NCAA Basketball Thoughts

March 16, 2010

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The state of basketball in Iowa

The state of Iowa will be represented by just one team in the men’s NCAA tournament – Northern Iowa.  My Iowa State Cyclones faltered down the stretch after three point bomber Lucca Staiger left the program to return to play pro ball in his native Germany (yes, in mid-season).  My team to watch during the tournament will be Syracuse, featuring former Cyclone Wesley Johnson.

The University of Iowa fired their basketball coach on Monday.  Todd Lickliter, who was the NABC National Coach of the Year in his 2007 during his final year at Butler, was just 38-58 at Iowa, including 10-22 this season.  A rash of defections from the program and flagging attendance spelled the end for Lickliter.  The university exercised the$2.4 million buyout to sever the relationship with Lickliter.

Who will the new coach be?  Suggestions I have heard include Tennesee coach Bruce Pearl and Baylor coach Scott Drew (see my article about Drew from last year).  This makes no sense to me.  Why take a step down from a top program to take over rebuilding a program at Iowa?  While Iowa has a good basketball history (including one Final Four appearances), it’s hardly an elite history.  Add to that the fact that Steve Alford and now Lickliter are coaches who had significant success before Iowa and failed to win consistently with the Hawkeyes.  Alford left Iowa for New Mexico and promptly reeled off three straight winning seasons – his Lobo team is  3 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

Who, then, to coach the program?  If you don’t mind a coach with some baggage, how about Tim Floyd?  He’s a coach who has lived in the state before (he coached at Iowa State in the 90s) and he might be had for a bargain price as he seeks to creep out of the shadow of the O.J. Mayo scandal.

The University of Northern Iowa Panthers were the one team from the state to make the tournament.  If UNI can get past UNLV in the first round, they’d likely face the hated Kansas Jayhawks in the second round.  Although my team is Iowa State, not UNI, I’d cheer wildly for the Panthers to take down Kansas.

In the women’s tourney, Iowa State, Iowa, and UNI all made the tournament.  Iowa State is a 4 seed and will face Lehigh in the first round.  8 seed Iowa will face Rutgers, led by former Iowa coach (and Hall of Famer) C. Vivian Stringer.  The UNI team surged to an unexpected win in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Their reward – to be fed to the 30-1 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

NCAA Tournament

I’ll spend just a bit of time on the NCAA tournament.  My tournament bracket features Syracuse over Wisconsin in the title game, with Kansas and Duke also making it into the Final Four.  The odds of me nailing these picks is about as good as me getting struck by lightning.  I enjoy watching college basketball, but I’m hardly an expert.

Baylor is a 3 seed – this is a great testament to coach Scott Drew.  As I mentioned in last year’s article about Drew, this is a guy who had a complete uphill climb when he took over the Baylor program after former coach Dave Bliss left in disgrace.

I have Minnesota picked to get to the Sweet 16 largely because of their romp against Purdue in the semifinals of the Big 10 tournament.  Yes, they got killed by Ohio State in the tournament championship,  Yes, Purdue was playing without star Robbie Hummel.  Still, a Purdue team without Hummel is still a solid team, and such a decisive win cannot be completely ignore.

As is my custom, I picked three 12 seeds to advance (Cornell, Utah State, UTEP).  The lowest seed I have picked to win are the 13 seed Murray State Racers.  I have Murray State picked to upend 4 seed Vanderbilt in the first round and the aforementioned 12 seed UTEP in the second round to advance into the sweet 16.

My heart goes out to fans of Mississippi State.  They had the SEC title game – and the accompanying automatic bid to the NCAA tournament – seemingly locked up.  Then Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins hit a last second shot to send the game into overtime, and Kentucky escaped with the overtime win – and Mississippi State was left out of the tournament.

I’ll start the rallying cry – reduce the tournament back down to 64 games.  While having 65 teams in the tournament allows an mediocre team from a power conference to slide into an 11 or 12 seed, it looks just plain stupid on the sheet.  64 is enough.  If a bubble team gets left off, too bad.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

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