By Kirk Haaland, CycloneFanatic.com Blogger
The Iowa State women’s basketball team has won their last two games by the combined score of 134-84. That’s impressive. Especially so when one of the victims was 11th ranked Baylor, in a win that was fueled by 16-of-33 shooting from the 3-point line. With six conference games remaining the Twister Sisters are now not only playing for seeding in the Big 12 tournament, but also in the NCAA tournament where they are a virtual lock to host their first two games at Hilton Coliseum.
Difficult road trips remain with third ranked and still unbeaten Nebraska this coming Wednesday and currently 17th ranked Oklahoma State on March 3. The other remaining road game is with Kansas on Feb. 25. The remaining home stand is comprised with a relatively easy slate including Missouri, Kansas State, and Colorado. The women are looking to complete the season sweep against the Tigers and Buffaloes and avenge an earlier loss to Kansas State. The most probable finish being 4-2, with an outside chance of going 5-1. A 4-2 finish would put the ladies at 11-5 on the season and a chance to earn a first round bye at the conference tournament in Kansas City. Their cause will be greatly aided by the wins already over Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor, in the event that a head-to-head tiebreaker would need to be used.
Nebraska is currently running away with the league title at 10-0 and has Oklahoma, Texas, and the Cyclones in pursuit with three losses. Oklahoma still has tough home games with Nebraska and Oklahoma State and road games with Baylor and Texas A&M. The Longhorns still have road dates remaining with Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, and Baylor and the aforementioned difficult home game with Oklahoma. Long story short, if ISU goes 4-2 the rest of the way, they will likely at least be in a tie with OU or UT which they hold the coveted head-to-head advantage, with seeding implications for the Big 12 tournament.
Speaking of tournament runs…
Thus far, this season has produced somewhat disappointing results by most standards for the ISU men. Sitting at 2-8 in the conference, I must be crazy to say I still have some hope for this team to snap out of the funk and get to the less than sexy NIT. Sure the NIT isn’t the best looking date in town, but for comparisons sake, she sure is prettier than the Meineke Car Care Bowl or the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl. For reference, there are 347 Division I basketball teams and 65 qualify for the NCAA tournament and 32 for the NIT, for a percentage of 27.9. There are 120 Division I football teams and 68 of them qualify for bowl games, for a percentage of 56.7. See my point?
With an enormous three game home stand on the horizon, a three game win streak is possible against Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Nebraska. To this date, of the four conference home games, three have been to top 10 teams, all resulting in losses. The fact that a road win has not been able to be squeaked out against average competition—such as Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Missouri—is the biggest condemnation that can be made against this team.
The team does seem to be playing with a renewed (or maybe for the first time) sense of urgency. A 14-point loss in Allen Fieldhouse is nothing to hang your hat on; it’s also nothing to hang your head about. Since the Baylor debacle nearly two weeks ago, the team has played well for long stints at a time, hopefully that continues through this home stand. If by some measure of God this team does win it’s next three games, that would also include a win over a current top 25 team in Texas A&M, that now sits at #23 in the country.
Over the next month, Greg McDermott will have the opportunity to achieve three “firsts” in his tenure at Iowa State, the first two propelling the team to the third. A win over a ranked team, a win in the conference tournament and an appearance in post-season play, the NIT. None of this would quite meet the expectations of most of the fan base from the beginning of the season—including me— but you can’t argue with the fact that it would be progress. The progress isn’t happening as fast as anybody likes but I still firmly believe that McDermott is rebounding from his first disaster recruiting class that was scraped together late in the spring to fill needs from his dire situation. I don’t have much tangible evidence to back my opinions, but the program seems to be gaining traction. If the attrition disappears from now until next season, we’ll see what happens, because whether you want McDermott around or not, that discussion is moot with the funding that making such a move would require.
Thought melting pot
• A lot of pieces of the wrestling team are coming together, despite the bad break of Gallick being out and Jensen and Ward struggling. Reader and Varner both look very strong. Zabriskie just beat the national champ from last year. Fanthorpe seems to be slowly getting back to his old self while wrestling with injury. Sorenson seems to be progressing and gaining confidence. I’m not sure why Long didn’t go on Sunday, but hopefully he’s back soon and it’s nothing to worry about.
• Justin Hamilton has been playing really, really well lately. He hasn’t developed that “mean streak” like Jared Homan had, that so many fans would like to see him with. But he has developed a motor that just won’t quit, similar to an elite pass rushing defensive end that never lets up. That’s a quality trait to carry.
• I haven’t discussed the conference realignment issue much, mostly because it scares the bejeebers out of me. I’m not expecting Texas to bolt for the Big Ten. I haven’t done great amounts of research but I have a bit of a hard time believing that Texas would net more money in the Big Ten, where more revenue sharing would be present. I could almost make a case that Texas is perhaps leveraging the Big 12 with these rumors in order to keep revenue sharing from playing a larger role in the Big 12. Also, no one seems to mention that there are more to conference sports than football and men’s basketball and geography has to play a role. Does Texas really want to send their women’s soccer team to University Park, PA on a Wednesday night? Or their baseball team to East Lansing, MI? That sounds expensive. Another point, with as cruddy as the Big 12 TV package seems to fans of a lowly school like Iowa State, every Texas game was on TV last season. Either way if teams start fleeing the Big 12 the best possible scenario for ISU is to land in the Big Ten, but the odds of that are not so great, thus scaring the bejeebers out of me.
• I know that we have suffered tremendous attrition under GMac, but when did it become popular to predict who would be leaving midway through the season? What reason is there to believe that Chris Colvin or Dominique Buckley will be at the center of a mass exodus for next year? My guess is that if you follow this line of thinking, you probably feel that McDermott is mostly to blame for every player that has left, so the attrition must continue. I guess I don’t remember predicting this to happen when Tim Floyd or Larry Eustachy were at the helm. Something about unsubstantiated guesses of players transferring out just bothers me.
• While were playing the “ifs and buts” game: For as much as some fans bow down to Larry Eustachy how good would his best teams have been had he not been blessed with an extraordinary situation going his way in recruiting Jamaal Tinsley? Goes to show how fine the line can be between success and failure at this level.
Did you know…
…that amidst all of the great accomplishments Bill Fennelly has had at Iowa State including a Big 12 championship sweep in 2000, he has never won coach of the year?
The Brent Blum Trivia Question (He always gets it right, so I might as well name it after him)
Last week’s question: Who was the last conference opponent in men’s basketball to have a player score more than 40 points against the Cyclones?
Answer: Clarence Gilbert scored 43 in the 4OT marathon in Columbia in 2001.
This week: Who was the most recent Cyclone men’s basketball player to break the 1,500 point barrier for their career?