PORTLAND, Ore. — This is how one NCAA men’s basketball tournament team spends a day, two days before it tries to win its first NCAA game in 19 years:
It has an 8 a.m. practice in Cedar Falls. It cleans up, and it heads to the Waterloo airport where other passengers have already been waiting for 90 minutes to get screened and luggage to get processed for a 4-hour Allegiant Air charter flight to Portland.
With the confirmation Wednesday that Illinois will close its season with a game at Cincinnati, all the Big Ten football schedules are set for 2009.
First off, while Illini fans sound irritated that their team will play Fresno State at home and Cincinnati on the road — both capable squads – after the Big Ten season is over, at least they’re real opponents.
Good for the Illini. It may mean another 5-7 season or, worse, a trip to the Motor City Bowl at 6-6. But it at least shows some willingness to play competition.
Either that, or Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther failed miserably at finding a patsy to squeeze into his schedule. I hope it’s that deal about wanting to play someone.
If only every Big Ten AD and coach had the same attitude. Hey, the Big Ten isn’t winning BCS titles anyhow and flops miserably every time it sends Ohio State to slaughter in the championship game. So why not make the regular-season more meaningful with actual ballgames?
Only 14 of the 44 nonconference games in ’09 are against BCS conference teams or Notre Dame. That’s ridiculous.
Are you the Big Ten or just the Ten? Actually, you’re the Eleven, but that horse has been beaten to death.
Only three league teams — Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota — are playing two BCS conference teams among their four non-league games. Wisconsin isn’t playing any.
Before noting the cupcakes, let’s give some kudos to the proud and the few who are at least playing interesting games.
Ohio State gets the return date on its home-and-home series with USC.
Purdue heads to Oregon after hosting the Ducks last fall.
Indiana filled out its schedule by taking a game at Virginia, thus becoming the only Big Ten team to play two of its nonconference games on the road.
Cal is playing at Minnesota and Arizona is at Iowa, so those are 2008 bowl teams from the Pac-10 coming into Big Ten lairs.
But by and large, Big Ten non-league slates are another big pile of bleccccch.
Nine games are against FCS (I-AA) opposition. Purdue and Ohio State are the only Big Ten teams not devouring FCS prey. A few are among the cream of the FCS crop, like Northern Iowa and Wofford. But …
Delaware State (5-6 last year) at Michigan?
Towson (3-9) at Northwestern?
Eastern Illinois (5-7) at Penn State?
Penn State is playing all four of its nonconference games at home, against Akron, Syracuse, Temple and mighty Eastern Illinois. That’s absurd. Are you a football power or not? If you are, act like one and schedule somebody.
Playing two Mid-American Conference teams, an FCS squad and Syracuse, the Least of the Big East, is great for wins. It won’t work too well in those BCS computers, though.
Ranking the non-league schedules by toughness is difficult, because most are lousy. But here goes:
1. Illinois: Vs. Missouri in St. Louis, Illinois State, Fresno State, at Cincinnati (The series with Mizzou is a good one, and Cincinnati is fresh off an Orange Bowl appearance.)
2. Minnesota: at Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota State (Air Force and Cal went to bowls, Syracuse is on the road, and S.D. State is one of the better FCS teams a Big Ten team is playing.)
3. Purdue: Toledo, at Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame. (Toledo was lousy in ’08, but the other three went to bowls and Oregon won 10 games.)
4. Wisconsin: Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii (The three FBS teams went to bowls, and Wofford won nine games and played South Carolina to a 10-point game.)
5. Ohio State: Navy, USC, vs. Toledo in Cleveland, New Mexico State (The USC game goes a long way here, obviously.)
6. Michigan State: Montana State, Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, Western Michigan. (Doesn’t look like much, but the three FBS teams went to bowls, the two MAC teams are in-state clubs that will be motivated, going to South Bend is no picnic, and Montana State was 7-5)
7. Iowa: Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas State. (UNI’s a terrific FCS team, and Arizona’s legit. If Iowa State were just a little stronger …)
Now it gets bad.
8. Indiana: Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, at Akron, at Virginia. (Western Michigan is a good program. Playing on the road twice should count for something, though all it really means is Indiana is a Big Ten football program without much clout.)
9. Michigan: Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State. (Four home games. Not a Top 25 team in the bunch. This isn’t the Michigan scheduling we’ve known for the last half-century. Bo Schembechler would never have scheduled Delaware State.)
10. Northwestern: Miami (Ohio), Towson, at Syracuse, Eastern Michigan. (Not a good opponent in the foursome. Only playing Syracuse on the road keeps the ‘Cats from being ranked below … )
11. Penn State: Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois. (What, Slippery Rock, Swarthmore, Susquehanna, and Scranton/Dundler-Miffin weren’t available?)
(AP photo of Iowa’s Jake Kelly by Charlie Neibergall)
IOWA CITY — With his head bandaged like that of a fife player marching across a battlefield, Jake Kelly knifed for a lay-in with four seconds left in his team’s basketball game Saturday.
With the tape circling his head, the Iowa sophomore guard looked like the proper symbol of the Hawkeyes, a ragtag unit with their best big man (Cyrus Tate) and their point guard (Jeff Peterson) both injured and unavailable for duty.
Kelly’s score was also symbolic of Iowa’s day before a lively crowd of 14,665 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The basket pared No. 20 Purdue’s lead to two points, but wasn’t quite enough.
The Boilermakers left with a 49-45 win in a game as aesthetically ugly as its score, but one that certainly wasn’t lacking for ferocity.
It was a defensive tour de force for both squads, one that kept the fans energized despite Iowa’s baskets being few, and so hard to come by.
Kelly typified his team’s effort, not its result. He had to leave the court late in the game when he and Purdue’s Chris Kramer inadvertently butted heads. Iowa’s cut man, John Streif, worked on Kelly to clot the bleeding above his left eye that would later require three stitches.
The player returned and scored the last of his 12 points in the second-half and game-high 19 overall. But again, it wasn’t quite enough. Which is the story of Iowa’s 3-10 Big Ten season.
“If,” Kelly said, “no one would have gotten hurt all year — that’s pretty outrageous to say, but I think it would have been a totally different season.”
You play with what you’ve got. Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter stitched together a 7-player rotation Saturday, got a very productive season-high 32 minutes of 6-foot-7 forward Jarryd Cole in the middle, and had non-point guard Kelly share time at that spot with Jermain Davis in Peterson’s absence.
Throw in a fife and a couple of drums, and you had the portrait of Iowa’s squad.
But Kelly and Cole combined for 32 of Iowa’s 45 points in an offense that wasn’t really an offense. That isn’t intended as an insult, just a reflection about things not being entirely structured when Kelly was at the point.
“I didn’t know any of the plays,” Kelly said, “so we just ran high ball-screen all game.
“We weren’t running like quote-unquote sets, but we knew what we were doing. It wasn’t like we were just going out there and hooping. I don’t think it was like schoolyard ball. Just maybe a little organized than we’re used to playing.”
No, the ball definitely wasn’t the schoolyard variety. You don’t see defense like that from two teams in any driveway or playground, let alone the vast majority of most Division I gyms.
Purdue had to match Iowa’s defense with excellent lockdown of its own to get out of town with its 19th win.
But Kelly kept the Hawkeyes’ fire stoked, even putting them ahead with 6:54 left on one of his several cuts to the basket before he got cut himself.
Forty-five minutes after the game, Kelly had gauze on his sliced eyebrow that looked as gruesome as the game itself. But he didn’t sound like a wounded warrior.
“We had a packed house today,” he said. “We had so many fans supporting us. We’re not going to just give up and not put on a show for the fans. We’re going to work hard every days and we’re going to earn our scholarships.”
Purdue Coach Matt Painter, after collecting his 100th career win, called Kelly “the best player on the court.”
However, the sophomore player and Iowa’s head coach still ended up with their 23rd Big Ten loss in 31 games.
Last year, Lickliter needed more players. A lot of them. This year, he needs more players. A few, anyway. Especially those with size and those who can, as the expression goes, can create their own shots.
The “playing hard” thing and the “buying into the system” deal, those don’t seem to be issues. The Hawkeyes had all sorts of reasons to phone in this game, and instead played harder. Which should have come as no surprise to regular observers of the squad.
The losing wears on everyone, from the head coach to the fan in Row 35. But if nothing else, the right attitude seems to be in place for future success if the talent becomes adequate enough to accompany it.
Kelly certainly seems like a primary piece of the plan for the next two years, if he can stay in one piece. He spent his Saturday night icing the cut eye and a sore hip.
“It’s a hip pointer,” he said. “I fall on it. I’m pretty skinny, so I don’t have much meat there.”
That’s his team, too. Too thin.
Round up some beef on the recruiting trail, Coach Lick. The fans are getting hungry, and hungry people eventually get impatient.
(Note to readers: I changed the title of this post because one of you good e-mailers politely let me know Iowa had a 3-game stretch that produced just 147 points in the 1983-84 season. It’s been corrected in the words that follow, too, and I appreciate the head’s up.)
Going into Wednesday night’s home game against Wisconsin, the Iowa men’s basketball team has three straight defeats.
There have been longer stretches of losing.
But as far as putting the ball in the basket, it has rare over the last 60 years when the Hawkeyes have endured a 3-game stretch like the one they’re enduring.
Iowa’s totals of 49, 49 and 53 in games against Minnesota, Michigan and Purdue add up to 151, an average of 50.3.
Topping 50 Sunday at Purdue prevented the Hawkeyes from their first three-game streak of being held under that mark. The last time that happened was the 1948-49 season, when they had four consecutive games in the 40s.
No shot clock or 3-point line existed then, of course.
Iowa had back-to-back games in the 40s once last season, too, and seven overall.
This season, things looked better. The Hawkeyes actually topped 70 on four occasions. They didn’ t plummet under 50 until a 60-43 loss at Drake on Dec. 20. It was a harbinger of bad Big Ten things to come.
A 52-49 home loss to Minnesota. A 64-49 defeat at Michigan. And the most recent indignity, a 75-53 whipping at Purdue.
Now comes Wisconsin, which isn’t exactly a go-go outfit. Iowa scored 51 and 54 in losses to the Badgers last season.
There was a time when when the Hawkeyes were interesting on offense.
Maybe again some year. Maybe next year.
But not now.
I’m not trashing Todd Lickliter, not when he inherited a shell of a roster when he got to Iowa, and not when injuries have stopped this season’s team from maximizing its potential.
But when he doesn’t have the personnel to play his style of basketball, it’s hard to watch. And the way the Hawkeyes are playing right now is hard to watch.
The men’s basketball budgets of Northern Iowa and Drake are roughly half that of those at Iowa and Iowa State. So who has the two best teams in the state right now?
Northern Iowa, for sure, and probably Drake despite getting blasted by the Panthers the way it did last weekend.
This vanished rather quickly from Gazetteonline.com’s home page and sports home page. The news marches on, and there was quite a bit of it this weekend in preps and college sports.
But the Hlog’s owner has an ego to feed, and wants his work to be available to the greatest people on the planet — visitors to the Hlog.
So without further ado …
IOWA CITY — If Shonn Greene isn’t in New York City the night of Dec. 13, college football lacks justice.
That isn’t a provincial opinion, nor is it a bias because I like the way Greene has stayed humble when even modest types might get fat heads with his accomplishments. It’s because the best players in the country should be Heisman finalists, period.
If Greene isn’t deemed one of the five premier performers in college ball this year, the Heisman electorate needs to turn 2009 ballots over to someone more qualified. Like the residents of a monkey house in any of this nation’s fine zoos.
We know Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell is sensational and a deserving candidate. So is Texas QB Colt McCoy, and ’07 Heisman-winning QB Tim Tebow of Florida, and Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. We know gifted Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree had the season’s Heisman moment in the Red Raiders’ stirring win over Texas.
So that’s five well-known and wonderful players just in that one paragraph. But how about a little love for the best running back in college football, a player who can spin with the best of them on “Dancing With the Stars” on one touchdown, and deliver merciless power and punishment on another?
Greene’s two TD runs Saturday in Kinnick Stadium were yin and yang, seemingly opposite forces that came together to carry Iowa to a not-so-pretty 22-17 win over Purdue. It was a brilliant way to end the home portion of Greene’s meteor of a college career. He has lighted the sky in his too-brief time as a Hawkeye starter, and he’ll surely be gone after Iowa’s bowl game.
“One more year,” Iowa students chanted. But that’s only asked of the players who are surely gone.
A 23-year-old junior who runs for 100 yards 11 times in 11 tries, gains 6.2 yards a carry, and averages 154 yards a game in Big Ten play has nothing left to prove in college football. In a few months, it’s time for Greene to make some money in the NFL. A lot of money. The team that drafts him immediately gets better.
After Saturday’s game, Greene was just as evasive on the possibility of turning pro this winter as he was on his 75-yard, sleight-of-foot touchdown dash in the second quarter. It’s the prudent thing to do. You don’t want to be a distraction to your team by telling the world you’re going pro after the bowl game.
Maybe that’s not the way Greene is consciously approaching it. It’s probably just his instinct, which would be consistent. Based on his running all season long, his instincts are very good.
“I just want to cap two more wins off,” Greene said, “then I’ll worry about that stuff.”
Well-played, Shonn. Just like his answer to whether he wants to be invited to the Heisman ceremony next month.
“I really don’t care too much for it,” Greene said. “We’re trying to get the best bowl game as of right now. Heisman, I’ll let all those other people deal with that stuff.”
If those other people were his teammates and coaches, Greene would be in Manhattan in four weeks.
“An amazing back, isn’t he?” said defensive tackle Mitch King. “It’s fun watching him run. I’m excited having him on our team rather than any other team. He can make plays when plays aren’t there.”
Of Heisman talk, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said, “Those are comparisons I can’t make. I know there are a lot of quarterbacks playing at an extremely high level. I don’t put the whammy on anybody. But after 11 weeks, I can’t imagine anybody playing their position better than Shonn’s playing it.”
No man is an island, and Greene lauded his offensive line over and over for the 11th-straight postgame.
But let’s not forget Iowa’s defense. More specifically, we cannot in good conscience let Iowa’s home finale pass without praising King.
It didn’t close Iowa’s win, but it was fitting that King sacked Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter on the Boilers’ final drive. King was held on the play by a Purdue blocker and still dropped Painter for a 9-yard loss.
The last two years, you would swear Big Ten officials allowed offensive linemen to clutch and grab King just to make it a semblance of a fair fight. King ranks alongside Bob Sanders and Matt Roth in the amount of pandemonium he caused on defense for the Hawkeyes this decade. The good kind of pandemonium.
“Mitch has been awfully disruptive,” Ferentz said, “and that didn’t start this year. He’s had a phenomenal career here.”
If Iowa wins Saturday night at Minnesota, it finishes 8-4 and probably goes to the Outback Bowl. King and Greene deserve a New Year’s showcase game. They and their team have much to play for in the Metrodome in six days.
“I don’t expect anybody to let up this week,” King said. “They better not, anyway, I’ll tell you that. I’ll get after them if they do.”
That should be all the motivation the Hawkeyes need.