Thursday, January 29, 2009

Catching Up With the Cagers

I was a huge college basketball fan as a kid. Perhaps my earliest sports memory is Steve Carfino, Bobby Hansen and the Lute Olsen-led Hawkeyes going to the 1980 Final Four. I remember watching the 1983 Phi Slamma Jamma Houston team on the crappy black-and-white TV in my grandparents' basement, the set with a pull-on knob that took about 30 seconds to warm up and show a picture. They seemed so invincible, until Lorenzo Charles grabbed that air ball and dunked it home for the national championship.

I remember being in the motorhome when Villanova upset Georgetown in 1985. I remember "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison and Louisville, and so many other great games.

Over the years my interest in hoops waned. I don't know if it was the general trend of the game: too much NBA-style "look at me" cockiness, not enough passing and teamwork. Maybe it was Bowlsby's trade of Dr. Tom, the all-time winningest coach at Iowa, for Steve-O. Dr. Tom won more NCAA tournament games in his first year at Iowa (three) than Steve-O in his eight-year tenure (one).

Oh how I miss these days.

But slowly I've been coming back to watching and following the Hawks, and now the Irish. Enough intro, let's check in on this year's squads.

Notre Dame. Excitement over last year's great Irish team was tempered by the early flameout in the Big East tournament and the collapse against Washington State, scoring an Iowa-esque 41 points over 40 minutes. Almost everyone returned, Luke Harangody remains a beast, and the Irish climbed to the Top Ten earlier this month.

Alas, the brutal Big East schedule has taken its toll. I wasn't too concerned about early losses to North Carolina or Ohio State, but four straight conference defeats could mess with their confidence. Yes they were all to ranked teams, but ND was ranked for those games as well. You gotta beat someone you're supposed to beat to be taken seriously nationally, especially in a league as tough as the Big East.

Harangody has been the Brady Quinn of hoops: doing everything you can ask for a guy at his position, national player-of-the-year candidate, and conducting himself with passion and grace. But where the hell are the other guys? Normally opposing coaches try to shut down the star and force the lesser players to beat you. This year, no one is stopping 'Gody, but the other four dudes are invisible. McAlarney can't get off a three to save his life. (I credit opposing coaches for smart strategy, but c'mon, Kyle.) Where's our point guard? Tory Jackson showed flashes of being the guy to control pace and maintain calm, but during the Cuse game he looked as lost as everyone else. Ayers doesn't have to score 25 a night, but he can't just lurk in the shadows. Top Ten teams have role players that step up. With Pittsburgh (No. 1 a few weeks ago) on Saturday, it's time to step up.

Iowa. Year Two of the Lickliter debacle is in full swing. Okay, maybe debacle is too strong, implying that it was partially his fault. But this team is nigh unwatchable. The offense is plodding, barely scoring a point per minute of action. In fact, a fun game-within-a-game is watching Iowa's dance with the point-per-minute Mendoza line. "...with 13 minutes left in the second half, Iowa has 26 points through 27 minutes of play!"

But the real problem is the guys on the team. Yes they have no talent, but I'm talking about a bigger problem: the names. Peterson, Davis, Fuller, Kelly, Cole, Tucker ... it's as if Lickliter went through a phone book looking for guys to recruit*. At least we have one guy named after a geometry concept and the President of the United States.

Whoops. Wrong David Palmer.

In their defense, we do have one awesomely named guy: Davan Bawinkel**.

Hell, this is how I explained the recent Minnesota loss to a friend:

Take a not-very-good team to begin with. (ie: short, white, young, low scoring. there's some potential, but no reason to expect greatness). Then you subtract the two best players (the high scoring guard and the only tall man). Then you go on the road to a ranked team on a Sunday morning. The only possible, rational outcome is a blowout. I wasn't home to watch it, and wasn't surprised when i flipped on the TV w/ 4 minutes left, down by 25-30 pts. Hell, even NWU beat Minny. subtract them from the potential win column. perhaps we were lucky to beat Indy before they start jelling.

The upset win over Wisconsin hasn't changed anything. Iowa has probably the 10th best team (behind Indiana) and the 10th best program (behind Northwestern) in the conference. That's a lot of looking up.

* I know he didn't recruit all of them.
** Did you know without clicking the link that he is white?

No comments: