By Kirk Haaland, CycloneFanatic.com Blogger I still remember the morning that I rolled out of my bed during my senior year at ISU in my plush Lincoln Way house. I read on Cyclone Report that Greg McDermott would be the new men’s basketball coach at Iowa State. Of course, it was about 12 hours after I had told one of my roommates that there was no chance that McDermott would get the job. I can’t quite pinpoint the reservations I had now, but it just didn’t seem like the best of fits at first. I then did what all die-hard fans do, I talked myself into it.
I spent the better part of this past January through August emailing with an Auburn fan co-worker in Alabama about why Gene Chizik was such a horrible coach at ISU. Detailing all of his failings in Ames and why he should be concerned about “5-19”. But he had already convinced himself that it was indeed a good hire, as most fans would do. For some reason–maybe none of them good–McDermott has convinced me of his abilities while lending me little evidence to do so during his time in Ames. I’d like to believe that my faith in him is different than the blind faith my Alabama co-worker has displayed in Chizik, but I can’t be sure that is the case.
We all know the story of McDermott’s tenure thus far at Iowa State. Multiple initial transfers (pretty much entirely out of his control), the Mike Taylor saga, Jiri Hubalek getting hosed by the NCAA, more transfers, the Lucca Staiger saga, and most prominently the Wes Johnson saga. McDermott has yet to beat a top 25 team, win more than six games in a conference season, win a Big 12 postseason game, or even sniff a postseason appearance. The results of his first three years have largely been due to trying to regain the program’s footing and build some semblance of a cohesive team, after so much attrition.
I said at the beginning of this season that if Coach Mac couldn’t make the NCAA Tournament this season that I‘d have a hard time imagining him ever making it at ISU. I don’t think that means he would be/should be fired if the NCAA Tournament isn’t reached in 2010, but it may mean we have a lame duck coach unless he can pull a rabbit out of his hat next year. This one contract has so far revealed itself as potentially the biggest mistake of Pollard’s era, unless we witness a turn-around in the next two-and-a-half months.
A lot of criticism I have seen on message boards centers back on making comparisons to the Elite Eight team of 2000. While it makes sense that any team at Iowa State would be compared to the gold standard of perhaps all of Cyclone basketball history, it isn’t an entirely fair proposition. That team was a much different make-up and had two players in Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Fizer that would be All-Americans in their careers.
I know a lot of angst with the basketball program is more based off of the accumulation of frustration over the entire McDermott era. Otherwise, how could a loss to a top five Duke team seemingly set fans off over the edge. While I understand that sentiment, I don’t think that is fair to this year’s squad.
There are a few things about McDermott that I have learned over the past three-and-a-half seasons. He is excellent with x’s and o’s–perhaps too excellent in some cases when the guys seem to be thinking too much instead of reacting–and there isn’t a single aspect of the game that may come about that he hasn’t made adequate preparations. Early in this season, McDermott made mention of letting the team go a little bit and to just “go play”. It is probably time to tighten back up a little bit.
I have spent a lot of the season somewhat miffed and unable to pinpoint what I believe the key problems are for this team. I believe that is mainly because there are many small problems stemming from a general lack of discipline with decision making on the court. So far this year, the biggest thing this team has lacked isn’t toughness, rebounding, point guard play or free throw shooting. But the lack of Basketball IQ can be seen with poor shot selection, lack of rotation on defense, failing to make the entry pass to Brackins when it is there, and offensive motion becoming stalled when players appear to be unsure of where to be. Reverting to tendencies that completely rely on athletic ability alone would prove my case. Defenders seemingly letting their man by them to try and block a shot, which is all well and good until you consider how attempting to block shots leads to three things and two of them are bad. A blocked shot and your team gains possession, a blocked shot where the opposition gathers possession, or a foul is committed. Staying on your feet and forcing a tough shot and then boxing out is what a disciplined team does (or not allowing such deep penetration into the defense in the first place).
The point has been made that perhaps the Wes Johnson issue caused a rift in McDermott’s coaching style that has forced him to not be so “hard” on the guys. An idea that would be plausible, but I have zero proof. In fact, the game on Saturday showed coach busting a clipboard and getting after the guys in the huddle very early on in the game.
Despite all of the bad vibes being emitted from Hilton Coliseum, I still have hope. This season isn’t over and there is talent present on this year’s team that there hasn’t been the past few seasons to turn this thing around.
When it comes to NCAA Tournament discussion, the Iowa State resume talk begins with the lack of “good wins” to date. What it should also include is the lack of “bad losses”, obviously a good thing. The other positive is that there will still be plenty of opportunities to achieve a quality win. And will come any sooner than when the Texas Longhorns roll into town on Wednesday night.
The number one team in the nation coming to Hilton is an opportunity that can’t be taken lightly. That is both for the fans and for the players. Hilton must be amped to levels that it hasn’t commonly been over the past few seasons. When the team is down during a game and needs our support, what do we do? We stand up and make noise. We are getting closer to that same point, only for the season instead of just a single game. The team needs us now more than ever. So on Wednesday, when you’re at the game with Texas there is only one thing to do, stand up and make noise.
Trivia Time Last week’s question: Before the game against Houston on Sunday when was the last time ISU won a double-overtime game at home? What was the final score? Answer: Iowa in 1984, 76-72.
This week: When was the only victory in Iowa State history over a #1 ranked team? Who was the opponent?