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Basketball

MONDAY MUSINGS: On WBB’s shocking upset & setting the table for a week in KC

Bill Fennelly

I watched the Iowa State women’s basketball team’s stunning 57-56 upset of No. 2 Baylor from the Las Vegas airport on Sunday. To state the obvious, folks congregating near gate B14 were quite annoyed with my boisterous antics. 

I don’t remember the last time I cheered so passionately for a team. I am just so freaking happy for the young women in that locker room. 

It’s been a tumultuous year for Bill Fennelly’s program. 

Coach Fen lost his father in December, which left a crater in the program’s heart. 

Injuries were more common than not this season. The team’s second-best player, Kristin Scott wasn’t right for most of the year. Rae Johnson has been battling back problems of her own and Ashley Joens is playing with approximately only 1.5 shoulders. 

Back in October, the projections pointed to this being a rebuilding season with the best recruiting class in program history coming to save the day in 2020-21. After losing to all three in-state schools during the non-conference portion of the schedule, the NCAA Tournament seemed like a stretch when Big 12 play began in January. 

Fennelly’s culture took over. 

In any sort of organization, you can’t replace hard work and leadership. 

From a pure talent standpoint, this isn’t an NCAA Tournament team. But the intangibles within that locker room are off the charts. 

It begins with Fennelly, the dean of Big 12 coaches. The man is a wizard. The chess moves he made this season to get the team to this point represent what I believe to be his best coaching job that I have seen in my time around the program. 

But you have to have the right type of players to pull off some of the moves that he did. Unselfish ones. Team first, hard-working, character types. That’s what this group possesses from the top of the roster to the bottom. 

Absolute grit. 

That’s the only reason why on a day where the Big 12’s leading scorer, Ashley Joens goes 3-of-18 from the field and Kristin Scott isn’t in the lineup, Iowa State could hand Baylor its first Big 12 loss in three years. 

It doesn’t make any sense, but it happened. And it was absolutely incredible. 

On the start of Big 12 Tournament week in Kansas City…

It is a shame that coming off of an exciting end to the women’s regular season, there isn’t more buzz leading up to the first coed Big 12 Tournament week in Kansas City since 2012. 

That city is always electric during tournament time, but truly special when the women are in town too. I hope that the Cyclone Nation will bring it for the ladies in the same way that they do for the men on an annual basis. 

I just can’t find many scenarios where the Iowa State men could push this to Thursday … 

We’ll see what happens with the status of Rasir Bolton, who missed Saturday’s loss at Kansas State with a concussion. If he can go, then Iowa State has a puncher’s chance against Oklahoma State, who punk’d Texas in Austin on Saturday. 

If Bolton can’t go, can you really picture the team that took the floor in Manhattan beating anybody right now?

A thought on Big 12 coaches…

I can honestly say that from Thursday until now, I have probably watched more college basketball in one period of time than at any other point in my life. Game after game after game after game. Some in-person (the Mountain West is a damn fun league), many in a sportsbook or two. 

I took a lot of notes. 

One of them is this: While the Big 12 is down as a whole this season, name me a league with a deeper stable of coaches?

Take the five guys who I would tab as the “best” in the league right now: Bill Self, Scott Drew, Chris Beard, Lon Kruger and Bob Huggins. 

Can any other league even come close to a roster that deep?

And it isn’t like six through 10 are a bunch of hacks. 

That’s why despite spots three through 10 being what I would call “sexy” this season, the league’s annual trip to the Sprint Center should be wildly entertaining. 

Shaka Smart is probably coaching for his job. 

Kansas and Baylor might be the two best teams in America…

Texas Tech is surging. I feel like Chris Beard has his team clicking at the right time and if they get in the NCAA Tournament will be a brutal draw as a low seed for somebody. 

The same can be said for West Virginia following its upset of Baylor on Saturday. 

A lot of great storylines, for sure. I’m game. 

On Scott Drew winning Big Coach of the Year…

I understand that many of my readers have grown tired of my appreciation for Scott Drew over the years, but allow me to make the case that he perhaps has done as good of a job of building a program over the last 15 years as any other coach in America. 

I compare Drew’s situation at Baylor to what Bill Snyder did at Kansas State in football. Baylor basketball has gone to 10 NCAA Tournaments in its school’s history dating back to 1906. Seven of them were under the tutelage of Scott Drew. 

He took over a program in 2003 that had been gutted due to NCAA sanctions after one member of the team literally murdered another. 

What I appreciate most about Drew is how he has evolved over the years. Known as a true snake oil salesman in the mid-2000’s (where during Big Monday broadcasts on ESPN, Bob Knight refused to say his name), Drew is now less in the business of securing one and dones and more into culture. That’s the only way how a guy can explain why the Bears are better now compared to the years where blue chips littered their roster. 

The older I get, the more I appreciate great cultures and a program’s ability to plug and play the right type of player and not experience massive drops in performance. Scott Drew has done this tremendously well at Baylor, and I hope they win the whole damn thing. 

This week…

I intentionally left out many thoughts on Iowa State’s end of the season because I plan to go very in-depth later this week in Kansas City. 

Jared Stansbury, Connor Ferguson and I will all be down there covering the men and women this week. I will be calling the women’s games the rest of the way on the Cyclone Radio Network. 

I’m excited to announce that we are sending Jacqueline Cordova to Minneapolis to cover the NCAA Wrestling Championships as well. 

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