85 of 86 games at home.

Baylor actually led the game by five points in the first half. But it seemed all night the Bears were in deep trouble desperately trying to come back.

It’s no disgrace to lose to mighty Kansas at home. Baylor needs to flush this game and get ready for Saturday when top-10 Missouri comes to Waco.

There is plenty of Big 12 Conference basketball left. You figure Baylor and Missouri still have shots to challenge Kansas for the title.

But if Kansas keeps playing the way it did Monday night, nobody will challenge the Jayhawks for nothing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Baylor Seeks Respect

The Baylor Bears men’s basketball team is having a phenomenal year. The Bears are only one of three undefeated teams left (Syracuse and Murray State are the others) and have raced to a 17-0 record.

Baylor is ranked No. 4 in the land but could gain much more respect nationally tonight. The Bears face Big 12 Conference dominator Kansas in Lawrence.

Some say this is an off year for the Jayhawks but many teams would love to have an off year at 14-3. Kansas is 16-2 overall against Baylor and 9-0 at home.

During Baylor’s drubbing of Oklahoma State Saturday, the ESPN announcers said the Kansas game was the Bears most important regular season game ever. That might be and might not be, but Baylor wants the win badly.

The Bears have been road warriors with wins at BYU, Northwestern and Kansas State. This will definitely help with the game at Allen Fieldhouse. Not many visiting teams are happy with the results when they leave that place. Allen Fieldhouse is an extremely difficult place to play.

Baylor can end the Allen Fieldhouse jinx and position itself for a strong postseason run. A victory would give the Bears much love and extra confidence going forward.

It should be one of the most entertaining games of the season.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Iowa's Fran McCaffery and the Chair

YouTube has been abuzz this week over Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery’s chair incident.

McCaffery picked up a chair forcefully during a timeout in the Michigan State game Tuesday night. The fiery coach had picked up a technical foul and was apparently still plenty angry. At least, no one was in the chair when McCaffery decided to take out his frustrations. That would have been really interesting.

Obviously, McCaffery has downplayed the incident. He said he was fighting for his team and that he won’t change his style. The coach does elevate his blood pressure at times (see his face), but he isn’t quite in Bobby Knight’s class just yet. Knight threw a chair completely across the floor.

McCaffery needs to select his temper outburst better however. Iowa was down by about 40 points the other night when Fran went off. It’s tough to buy that ‘fighting for my team’ argument when you should accept getting blown out and move on.

McCaffery is still under grace with the administration and fans but he better be careful. Wins overcame many faults. But if he doesn’t produce the wins, look out Fran. This anger act will grow tired real quickly.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Robert Griffin Makes Right Choice

As expected, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III made it official yesterday: he is entering the NFL draft.

This was a no-brainer decision.

Griffin completed a magical season with the Bears. He won the school’s first Heisman Trophy. He led Baylor to a bowl win. He was the talk of the college football world and therefore put Baylor in the headlines frequently.

Griffin’s stock will never be higher. He doesn’t need to polish his skills for one last season at Baylor.

The guy is humble, talented and a class act. He will become successful in the real world whether it’s throwing and running with a football or something else.

Baylor will always love Griffin for all his contributions. College football will miss him. It will be strange not to see him running around in that green and gold helmet.

It will be interesting to see how Griffin fares on Sundays. Traditionally, Heisman Trophy winners don’t make good NFL players. But in Griffin’s case, with talent, ability and the right fit, he has a chance to develop into an outstanding NFL player.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's the Problem at Iowa?

Another player is leaving the Iowa football program. That in itself is not surprising, but the surprising thing is it becomes the sixth scholarship running back to depart in the last two years.

These players aren’t fifth string, folks, they are talented. Marcus Coker is the latest to pack his bags and leave Iowa City. Coker rushed for 1,384 yards last season. He was also MVP of the Insight Bowl in 2010.

Three of the guys got in trouble with the team, one wanted to be closer to home, another had battled injuries and just wanted to leave and the other left allegedly for family matters.

While the help wanted sign at Iowa for running backs is definitely circulating, would you want to go to school there with the recent problems? Opposing coaches must like this. Imagine all the dirt they are putting on Iowa with their sales pitches.

It’s difficult to determine what’s happening at Iowa. Is this just a string of bad fortune with the recruiting or is there a problem inside the program?

Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz seems like a good guy. But he has had his share of problems with player issues. He should clean this up quickly. Iowa has had mediocre teams the last couple seasons which doesn’t lend itself to tolerance with repeated mistakes with the squad.

This stuff keeps happening and Ferentz might be free to pursue that much rumored job in the NFL.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The BCS Title Game

I must admit I watched more of the Alabama-LSU BCS title game than I planned on doing. I really had little interest in the game, but hey, it was a championship game.

I probably watch a half quarter and I saw two field goals. It was beyond exciting, ha. Congratulations to Alabama for winning the championship. Congratulations to Alabama for finally scoring the only touchdown in two games with LSU this season.

Hopefully the TV ratings for this one were dismal. Frankly, I don’t want to see any more SEC championship games playing out as BCS championship games. I’m tired of the SEC. I don’t care if people think the league is the best in the land.

College teams should not play each other twice in the same season. People say the NFL does it. But this is the NCAA, not the NFL. College football just has a different feel to it. Even though it is basically a business, it still has a purer feel (than the NFL).

College football wants fresh teams. LSU probably wanted to play a different team last night. The Tigers had already beaten the Tide once and what did they really have to prove?

The good news is change may be on the horizon. There is a meeting this week to talk about possible tweaks to the system. I say hallelujah!

Nothing against Alabama’s Nick Sabin or LSU’s Les Miles, but can we please see a couple fresh faces on the sidelines next year in the final game.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Give the Guy a Chance

Bill O’Brien was named head football coach at Penn State over the weekend.

If you want to say Bill Who you are not alone. The offensive coordinator with New England isn’t exactly a household name. And get this: he has no ties to Penn State.

If you listen to many Penn State fans, you would have thought the Lions committed the unpardonable sin. How dare Penn State not hire somebody from the family?

Well, folks the family is broken and it’s time to get some outside help. I thought maybe the Lions would clean house, but they are retaining assistant Larry Johnson.

Due to probably the most terrible scandal in collegiate sports, many coaches would not touch the Penn State job. The Penn State football job is not the coveted one of yesteryear. In a perfect world, Penn State wanted to name a high profile coach. But as we have learned in recent weeks and months, Penn State is far from the perfect world.

O’Brien inherits a real mess. This is an extremely tough job. It will take healing and lots of patience. One advantage O’Brien has is he is following a soiled legend. Joe Paterno’s handling or lack of handling regarding the scandal put a major black mark on Paterno’s legend. Few fans will talk about following a legend now but rather than the difficult of putting this program back together.

So Penn State fans, give O’Brien a chance. Give him time to embrace your school. He has a bigger job than concentrating on wins and losses. He is in charge of healing and this healing process won’t be easy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Bowl Finish Line

We are almost to the end of the college football bowl season. There are only three games left—all this weekend.

As usual it has been a long grind. Of course you can thank the BCS (Bowl Championship Series). The powers-to-be insist each of those games be played separately from any other bowl game. Frankly, it just extends an already too lengthy bowl season.

I don’t pay much attention to bowl games after New Year’s Day. This year it was Jan. 2 because New Year’s Day was on a Sunday. I’m old fashion and want to get the college football season out of my system on New Year’s Day. What’s the holiday for anyway? College football wrapped up of course.

These BCS games, including the national championship game between LSU and Alabama, feels weird. Doesn’t the season seem unofficially over? It’s similar to buying a box of heart-shaped chocolates on Feb. 15 instead of Valentine’s Day.

Oh well, there is plenty of college basketball to keep me company. I’ll watch that while some of you tune into the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Transfers a Plenty

The Iowa State men’s basketball team must have the most transfers of any school in the NCAA. In fact, four of the five starters transferred from other programs.

The players didn’t exactly come from sisters-of-the-poor schools either. Schools include Marquette, Michigan State, Penn State, Minnesota and Southern Illinois.

There is definite talent in the group but growing pains are part of the process. Getting all the players to buy into the new team is more challenging than it seems. But if anyone can do it, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has the credentials. Hoiberg became an outstanding player for the Cyclones and was a serviceable player in the NBA. He also has experience as a NBA executive.

Iowa State should cause some teams in the Big 12 Conference fits. Texas experienced that first hand last night when the Cyclones outlasted the Longhorns in Ames.

One thing that scares me about Iowa State is Royce White. White is a 6-8, 280-pound center that brings the ball up the court. He doesn’t do it occasionally but frequently. In my opinion, guards were made for that purpose not centers. White should be content to stand under the basketball, catch the ball and do his work.

White also needs to spend more time practicing free throws. When you cannot even hit the basket, rim or anything, then you realize you have problems.

But in the final analysis, Iowa State is a fun team to watch this year even if it seems like eating at a buffet with all the different players.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Baylor Bears Have Weapons

I watched Baylor’s men’s basketball game with Texas A&M the other evening and just marveled at all the weapons the Bears possess.

Baylor’s rotation goes nine players deep and could expand to 11 if required. For me, the big change is at point guard. Last season, the Bears basically had A. J. Walton and he struggled. This season, Pierre Jackson and Gary Franklin have joined the mix with Walton and the point guard by committee has made a huge difference.

The overall deep rotation gives Baylor many options. For example, senior forward Anthony Jones started every game during his sophomore and junior years plus a few games this season. Jones now comes off the bench. It’s a nice luxury to have a 6-10, three-point threat lurking on your bench. With the rotation, opposing teams must pick their poison. The other night, A&M decided it would not allow the guards to factor in the game. No problem for Baylor. All-American candidate Perry Jones and dunker Quincy Acy took control. The rotation also allows for individual player bad nights. It seems various players step up on various nights.

Baylor is now ranked No. 4 and No. 5 and still undefeated. The Bears are receiving serious national attention. This team has tremendous potential and needs to play to a higher ceiling. So far, the Bears have survived. But as they march deep into Big 12 Conference play, Baylor will need to step up its game and live up to the potential.

If the Bears do that, they are a scary team come March.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Enjoyed This One

HappI must admit I didn’t watch much of the college football bowl buffet yesterday (Monday), but the game I did view was a dandy.

I watched Georgia-Michigan State in the Outback Bowl for two reasons: the potential of an interesting matchup and the game was in high definition on my television.

The game didn’t disappoint me.

If you didn’t watch the contest, you would have thought the final score (33-30 in triple overtime) was a result of a slugfest. That wasn’t the case especially in the overtime periods.

This game actually featured some defense a strange sight in modern college football. And there were only nine total points scored in the overtimes all on field goals.

The final play of the affair was a defensive one. Michigan State blocked the Georgia field goal attempt to claim the victory.

I’m not against offense in college football, but I enjoy seeing some defensive stands too. This game restored my faith in that side of the ball.

Actually both teams should have been proud of their defenses. At least now, Georgia and Michigan State won’t be tempted to go out and find new defensive coaches like many schools do this time of year.

Happy New Year.