“Saturday sweep” for Cyclones makes for great weekend

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The "Saturday Sweep" for the Iowa State men’s and women’s basketball teams was important for both clubs but for different reasons.

Fred Hoiberg’s team entered its game against Nebraska with the chips stacked against it. The Huskers were desperate for a win to add to its NCAA Tournament resume. The Cyclones simply needed a win. The return of Jamie Vanderbeken provided hope.

"We are different team with Jamie in the lineup," Hoiberg said. "He spaces the floor and brings his defender away from the basket."

Vanderbeken sparked the Cyclones’ second conference win of the season with his first "double double".  His five points to open overtime raised spirits after a Lance Jeter three pointer sent the game into OT. You wondered if "it" (a late-game, gut-wrenching loss) would happen again.

But Vanderbeken and fellow senior Diante Garrett (17 points and nine assists) steadied things as the Cyclones "found a way to win" for the first time in a month.

Meanwhile, Bill Fennelly’s team secured a critical road win in Manhattan Saturday night. The Cyclone coach said a week ago that the Big 12 race had three teams at the top – Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma – and a logjam (including the Cyclones) fighting for fourth.

After sweeping Texas and Kansas State last week, Fennelly’s team has climbed to a tie for fourth (with K-State) in the Big 12 with a week left. His club has the tie-breaker with K-State by virtue of its first sweep of the Wildcats since 2007.

The wins had different impacts on the respective programs, but it sure made for a great weekend.

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Cyclones get first ESPN exposure since ’06

Friday Night Lights. There has been a hit feature film, a best-selling book and a network drama by that name.

Now, the Iowa State football team gets a piece of the action with a Friday (Sept. 16) night contest under the lights at UConn this fall. ESPN or ESPN2 will televise the game to its national audience at 7 p.m. CT.

The Cyclones have played a Friday night road game previously and it was also in the east. Iowa State won at Army 28-21 in September of 2005 and that game was also televised by the ESPN family.

Network TV officials normally choose a few significant games each spring and lock them into their programming schedules early. That was the case for this game between the Cyclones and Huskies.

The match-up between Big 12 and Big East schools – featuring an improving Iowa State program and last year’s Fiesta Bowl participant UConn – got the early nod from television officials.

Having a game on the ESPN family of networks is great publicity for the program. The Cyclones last played on ESPN in 2006.
 

 

Nebraska & Colorado rivalries coming to an end

School officials from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Washington (St. Louis) joined together as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletics Association in 1907. Iowa State was added to the group a year later and Colorado became a part of the mix in 1948.

That history is the backdrop for the reality that these ISU’s league rivals – for more than a century in Nebraska’s case and more than six decades for Colorado – are ending in the very near future.

The Cornhuskers (Saturday) and Buffaloes (March 2) will be making their final men’s basketball appearances at Hilton Coliseum.

Iowa State and Nebraska, separated by only 220 miles, started playing basketball in 1909 and have met 233 times. Colorado has faced the Cyclones in men’s hoops 145 times.

Since 1996-97, of course, the schools have played as Big 12 rivals. The Huskers and Buffs have won the ninth- and 10th-fewest games since the Big 12 was formed. But, they are bringing good teams to Ames this season.

Nebraska has 18 wins currently, a win figure they’ve reached only four times in the last 11 seasons. Colorado has 17 victories and it’s just the third time in the last decade they’ve won that many. Those two schools are tied for sixth in the league standings right now and edging closer to NCAA Tournament consideration.

 

That means the stakes will be high. Iowa State is hoping to gain a bit of traction and momentum going into conference tournament play.

All of those storylines are pretty evident. But, don’t forget that it’s also the final act in Ames for these long-time conference partners.

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“White Out” game a lasting memory for Fennelly’s club

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Bill Fennelly likes winning basketball games. Fennelly also likes entertaining his team’s loyal fan base. But, most importantly, Fennelly enjoys providing real life experiences and memories for his players.

His Cyclones defeated Texas 63-54 in overtime at Hilton Coliseum Monday. ESPN2 televised the game to its national audience. The Iowa State Athletics Department helped create a "White Out" environment for a special effect.

Fennelly told his troops that life doesn’t provide an abundance of special opportunities. But, this had the potential to be one.

"Before the game, I asked them (the players) to write down a game from their past that they still remember," Fennelly said. "I wanted them to remember this game, too."

The end result – a great environment, a victory over a highly respected foe and national TV coverage – was a perfect mix.

"(Our kids) watch ‘Big Monday’ like the rest of us," Fennelly said. "When you talk about Tennessee, Georgia, Baylor, A&M, Duke, Oklahoma and (add) Iowa State into that conversation … well, it was a two-hour infomercial for the best fans in the country and a great university. That’s pretty good."

Fennelly was right in suggesting that the positive, national publicity for Iowa State University was good.

He might take greater satisfaction that his players got a special memory.

The next time a friend mentions "Big Monday", they can say "yea, that was me. I did that."

Like the commercial says, those memories are priceless.

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Parity is real across college basketball landscape

There was a lot of buzz last week when Kansas, Ohio State, Texas and Pitt all lost college men’s basketball games. At the time, they comprised the nation’s top four teams in the AP poll.

It seems like, on any given day this winter, an upset is a possibility.

Twenty-three different teams have been ranked in the Associated Press Top 10 at some point this year. Among them are Michigan State, Kansas State, Baylor and Tennessee. None of them are even receiving votes in the poll right now.

It seems like parity, however, is prevalent across the board not just at the top of the polls.

In the Big 12, for instance, five schools are currently within one game of a .500 record. Missouri is a game above break-even, Kansas State, Baylor and Nebraska have split their 12 games and Colorado is one game below .500.

One year ago, only two Big 12 schools were within a game of the break-even mark for league play.

Even on the national scene, there is greater parity this season. Of the 300-plus schools in Division I, only 93 were at .500 or within a game of that mark last year. This year, the number rises to 114. That is a 23% increase in the number of schools at or near break-even.

It’s pretty evident that parity has, indeed, taken over college basketball. That would indicate March Madness is ripe for some surprises.

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Freshmen’s effort pleasing Hoiberg

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Fred Hoiberg’s roster at the start of this season had four players with Div. 1A experience.

The tallest of those returnees – Jamie Vanderbeken – has missed the last two games and is questionable for tonight’s match-up at Texas.

Vanderbeken’s absence has meant that 6-foot, 4-inch Diante Garrett has been the biggest non-freshman available to Hoiberg in the last week. He is, of course, the Cyclones’ point guard.

When Hoiberg said in the pre-season he wanted to build his club around Garrett’s assets, he probably wasn’t referring to height.

However, with strong efforts from true freshmen Calvin Godfrey, Jordan Railey and Melvin Ejim last week, the Cyclones outrebounded the Big 12’s top rebounding team (Texas A&M) in College Station. The Aggies are ninth nationally in rebound margin.

"Right now, our front line is a three-man rotation with three freshmen," Hoiberg said Monday. "In our situation, (the three freshmen) have been thrown into the fire right away and (it will) be huge for these guys’ careers moving forward."

Hoiberg noted the improvement of his trio of rookies with special accolades for Ejim.

"He has been awesome the last week," Hoiberg said of his 6-6 power forward. "Melvin has been bringing great energy. Sometimes, young guys need a little time to learn that."

The next step in the progression takes place tonight when Godfrey, Railey and Ejim face fifth-rated Texas, which ranks 16th nationally in rebound margin.

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Cyclone fans responding to club’s scrappy efforts

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On his post-game radio show Saturday, Fred Hoiberg shared a couple of messages.

The first was a "thank you" to Cyclone fans, who have supported his club at Hilton Coliseum all season.
 

Hoiberg was a part of the Iowa State fan base as a kid and relished his playing career in front of "some of the greatest fans in college basketball."

The second message was about his appreciation for the effort of his club despite its short bench and youth. In the last two games, four of the seven players getting significant action were freshmen.

Those themes are likely linked.

Hoiberg, in fact, described one sequence from the Missouri game when his scrappy Cyclones battled through a possession with multiple players flying out of bounds or diving on the floor. The crowd was on its feet.

And, Hoiberg added that the fans deserve to see that type of effort. Perhaps, that’s part of the reason that Hilton has been lively through the Big 12 season.

The Cyclones have averaged 11,999 fans per home game in Big 12 play. Schools currently in last place of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-10 are averaging 8,041 fans per home league game. ISU’s attendance norm in conference games is nearly 50% higher than the average of those peers.

Iowa State’s fan base is as loyal as they come and Hoiberg appreciates it.

"The guys hear that support and respond to it," Hoiberg said.

That loyal fan base has two more chances to cheer for this hard-working collection of Cyclones. Iowa State closes out its home season against Nebraska (Feb. 26) and Colorado (March 2).

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Cyclone accolades “by the numbers”

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Here are some random thoughts on the Cyclones in a "by-the-numbers" feature:

 

3.18 – Melvin Ejim’s average offensive rebounds per game. The 6-6 forward is on track to become the first freshmen to lead the Big 12 in this category. For comparison, K-State’s Michael Beasley and UT’s Kevin Durant finished second in this category as rookies. Former Cyclones Jackson Vroman and Kenny Pratt topped the conference in offensive boards as seniors.

30 – Consecutive wrestling matches won this winter by Jon Reader. The nation’s top-ranked 174 pounder is one of 15 undefeated college wrestlers. He and Penn State’s David Taylor (originally a Cyclone recruit) are the only two undefeated grapplers with at least 30 victories.

1, 6 & 10 – National rankings for the women’s golf teams paired with the Cyclones at last week’s Lady Puerto Rico Classic. Iowa State played with Alabama (#1), Purdue (#6) and Georgia (#10). "I was pleased that we played head-to-head with that type of competition (and flourished)," Coach Christie Marterns said of her club, which was tourney runner-up to the Crimson Tide.

2nd – Iowa State’s Michelle Shealy is rated second among freshmen all-around performers in the NCAA’s North Central region. Only Utah’s Mary Beth Lofgren is rated higher among freshmen in the region. Shealy, a Georgia native, is ranked 27th nationally in the all-around and No. 2 in the Big 12.

42.5% – True freshmen Melvin Ejim, Jordan Railey, Eric McKnight & Calvin Godfrey, plus redshirt walk-on freshman Bubu Palu and walk-on football players Austin McBeth and Andrew Mitchell have played 42.5% of the team’s minutes in the last two games (at #2 Kansas and at #17 Texas A&M).

 

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Will your spring golf debut be this good?

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As local temperatures in central Iowa started inching into the 60s this week, there were some whispers circulating about the start of golf season. Cabin fever, it seems, had peaked.

At the same time, the Iowa State women’s golf team was concluding its "official" (meaning it counts for ranking points) spring debut in Puerto Rico.

The Cyclones quietly put together a splendid fall season with wins at the Challenge at Onion Creek and runner-up finishes in the Windy City Collegiate Classic and the Wolverine Invitational. Most college polls had the Cyclones rated in the nation’s upper 20s.

After their effort at the Lady Puerto Rico Classic, the secret might be out. These Cyclones are good.

Playing against a field which included eight schools ranked in the nation’s Top 30 – including #1 Alabama and defending NCAA Champion Purdue – the Cyclones placed second. The Crimson Tide won the title by five strokes, but that was after Iowa State had taken the tourney lead in the final round.

ISU recorded the lowest score in both the second and third rounds. Its 287 total in the final round was one-under par. The Cyclones didn’t even count a 74. All five Iowa State scorers finished in the Top 20, led by Sasikarm On-iam (tied for fourth with scores of 72-73-73) and Victoria Stefansen (tied for ninth with 79-69-74).

The performance on the "Island of Enchantment" was the first outdoor competition of the 2011 calendar year. The Cyclones are now rated 16th (by Golfstat), their best-ever ranking.

I know what you’re thinking. Can my spring debut be as good?

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Fennelly prepared for this workload in January

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When Bill Fennelly studied the Big 12 portion of his team’s 2010-11 schedule, he noted a stretch of four games in nine days.

The Cyclones hosted Kansas State last Sunday, have travelled to Texas Tech for a game tonight and follow it with home contests on Saturday (Colorado) and Monday (Texas).

Fennelly said he wasn’t sure if ISU had ever faced a similar stretch in Big 12 play. But, he wasn’t fretting about it either.

To prepare for the workload, Fennelly scheduled a similar stretch (four games in 10 days) in early January. He wanted to run a dress rehearsal.

"This is an odd situation," Fennelly said. "Purposely, we scheduled our non-conference knowing that this was coming."

The Cyclones played Chicago State and North Dakota State on a Sunday and a Tuesday in January before travelling to Baylor and hosting Nebraska. All of that occurred over 10 days.

"We (had) to be smart about the time and energy we spent in practice (this week)," Fennelly said. "But, players would much rather play than practice anyway. They are 18-22 year olds and have lots of energy."

Fennelly also believes there is another bonus to this week.

"This does simulate – if we’re fortunate enough (to qualify) – the NCAA Tournament," he concluded.

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