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.