Friday, May 10, 2013

Bill McCartney: Great Coach, Great Man

I was thrilled this week to learn that former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney has been election to the College Football Honor of Fame

Coach Mac and I have been long time friends.

McCartney has the most wins of any coach in Colorado football history. He led the Buffaloes to the 1990 National Championship.

He created excitement in the old Big 8 Conference. Nebraska was the kingpin in those days and McCartney’s teams often rose above the kingpin.

Two things described McCartney the coach: recruiting and motivation. He consistently recruited black athletes to come to the Boulder school and it resulted in a pile of victories. He was a master motivator. The guy could get players to buy into the team concept. And he preached accountability.

Coach Mac left the sidelines 20 years ago. Like most successful coaches, he developed a head coaching tree. LSU’s Les Miles is the most noticeable of that group.

But McCartney was more than a successful coach. He helped found the Christian men’s movement Promise Keepers. If you ever heard the guy speak at an event, McCartney reminded one of a fiery preacher who had a real message.

Coach Mac was and is a man of conviction. And a man of God. Those two attributes are rare these days.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

All About College Sports: Spring Cleaning

In this part of the world there is an annual ritual this time of year: spring cleaning. But in parts of the United States, it doesn’t even feel like spring. Cold, rain and snow are making the weather news.

But it’s time to perform a spring cleaning of my blog “All About College Sports.” College football and college basketball produce the most interest of any college sports and those playing seasons are over. Consequently, I will limit my blog posts considerably in the next few months. From time-to-time, I will see write blogs on the “hot news” items, but it’s time for a break.

I have been doing this blog since 2008. It’s been an opportunity to produce fresh content for my readers based on the wonderful world of college sports. I consider myself a college sports junkie. It’s fun following the sports and the personalities. Sometimes I take winning and losing a little too seriously but that’s part of being a fan, I guess.

Early in the basketball season, I questioned whether I wanted to continue this blog. There are tons of sports voices out there seeking to be read. Mine frankly is pretty small. But, I guess that’s okay.

I would enjoy hearing from my readers as I wrestle with my decision. What do you enjoy about my blog? What don’t you enjoy? What kinds of things should I write about? It would be great if you flood my blog with comments. I will read all of the comments.

Numbers are sometimes interesting. According to the numbers, the best read blog has been in a landside “Bobby Petrino’s family. That was an extremely sad story. Interestingly, No. 2 is “Vanderbilt’s Basketball Court.” The set-up is unique and so cool with the benches behind the baskets. Another surprise is No. 5 with “Dave Diles-College Football Scoreboard.” Like me, you folks must have keen memories of Diles reading those scores each Saturday.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to read those blogs, I invite you to take a peak.

Thank you for your faithful readership. Again, I would enjoy hearing from you in the comments.

Best, Paul

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

NCAA Basketball: It's Over

The college basketball men’s season is officially over and I don’t know if I’m happy or sad.

Louisville took the title last night (Monday) defeating Michigan in an entertaining game. Michigan became the 67th and final team to become disappointed in the NCAA tournament.

College basketball is a long season. Someone said once that college basketball coaches have a sense of humor (as opposed to the football coaches) because of the season length. Without humor, the coaches probably wouldn’t survive.

But frankly, the season isn’t really over just the games. Basketball is a 12-month sport now with the 24-hour news cycle fueling it. One of the next phases are more players declaring for the NBA Draft. And already one guy’s Top 25 for next season came out today. Please…

I have seen enough basketball. It’s time to rest my eyes and enjoy another season. That would be baseball.

Friday, April 5, 2013

NCAA Basketball: This Guy was Major Iowa Pain

Outside of Iowa and Baylor fans, limited interest was generated by the NIT Final. Only about 5,000 people were in attendance at Madison Square Garden and who know how few watched the game on ESPN.

But going into last night’s (Thursday) game, this figured to be an interesting game. These two squads had only met once before.

I thought Iowa would win the game. The Hawks were on a roll and seemed too powerful for the Bears. Baylor had an up-and-down year and I didn’t know what team Baylor would display in the contest.

But wow, it was blowout city for Baylor.

Hawkeye players will have bad memories of one particular Baylor player—Cory Jefferson. In no disrespect to the Thanksgiving meal, Jefferson carved Iowa up. The guy was impressive. He scored 23 points on too many dunks. He rebounded, he played defense.

Jefferson, a junior, had a great year. He played sparely in his previous two years and even took a redshirt year in his sophomore year. Jefferson played behind three future NBA players, so it wasn’t like the guy had major minute opportunities. He could have transferred but he stayed and collected the fruits this year.

Baylor fans hope he returns for his senior season. His pro stock definitely went up during Baylor’s postseason. Iowa players would agree with that.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

NCAA Basketball: Strange Coaching Hire

Sometimes I just shake my head at my neighbors in Minnesota.

After the University of Minnesota fired basketball coach Tubby Smith, the Gophers needed to make an impressive hire. But apparently nobody wanted the job. I do know the rumor that one of the student managers even turned down the job isn’t true.

The Gophers welcome Rich Pitino to the job. Yes, Pitino is the son of the famous Louisville coach Rick Pitino. Yes, the guy has good blood lines but can he mold a so-so Big Ten contender into something better.

Kid Pitino had one successful season at Florida International. He will be doing on the job training in one of the toughest basketball leagues in America. Remember, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State isn’t Florida International.

Minnesota took forever to make their selection. As the process played out, you knew others were making their selection not to take the Gopher job.

If you are Kid Pitino there is little risk. If you are Minnesota, there is great risk.

The Gophers haven’t exactly been making waves in the money sports of football and basketball lately. This hire may continue the tread.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

NCAA Basketball Tournament: Thank-You Wichita State

It’s great that Wichita State earned a trip to the Final Four. The Shockers appearance will draw one tall fellow to the television set.

We need new blood in the championship round and as a ninth-seed the Shockers provide it. As their nickname represents, they have shocked many people in still standing in the tournament.

Many people picked their semi-final opponent Louisville to win the championship. But the Shockers shouldn’t be frightened as they have already taken out the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in their regions. Louisville should win, but should wins are only decided on paper. Wichita State needs to “play angry” as its coach Gregg Marshall says and it will be in the game.

Syracuse and Michigan play in the other game. Yawn. These teams like Louisville have been in this spot consistently and it doesn’t draw much interest for the tall fellow.

Hopefully, the Shockers can shock again and appear in the Monday night championship game. Then the tall fellow will need to watch, otherwise not so much.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Steve Alford: UCLA And Iowa

Steve Alford is an interesting hire at UCLA. He had some solid success at New Mexico, but will the former Indiana star be able to “step it up” and find success in Los Angeles

People in my state (Iowa) are always interested in Alford. He coached the Iowa Hawkeyes for a number of years. The honeymoon started well when Iowa landed him off a Sweet 16 performance at then Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State). He won a Big Ten Tournament Championship at Iowa but also loss an NCAA tournament game to No. 14 seeded Northwestern State. When New Mexico offered Alford its coaching job, many Iowa fans were happy to see Alford leave.

UCLA is counting on Alford to continue his success from New Mexico. Alford has proven he can win consistently on the mid-major level, but the power conference job success is still up for debate.

It seems a good risk for UCLA. However, Alford knows the guy he is replacing brought UCLA to two Final Fours. The learning curve won’t be long. And then there is always the John Wooden factor. The most successful NCAA Division I coach in history raised the bar extremely high at UCLA.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg Has More Capital

It’s a fun time of the college basketball year with the NCAA tournament and the coaching rumors and destination.

One guy who isn’t going anyway is Iowa State’s men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg. “The Mayor” agreed to a contact extension Thursday night that with give him 10 years and $20 million. Not bad loot for the former Iowa State ball boy.

I didn’t think Hoiberg would leave Iowa State at this time but there were plenty of rumors out there. There was talk about the NBA and lately the opening at Minnesota. Hoiberg allegedly met with the Gophers about their opening. What took place and the level of Hoiberg’s interest is anybody’s guess.

Successful coaches are a hot commodity. Some go shopping and then find a sweeter deal at their present place of employment. This happens frequently. I’m not saying Hoiberg did this but he was the beneficiary of the media speculation. Hoiberg received a nice raise.

I believe him when he says he loves Iowa State. And the Iowa State administration decided it would tell the basketball world that they love Fred Hoiberg.

This marriage is going well in Ames, Iowa.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

NCAA Basketball Tournament: Florida Gulf Coast

We all enjoy Cinderella in the NCAA basketball tournament. This year we have the ultimate Cinderella in Florida Gulf Coast.

A No. 15 seed has never advanced to the Sweet 16 in the history of the NCAA tournament until Florida Gulf Coast crashed the party.

This team didn’t follow the NCAA script. Usually underdogs surprise the favorite in their opening game. The underdog received national praise and talk and then goes quietly in the next round.

But will this feel-good story end Friday when the Gulf boys play big-bad Florida? You would like to see them continue the magic but with the strength of their opponent and natural pressure (as the stakes get higher) the odds are not in their favor.

The beauty is that the game will be decided between a couple of baskets and not in discussion groups.

Win or loss, Florida Gulf Coast Coach Andy Enfield will become a hot commodity. What big time program will want this guy and will he go? You would think the answer to the second question is “Yes.”

Monday, March 25, 2013

NCAA Basketball Tournament: March is Cruel

Iowa State found out Sunday, March can become a cruel time.

The Cyclones were one play away from forcing overtime against Ohio State. They were maybe 1-2 plays from snatching the victory. Buckeye point guard Aaron Craft took care of all those possibilities when he drilled a three-pointer with less than one second remaining.

The Cyclones were done. Finished. Over. It was time to turn to the “What ifs.”

Iowa State entered the game as a real underdog to No. 2 seeded Ohio State. Cyclone fans knew their team had an excellent change however for an upset. Mid-way through the second half, it looked like Ohio State was going to deliver the knockout punch. The Buckeyes held a double digit lead, but then Iowa State marched back to set up a thrilling, but painful finish for Cyclone followers.

The thrill and agony are what makes March Madness special. All experience it, but ultimately only one team stands. Ohio State continues the thrill into the Sweet 16. Iowa State takes their agony back to Ames, Iowa.

It’s March.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

NCAA Basketball Tournament: Iowa State Dominates

It was a total surprise.

The surprise wasn’t that Iowa State defeated Notre Dame in a No. 10 vs. No. 7 match-up. The surprise was how it happened.

Usually these closely seeded teams play close games. Not Friday night in Dayton, Ohio. The Cyclones started fast and attacked the Fighting Irish. The game was over early in the second half. You kept thinking Notre Dame would mount a second-half run. There was none. Iowa State cleared its bench and provided playing time for little-used reserves. Notre Dame played looked like something hit them but they weren’t sure what.

There was another surprise in this game—HOW the Cyclones dominated. Iowa State is known for its three-point shooting. On this night, the Cyclones decided to move the ball inside and take it straight to the Fight Irish. They threw in some three-pointers for good measure. The strategy worked and worked well.

Simply put, Iowa State possessed better athletes than Notre Dame.

The Cyclones move on to play Ohio State in Round 3. This should be an interesting game. The Buckeyes have the athletes to match Iowa State. But if the Buckeyes noticed, Iowa State is an outstanding No. 10 seed.

As one sportscaster likes to say, “This is going to be fun.”

Friday, March 22, 2013

NCAA Basketball Tournament: Which Iowa State Team Tonight?

Iowa State fans want to know which Iowa State team will show up against Notre Dame in Round 2 of the NCAA men’s tournament late tonight.

When Iowa State has success on the three-point shot, the results are good. When Iowa State has difficulty connecting on the three-point shot the results are bad. The Cyclones are definitely a two-headed team.

Who wins the “style” battle will also play into the results. Iowa State obviously enjoys the up tempo pace, while Notre Dame prefers the grind-it-out philosophy.

Iowa State has been spotty on defense this season. The Cyclones play offense but struggle on defense. Tonight, might be a good time to pull out the defensive effort.

Iowa State has talented players, but point guard Korie Lucious should determine whether it’s the Cyclone’s night. Lucious was basically a non-factor in the recently completed Big 12 Tournament. He needs to score some points and also collect some assets. Lucious has previously NCAA experience with Michigan State and as a senior this is his last shot.

Cyclone fans hope the word “shot” is plural and not singular.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Let the NCAA Basketball Tournament Begin

Do you have your brackets ready? Have you dusted off the remote? Are you ready to search and find specific games, times and channels?

The real NCAA tournament begins today. The play-in games are over and there are 64 teams vying for Atlanta and the title. That means in the next two days (Thursday-Friday) 32 games are on the schedule. You got to love the NCAA basketball tournament.

But as I suggested in the past, pace yourself. Remember, the last time you went to a restaurant and your eyes were larger than your stomach? Don’t put yourself on the disabled list before the tournament is really cranking.

I am giving some Gators some love for the tournament. My selection to win the entire thing is Florida. My upset special in the round of 64 is South Dakota State over Michigan. Wouldn’t that get some Jackrabbits (South Dakota State’s nickname) excited?

Who is your tournament winner? An upset special?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Key to NCAA Tournament Success

You can talk about match-ups and strategy all you want, but success in the NCAA tournament comes down to one simple fact: teams will solid guards advance in March.

There are numerous close games in the tournament. Often it comes down to a bounce here or there late in the game. Sometimes it’s pure luck. Sometimes it’s pure fortune. But more times than not, guards are involved in the deciding action.

It helps to have veterans ones particularly at the point. Not essential, but important. Mid-major teams do well at this time of the year because they possess upperclassmen including at the guard spots.

Guards particular point ones (the basketball quarterback) win games this time of year in a number of ways. Often they are outstanding free throw shooters. Many can shoot a deadly three ball. Penetration is also important to either take it to the basket or dish to an open teammate.

So watch the guards in this year’s tournament. The teams with good ones have an advantage and the ones with poor ones will struggle. You can take it to the bank including the bank shot.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy or Sad About NCAA Tournament Selections

If your team made the cut for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, I offer congratulations. If your team made it to one of the lesser tournaments, you have my sympathy.

If you’re a serious college basketball fan, today you are either happy or sad. There isn’t such a thing as middle ground.

The NCAA tournament is the gold standard. All other postseason tournaments are just tournaments. If your team is in March Madness, anticipation is high. Teams in the lesser tournaments are feeling jealousy and disappointment.

If I’m a fan of a team that didn’t make the Big Dance (and I’m there), I would almost wish the season was officially over because in reality it feels like it is. They can promote all those lesser tournaments as much as they want, it’s only fluff.

I will be cheering for my alma mater Iowa State in the Big Dance. The Cyclones oppose Notre Dame Friday. Memo to Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg: spend some quality in practice on the defense. Thanks.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Live in Minnesota

Last week, I had the privilege to speak in Southwestern Minnesota. It’s about a four-hour drive from my home but well worth it.

First stop was the Fellowship of Christian Athletes gathering at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. Southwest Minnesota is a Division II school with approximately 3,200 students. The FCA folks were warm and inviting. I have spoken there before and enjoy hanging out with those students.

The next morning, it was off to Minneota Public School just up the road from Marshall. I spoke at a school assembly there and enjoyed it too. Most of the members of the girl’s basketball team came to visit with me after my speech. I was impressed with these young ladies. They play for a state championship tomorrow (Saturday) in Minneapolis.

I enjoy taking my speech “Keep Your Uniform On” to students. It was great to combine college age with the junior high and high school on the trip.

I must say, I have a warm spot in my heart for the Minnesota students.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Baylor Needs Stellar Big 12 Tournament

Baylor has the most to gain and the most to lose in the Big 12 Tournament.

The Bears need victories starting tonight (Thursday) against Oklahoma State. One so called expected said Baylor must play in the conference finals to grab an at-large NCAA tournament bid. That would require two victories.

No one really knows about the number of victories Baylor requires until Selection Sunday. But it’s safe to say that if the Bears lay an egg against the Cowboys, Baylor will end the NCAA conversation.

Which Baylor team will show up in this Big 12 Tournament? Will be the team that destroyed Kansas last week or will it be the team that suffered numerous close defeats during the season?

Baylor made the Elite Eight last season and if it falls to land even a NCAA bid this season, it will be a disappointment.

Baylor has the talent and the opportunity in the second season. It’s all up to the Bears.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March Madness 2013 Might Be Crazy

On the last day of February, No. 5 Duke falls to Virginia. The pattern continues. The mighty have fallen often in college basketball this season.

Could this be a preview of a crazy March Madness? Or with high expectations, will we be disappointment?

People say there is no clear cut favorite to become the Madness champion. Maybe we should just throw the school names in a hat and draw a winner. It would save money and stress.

I have a feeling that things are going to even out in the NCAA tournament. The so-called favorites will rise to the top. Upsets won’t happen as often as past seasons.

We have been conditioned in this regular season to expect upsets because they are happening frequently. But why are they happening. Is it because the talent is about equal? Could the home court and fan emotion play a big role?

I suspect the favored teams have been put on high alert. They have experienced the pain in the regular season. Their chests will become a little flatter in the postseason. Focus shouldn’t become a problem.

Plus, tournaments play on neutral courts. This favors the better team. Yes, there is emotion, but not as much. There are fewer props for the underdog. Talent rises on the neutral court.

Yes, it’s true: there is no dominant team this season. And the teams who come up short at the end will probably loss against a top contender not Cinderella.

*****I need to do some traveling and take care of some other matters, so my blog will go on a little vacation. I hope to be back again for the major conference tournaments. Enjoy the basketball everybody.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Kansas-Iowa State: A Heavyweight Match

If you missed the Kansas-Iowa State matchup Monday night on ESPN, you missed a heavyweight battle.

Both teams were trading punches throughout the evening. Kansas just came up with more of them and prevailed in overtime 108-96.

This was a fan’s game. If you enjoy defense, you needed to change the channel. Shots were raining from all over. The three-point ball was definitely in play. It looked and felt like a NBA game.

Iowa State tries to outscore opponents. The Cyclones have been pretty successful doing that but mighty Kansas didn’t play along. Kansas knew what to do in overtime. Iowa State seemed out of gas. When a talented team like Kansas plays in overtime, it’s usually bad news for the opposite. That was the case for Iowa State. It wasn’t even close.

Kansas can thank Elijah Johnson. Johnson was uncanny in the second half and overtime. The senior threw in 39 points and numerous three-point shots.

Iowa State had its chance in regulation. But the Cyclones let Kansas up from the canvas and their 22-game home winning streak was history.

Friday, February 22, 2013

College Basketball Crunch Time

As the landscape in Iowa turned white overnight (yes, snow), let’s turn to something more positive: March Madness.

The regular season is quickly coming to an end. Some conferences hold their league tournament in early March and others wait about a week. Regardless of the dates, this is the time for all teams to make a move.

Some teams can handle the pressure, some cannot. For the NCAA bubble teams you either make your case now or stay home for NCAA tournament time.

Teams struggling need to turn it around. Each game is one game closer to either a good streak or a bad streak. Teams can make remarkable runs at this juncture or tank and finish with a bad taste.

One area the NCAA selection committee examines is the finish to a particular team’s season. Bubble teams that put together wins will receive utmost consideration. If you don’t win, the team puts itself on the mercy of the committee. And that’s a dangerous way to live.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Storming the College Basketball Court

Okay, boys and girls quit doing it. No more running on to the basketball court when your team wins. If you don’t quit it now, I will make you write on the blackboard 1,000 times “I will not storm the court.”

We have a new fade in college basketball this season. It’s called “storming the court.” Remember when students occasionally ran out on the court. This year, it seems like it is a right of passage.

Granted we have a number of upsets in the college game but doesn’t the novelty wear off after one time? For example, should the No. 15 ranked school’s fans rush the court after it defeats the No. 13 team?

Before I get labeled as the grumpy Gus, I applaud one school for storming the court. TCU beat Kansas a couple weeks ago in Fort Worth, Texas. How can I say this softly: the Horned Frogs are a terrible team? They have won one conference game and that was the stunner against Kansas. TCU fans never have the opportunity to storm the court and I say good for them. Glad you did it.

But to you other school fans. Pick your spots. Take a stand. Don’t be like your fellow fans. Cheer loudly in the stands and then go home.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

International Olympic Committee Decision Causes Wrestling Uproar

I can count on two hands the number of wrestling stories I have written in my journalism career. But the decision to drop wrestling from the future Olympics has created a fierce storm in this part of the world.

The state of Iowa is a wrestling hotbed. The University of Iowa has won numerous national team and individual championships. Former Iowa coach Dan Gable is a wrestling legend through the world. Iowa State also fields competitive teams and has crowned many individual national champions. The Iowa high school state tournament (held this week) is a big deal too.

So if you thought the Iowa wrestling people were a little upset about the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decision that is an understatement.

Folks, I have never been into the sport of wrestling but it goes back to the days of the Greeks. Wrestling is an international sport, but not anymore according to the IOC.

The wrestling folks aren’t going to take this lying down (no pun intended). They would do well to tab Gable as their poster boy. Maybe bringing along some cash to the next Olympic meeting might also help.

These wrestlers are in for a tough fight. Once you render a major decision to take or replace something, it’s usually gone for life. But wrestlers are a feisty bunch and just maybe their can get the decision reversed.

There are some people in Iowa cheering for that decision.

Monday, February 11, 2013

This Race Too Close to Call

The Big 12 Conference basketball title chase is the most competitive in years and we can thank Kansas.

The Jayhawks are reeling. They have lost three straight and have lost their hold on first place. It’s been about 6-7 years since Kansas has lost three straight.

Kansas’ neighbor, Kansas State is a top of the Big 12 with an 8-2 record. Kansas and Oklahoma State are next at 7-3 and the log jam with Oklahoma, Iowa State and Baylor at 6-4.

This race could be like a horse one—a photo finish.

Kansas State may not hold the top spot alone for long. The Wildcats visit Kansas tonight (Monday). The Jayhawks won’t lose four straight will they? Kansas has already beaten their rival in Manhattan but Kansas State is playing well. Should be a competitive game.

One team not involved in the race is Texas. What has happened to the Longhorns? They have made the NCAA tournament 14 straight years under Coach Rick Barnes. That streak will probably come to an end this season.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Will the Rich Get Richer?

One of the sidebars of National College Signing Day this week has been the upcoming changes in NCAA football rules. The changes essentially occur for the 2013 season.

Schools will no longer need to monitor text messages or telephone calls because they will be unlimited. Schools can also hire additional staff to engage in the social media thing. Brochures can also return to the full-color spectrum of a number of years ago.

Some wonder if the schools with the big budgets will garner an additional advantage with the changes. But will this really help schools like Alabama, LSU, Florida, Michigan and Ohio State beyond their advantage already?

These schools and other big boy programs will always land most of the talented prospects. Simply put, the rich are rich and will also be rich. Opening these other avenues will basically help the NCAA because that body won’t need to monitor as closely anymore.

The other schools will still go after the less decorated prospects and hope to lure an occasional blue chip prospect. And really a text message is the same whether it comes from Alabama or Middle Tennessee State. Sure the brochures will look prettier but is that enough to get a kid to come to your school.

I guess we will find out as the changes actually occur. But don’t expect the rich to become poor. That I know.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Iowa State University's Special Place Basketball Place

I have written about Iowa State’s Hilton Coliseum before. “Hilton Magic” is popular term in this state coined by a former Des Moines Register sportswriter. The magic seems to propel the Cyclones to victory.

The magic is working especially well this season. Iowa State has yet to loss a game in the building.

I experienced Hilton Magic again in person last week. The mission was to watch the Baylor Bears oppose Iowa State. Baylor played with Iowa State for about 35 minutes before the Cyclones pulled away. Baylor knows too well Hilton Magic as the Bears have never won in Hilton in 10 or 11 tries.

The crowd was 14,000 plus and electric. At times, you couldn’t hear yourself think or talk to the person next to you. When Baylor shot free throws, the students waved signs and made extreme noise. When Iowa State shot a free throw, a “quiet” sign went up.

Home court is talked about all the time in college basketball. There are numerous tough places to play. But once again, I was reminded that Hilton Coliseum ranks next to the toughest in America.

Just ask Baylor.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Big 12 Conference Basketball Race Becomes Interesting

Kansas was planning to run away with another Big 12 Conference title when Oklahoma State came to Lawrence, Kansas.

The Cowboys proceeded to pull off the shocking upset and remove the don’t-touch-Kansa-tag. It was the highlight of a “positioning” day in league play.

Kansas State was the other squad with the big road win dumping Oklahoma. Iowa State grabbed a home win over Baylor. The result of all these games was a jumbled conference race.

The Wildcats trail their in-state brethren by only one game. Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are all tied for third place two games behind Kansas.

There will be guaranteed separation in third place this week.

Tonight (Monday) Oklahoma travels to Iowa State. Wednesday Baylor travels to Oklahoma State.

Not only will these games affect the league race, but the post-season as well. In a down year in the Big 12, every win is precious to enhance the NCAA tournament resume.

And with every team playing each other twice, the Big 12 crowns a true league champion. Let the fun continue.

Friday, February 1, 2013

College Basketball Officials

There has been a major uproar in Iowa lately about college basketball officials.

In the Iowa State game last Wednesday night, a player-control foul was called in the closing moments on Oklahoma State after the refs were going to give Iowa State’s Chris Babb a chance at the free throw line. The Cyclones ended up getting the ball out-of-bounds and a final shot was no good for the win.

UNI was changed with a critical foul near the end of its game with Indiana State last week. That resulted in three free throws for Indiana State and a UNI defeat.

Overall, officials do a good job in a hostile situation. Their calls are magnified in a close game at the end. If the players take care of their business earlier in the game, it wouldn’t require so many close and exciting games at the end. Then, to many, the officials become non-factors.

My question is why aren’t officials required to answer questions about their performance? Officials are protected like gold at Fort Knox. Coaches and players cannot criticize them (or face punishment). Media cannot ask questions.

Maybe some officials would like to talk but their conference silences them. I think some basic explanations from officials after games would promote good will from coaches, players and certainly fans.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Falling Sky on University of Northern Iowa Basketball

Earlier in the season, I thought the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) had the best Division I team in the state. My thoughts were soooooo wrong.

UNI is probably in third place now behind Iowa State and Iowa and ahead of only Drake.

The wheels are quickly falling off UNI’s season. Tuesday night the Panthers lost an overtime game to Evansville. UNI led in the closing moments of regulation. Last Saturday, the Panthers lost to Indiana State on free throws in the closing seconds. Two games in the state of Indiana, two bitter defeats.

UNI has a .500 overall record at 11-11 (4-6 Missouri Valley Conference). This is a major disappointment for team that came into the season with large hopes. This is a veteran team with solid playersand a strong coach in Ben Jacobson.

The Panthers are in a danger zone psychologically. They can either try to salvage the season or basically play it out. There a few postseason tournaments besides the NCAA tournament but if UNI doesn’t start winning ballgames even those lesser tournaments might not want the Panthers.

It seems a distant memory when UNI knocked off Kansas in the NCAA tournament and gained a Sweet 16 berth. This is a program that should be competing for a NCAA tournament bid every year. Like last season, this team will come up empty.

What’s wrong with UNI?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Iowa State Men's Basketball on Rise

The Iowa State men’s basketball team is positioning for a NCAA tournament bid. If successful, it will mark the second straight year the Cyclones have qualified under favorite Iowa State son Fred Hoiberg.

Iowa State garnered a big win Saturday over previously No. 11 ranked Kansas State. It moved Iowa State’s conference home record to a perfect 3-0. The Cyclones have lost to Kansas and Texas Tech on the road. Their lone visiting win was at TCU.

So the Cyclones sit at 4-2 in the Big 12 tied for third place with Kansas State and Oklahoma. Iowa State is 14-5 overall.

Iowa State has plenty of talent on its roster. The question is always can the Cyclones play to their talent? Iowa State has looked like world-beaters in some games like a near loss to Kansas. But in other contests, it has resembled an average or marginal club. It’s still hard to fathom that loss at Texas Tech. Tech is the second worst team in the league.

The Cyclones have an upcoming rugged four-game stretch, but two of the games are at home. This Wednesday, Iowa State plays at Oklahoma State—a team some believed was the second best team in the conference at one point. Saturday, the Cyclones host second-place Baylor. Next week, it’s Oklahoma at home and Kansas State away.

It’s time for Iowa State to prove it is NCAA tournament worthy. It’s time for the talent to show up on a consistent basis.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tough Week for Rated NCAA Basketball Teams

It has been upset week in college basketball. The favorites have been going down with regularity.

Duke will no longer be ranked No. 1 in the country. The Blue Devils led the upset receiver category with a pasting at Miami. Here is a sampling of others that gained a big fat “L” this week: Louisville, Arizona, NC State, Creighton and Butler. And there were a few others including Notre Dame.

As in past years, being ranked No. 1 is a dangerous spot. It looks like Michigan will take over that position next week. The Wolverines defeated a stubborn Purdue team Thursday night in Ann Arbor.

In the grand picture, these upsets are really only cooler talk. If you are a bubble NCAA team and garner an upset that will improve your resume. If you are a ranked team, it might mess with your NCAA tournament seeding. Otherwise, bubble teams try to gain more quality wins and rank teams seek to lessen the damage.

The goal is to prepare for March and win your last game. When that happens they crown you champion.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

College Football Teams Look for Gold

Two weeks from today (Feb. 6) is National Signing Day for college football. It’s a day when high school football players declare their love for a particular school and college coaches hope potential turns into results.

Some say recruiting is more important than the actual games in the fall. Recruiting sets up results in those games. That’s why football recruiting services try to sell fans their information and that’s why ESPNU has a day-long special on recruiting come Feb. 6.

The big boys like LSU, Alabama, Michigan, Florida State etc. will do well. These are established programs and players want to play for the top teams. The rest of the schools normally pick what’s left over. The real fear, however, is of the big boys coming in the last minute and taking a special player from a lower-tier-talent school.

Players can and will change their minds in these next two weeks. Until a player signs a commitment letter, they are free to go anywhere. So they are some nervous coaches still trying to hold on to players.

The game inside the game is generally fun, unless you are a coach on signing day left without a player who changes his mind near the end.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Manti Te'o Saga

I’m not a big fan of soap operas dominating the sports media world. I figure leave that to the magazines near the grocery checkout line or the news magazine programs after your local news.

My question is what is the fascination with the Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s apparent hoax regarding an imaginary girlfriend who died. The details continue to come forward and they will for a few more days. This story needs to go away.

The media is receiving some serious egg on the face here. Somebody, somewhere in this Twitter instant information age forgot to do Journalism 101. I was always taught to make sure you have all the facts. Somebody somewhere forgot that elementary journalism rule. The result: a story is blown way out of proportion. Somehow, a young lady died of a disease but she really didn’t die because in reality there was no such person.

Information or lack of information is a powerful thing. This case reveals the dark side of that equation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Don't Mess With the Kansas Jayhawks

I forgot to mention Kansas the other day in my blog about NCAA basketball national championship contenders.

The only reminder I needed was watching the Kansas-Baylor game Monday night on ESPN. The Jayhawks destroyed the Bears like they do to most teams appearing in Allen Fieldhouse.

This was supposed to be a down year (don’t use the rebuilding word) at Kansas. Some down year. The Jayhawks are ranked No. 4 with just one loss. They are posed to take their ninth straight Big 12 Conference title. Can you say domination?

It’s difficult to stop Kansas because it has a sold inside-outside game. Center Jeff Withey is a solid inside scorer who also blocks shots. The outside game comes from the likes of Elijah Johnson, Ben McLemore and Travis Releford. McLemore is the prize of that group and he went down with an injury against Baylor, so we’ll see if that has an effect on the Jayhawks. I think they have enough weapons to withstand a brief McLemore absence.

The long-term question is does Kansas possess the toughness to survive a grinding NCAA tournament? Are they tested enough in a league this year having a down cycle? Are they susceptible to a hot mid-major team in the NCCAA tournament?

Monday, January 14, 2013

College Basketball Race Wide Open

The last of the mighty fell in college basketball over the weekend.

Duke and Michigan were both undefeated heading into the weekend. Both suffered losses on the road. Duke lost to NC State and Ohio State beat Michigan.

This proves again the absence of an elite team in college basketball this season. Last year, Kentucky was crowned the king before the fact and the Wildcats didn’t disappoint. This season there has been contenders (Indiana Gonzaga, Michigan, Duke), but no WOW team.

March Madness could be especially exciting. Any one of the above mentioned four teams could earn the title or maybe a sleeper squad. Can you say UCLA or North Carolina State? How about Creighton or Wichita State?

Obviously a team needs talent, but getting hot in March and getting some good fortunate could result in a crown with several teams so evenly matched.

Who is your favorite to win the NCAA tournament? Who is your sleeper?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Creighton's Doug McDermott an Iowa Star

Creighton’s Doug McDermott is an All-American.

Yet there is a sense that because the junior plays in the Midwest and the Missouri Valley Conference that he doesn’t receive proper recognition. Put the guy in the Big Ten or ACC and college basketball fans all around the USA would know about McDermott.

Creighton has always been a basketball school but McDermott’s feats have provided the Jays with greater creditability.

Friday night, McDermott tossed in 39 points to lead his team to a road victory over Missouri State. Creighton is ranked 13th in the country with a 16-1 record. McDermott has been productive since his freshman year and is currently averaging 23.6 points per game.

The interesting thing is McDermott was the second best player on his high school team at Ames, Iowa. Harrison Barnes was the poster boy and received all the national attention. Barnes went to North Carolina and played two seasons before turning pro. I contend that McDermott is a better college player than Barnes.

There are still some fans in Iowa upset that McDermott left the state. He was scheduled to play for Northern Iowa but was granted his release when his father, Greg, took the Creighton job. Creighton and Northern Iowa are fierce rivals in the Missouri Valley. Greg McDermott was a former player and coach at Northern Iowa.

But regardless of where Doug McDermott plays, Iowans can celebrate the accomplishments of this All-American. The terms Iowan and All-American are a rare occurrence.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Iowa State's Gut-Wrenching Loss

As basketball losses go, this one had to be near the top of disappointment, frustration, pain—you get the idea.

Iowa State outplayed No. 6 Kansas on its home floor for most of the game. The Cyclones looked like they were going to upset the Jayhawks and stun college basketball.

The Cyclones held a three-point lead with less than a minute left but Kansas had one last chance to tie. Ben McLemore three-point bucket with 1.3 seconds remaining put the dagger in the visitors. It wasn’t like McLemore wasn’t capable because he was scoring all the night. But a bank shot to tie the score? Come on.

I knew right there that Kansas would win the game in overtime. And unfortunately, my prediction was correct. Kansas dominated the overtime. The Jayhawks had been on the brink of defeat and they weren’t returning there.

Iowa State played probably its best game of the season. The Cyclones haven’t been impressive until Wednesday. But a loss is a loss.

Kansas escaped with the win. Style points aren’t necessary. Good thing for Kansas.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Alabama Provided Me a Favor

Alabama’s blowout victory over Notre Dame Monday night in the BCS National Championship game was a good thing.

Since Alabama took control of the game early I didn’t have to watch it to the end. The game was over by halftime and really in the first half. I tuned out at halftime and I imagine others did as well.

Therefore, I spent little emotional energy cheering for the Irish. None was required. While I watched, the only time the Irish fans were vocal came on official questionable calls. That’s what happens when the opponent performs like a surgeon and accomplishes the task quickly.

I was surprised Alabama was a 10-11 point favorite against the No. 1 team in the nation. Turns out even the odds makers were probably shocked with the outcome.

While the game was painless, the aftermath wasn’t. People are bringing up the dynasty word again after the Tide’s third national championship in four years. The SEC has also won seven straight BCS National Championships.

Streaks do come to an end however. But I better not find solace from any Chicago Cub fans.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Cheering for Notre Dame in BCS Championship Game

I don’t really dislike Alabama. Oh wait, maybe I do. The Tide has won too much lately. It’s time to spread the wealth.

The fact Alabama is a member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) doesn’t endear me to the Tide either. Yes, I get that the SEC is the best college football conference in the country. Ask the SEC or possibly ESPN, the league may be the best on the planet.

Since Notre Dame is playing Alabama for the national title Monday night, my pick therefore falls to the Irish.

Notre Dame is ranked No. 1 and considered the underdog in the game. The Irish has walked the high wire to an undefeated season. If they defeat Alabama, the title will be earned.

I wonder how many non-Notre Dame fans like me will cheer for the Irish. As I have mentioned before, Notre Dame was the New York Yankees of college football. In the past, either you loved them or hated them. No middle ground. But that stance may have softened a bit because the Irish have been terrible in recent seasons. A win Monday night however might institute that anti-Notre Dame stance in the near future.

Notre Dame needs to win for college football. The SEC has been strutting around like a bunch of roosters. It’s time the league becomes one of the regular chickens again.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Personal Essay--The Emotional Tie of Sports

It struck me late Monday afternoon when I was watching the Iowa State-Tulsa Liberty Bowl game.

I had just invested three-and-a-half hours rooting for Iowa State and the Cyclones were going to lose. It was a sad time. It was a sad two days actually. Sunday, I watched my favorite NFL team lose to a certain opponent north of the Iowa border. Therefore all told, Monday evening my emotions were definitely down.

The so familiar losing outcome in my sports watching world made me think. When I was young and my favorite team lost, my mother would say: “Somebody has to lose and somebody has to win.” My response was “Why do my teams always have to lose.” But really, why does an outcome of a sports game pull so much weigh on my emotions?

I think the answer lies in a word from the financial sphere. My emotions rely on the “investment” I place on a particular team.

I have watched hundreds of college football and basketball games. Currently, I cheer for Iowa State basketball and football and Baylor basketball. In the past, I was invested in North Carolina State. I always cheer for teams with a personal connection.

But similar to finance, when my investment is high in a particular team, my emotions will ride on a victory or a loss. But then I ask myself: “Isn’t sports a form of entertainment? Does it really matter in my particular life whether a certain college team wins a ballgame”?

Probably a good thing to ponder as I begin the year 2013.

What are your emotional ties to the sports world?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year 2013

Thank you to all my blog readers. I appreciate the readership. I read every posted comment, so feel free to share your thoughts and views. I want to wish everyone a blessed New Year.