ISU grooming mobile blockers


Football coaches are always on the lookout for athletes. They like guys with speed and agility. At Iowa State that attribute is coveted at all positions.

Offensive line coach Bill Bleil, in fact, puts a premium on sleek and mobile blockers. With Iowa State’s no-huddle, quick-paced offense, it’s imperative for the guys up front to be able to move and move quickly.

Paul Rhoads and his staff have signed 10 offensive line prospects since their arrival. Junior college center Sam Tautolo (305 pounds) is the only one that had a listed weight above 300 on signing day. Four of the signees weighed in the 250s. Iowa State likes the leaner guys with big frames.

“We have a very athletic group (this spring),” Bleil said recently. “I think their athleticism and intelligence is what stands out. (Most) have great feet and can run.”

The current two o-line deep is led by a couple of huge seniors – Kelechi Osemele and Hayworth Hicks. The average weight of the other eight men on the first and second-string offensive lines is 289 pounds.

“You can have strength, but if you can’t move the rest of it isn’t good for anything,” guard Shaban Dika told the Ames Tribune recently.

Blocking is certainly power and strength and that won’t change. But, don’t discount athleticism as part of the equation. Iowa State’s coaches sure aren’t.

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Pushing tempo; fans & players to benefit


Basketball players usually say they prefer to compete in a full-court game. Fans, too, seem to enjoy end-to-end action.

When Fred Hoiberg said he wanted to employ that style as coach of the Cyclones, everyone had a vision for what that approach might yield.

On NCAA Men’s Basketball coverage last weekend, analyst Kenny Smith was talking tempo and said the easiest measure tempo is shots attempted. An up-tempo style should, of course, yield more points and more shots.

Here are comparisons – for points and shots per game – for recent coaching tenures at Iowa State …

* Fred Hoiberg, 2011:  74.8 points, 62.3 shots
* Greg McDermott, 2007-10:  66.3 points, 55.5 shots
* Wayne Morgan, 2004-06:  73.3 points, 60.7 shots
* Larry Eustachy, 1999-03:  72.1 points, 55.2 shots
* Tim Floyd, 1995-98:  68.8 points, 53.2 shots
* Johnny Orr, 1981-94:  77.7 points, 62.4 shots

Fred said on numerous occasions that Orr told him to implement his style from the beginning. Johnny urged him to establish an identity.

Orr’s first three teams averaged 67 points per game. His last seven Cyclone teams scored 84.1 ppg as he recruited for his fast-paced attack. Orr’s favored playing style was implemented in year one.

After one year, it is apparent Hoiberg has written a similar script and his attention shifts to recruiting for his preferred tempo. Fans and players will be the beneficiaries.

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Embrace both bracket & bowl formats

What’s better … the post-season for college football (bowl games) or that of college basketball (bracketed tournament play)?

I love both and spend my time enjoying the games rather than complaining about the systems.

One of the arguments made by those who prefer the bracket format is that the tournament determines the “best team” on the court. No computer rankings to pick the national title game contestants like football.

That argument never resonated with me. First, computers do have a role in helping assemble the basketball field. Secondly, the “best team” is in the eyes of the beholder. The champion is the winner of the tournament, but it isn’t always the best team.

Butler, UConn, VCU or Kentucky will be crowned 2011 national men’s basketball champion in a week. It’s doubtful that team is going to be recognized as the “best team”.

Everyone remembers NC State (upsetting Houston’s “Phi Slamma Jamma” in 1983) and Duke (beating undefeated UNLV in 1991) overcoming the odds to win national championships. Today, those champions aren’t considered to be better than Olajuwon’s crew at UH or Larry Johnson’s UNLV team.

You likely have a personal preference for post-season format. Both provide good theatre for sports fans and isn’t that the bottom line?

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Random thoughts on Brackettville

Random thoughts on several weeks of great hoops entertainment.

Apparently, winning a league regular-season championship isn’t a key indicator of Final Four potential. Yes, Butler did tie for the Horizon League title with two other schools. But, VCU placed third in the Colonial, Kentucky had the fourth-best record in the SEC and UConn tied for ninth in the Big East. Good regular-season marks generally lead to good seeds. But, the 2011 tournament showed that tourney seeds are great on Selection Sunday and useless, thereafter.

The criticism about VCU’s inclusion in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament  field was overwhelming. I joined that chorus because it was hard to accept Colorado’s snub. It would appear that the Rams used the criticism pretty effectively in winning FIVE games – including its "First Four" game – to make the "Final Four". Colorado made the final four as well, but it was in the NIT.


Connecticut played in a BCS bowl game last fall, advanced to the Men’s Basketball Final Four last weekend and awaits Tuesday’s women’s basketball game and another possible Final Four berth. An amazing performance by the Huskies. Kemba Walker, Maya Moore and Big East football MVP Jordan Todman got many of the headlines this year. The trio reminds me of Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin, Courtney Paris and Sam Bradford in 2008-09.’s NCAA Tournament bracket game generated more than 5.9 million entries this year. That is more people than live in Denmark and Finland. The percentage of people who predicted the Final Four schools are as follows: Kentucky (3.3%), UConn (9.3%), Butler (0.2%) and VCU (0%). That unpredictability is what creates the buzz every spring.

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Decision making, accuracy & good feet


Paul Rhoads started spring practice this week excited about the competition he’ll grade at the quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver and safety positions.

But, the more Rhoads talked Tuesday, the more it became apparent the spotlight is on the quarterbacks.

Right now, it’s four men competing for one job as starter. The candidates, in current depth chart order, are Jerome Tiller, Steele Jantz, James Capello and Jared Barnett.

Rhoads suggested that improvement for his total program starts with progress behind center.

"You look across the country at any program that’s an upstart (has) a guy performing at the quarterback position," Rhoads said. "We need to get (better) play out of our quarterback if the program is going to move forward."

Rhoads succinctly spelled out his requirements from the position.

He is looking for leadership, intelligence and decision making.

"When the flames are hot, you need to be able to make the right decision," he explained.

Rhoads wants accuracy in the throwing game.

"That might be the one area where a guy can get a leg up (on the competition) quickly," he said.

Finally, the QB must make plays with his feet.

"Whether it’s a designed run or to escape pressure," Rhoads said, "you must be able to do it with your feet."

Improving in all facets of the program will create a foundation for total success, but you got the sense Tuesday QB is front and center. The season opener is Sept. 3 and four men will be scrutinized every day until then on the attributes listed above.

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NBA Draft projections favor Big 12 prospects


Beyond creating talk at the local coffee shop or your favorite gathering spot, mock drafts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Those in the prediction business love to tout their correct calls, but we never seem to re-visit the bad misses.

All mock drafts for the NBA are wild projections right now. Many players are not even sure if they are coming out early or staying. Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton of Texas said recently they are returning. But, the Longhorns’ Kevin Durant did the same thing a couple of years ago and still left for the pros.

After reviewing six different mock drafts, it would appear the Big 12 could suffer the most losses. In only one of the lists, did the Big 12 not have the most projections for the first round. The number of top-round draft picks from the Big 12 fluctuated between 6-8.

These are the names being tossed around as possible early entrants from the Big 12: Perry Jones (Baylor), Thompson and Hamilton (Texas), Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Josh Selby and Thomas Robinson (Kansas) and Alec Burks (Colorado).

That list doesn’t include senior stars from the league such as LaceDarius Dunn (the Big 12’s career scoring leader from Baylor), Iowa State’s Diante Garrett, Colorado’s Cory Higgins and K-State’s Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly.

In the coming months, NBA personnel people will likely be watching a lot of video on the Big 12. There is a lot of talent to assess.

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Developing playmakers a spring objective


Playmakers. You recruit them, train them and scheme to showcase them.

Paul Rhoads knows the formula is pretty simple. Playmakers win games.

In outlining his objectives for the next couple weeks of practice, Rhoads noted the need to develop playmakers at all offensive skill positions.

“We need to identify guys that can make things happen individually, regardless of scheme,” Rhoads said.

Prior to ISU, Tom Herman coordinated an offense at Rice (in 2008) that had 31 scoring drives of five plays or fewer. They were quick-strike because of playmakers.

“We need to attack more on offense and that will come through challenging the defense vertically downfield,” Rhoads – who also wants some make-you-miss guys – said.

The big-play ability needs to extend to the defense, too. Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham’s 2007 defense at USF led the nation in turnovers created and was third in tackles for loss. The Bulls had defensive playmakers.

“We must get better at putting pressure on the quarterback,” Rhoads said. “(It’s important) to challenge the playmaker, the decision maker, the QB.”

He hinted at more blitzes this spring to accomplish the goal.

Turning a seven-yard play into a 70-yard touchdown or registering a QB hurry on a key third-down play is the goal.

That’s what good teams do, and Rhoads is determined to find some playmakers on his roster and turn them loose this fall.

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It’s about measurables to the NFL scouts


In the Bergstrom Athletic Facility Tuesday, it’s data collection day for National Football League scouts.

A number of NFL representatives are expected to be on hand to test, talk to and evaluate Iowa State’s prospects for their league. Eleven Cyclones will participate in some fashion with Ben Lamaak, Collin Franklin, David Sims and Alexander Robinson expected to draw much of the attention.

It’s an interesting exercise because of the event’s focus.

When you’re around college football coaches, you often hear them say "he’s just a good football player" when assessing a prospect’s talent. On signing day, especially, that’s a common comment.

Today, you won’t hear that from the NFL scouts. Instead, they will be chattering about 40 yard times, weight lifting reps, height and shuttle speeds.

You just don’t hear the refrain of "he’s just a good football player".

Some professional dreams will get a lift today and others may end. But, the reason will be in the measurables, not whether "he’s just a good football player."

Coverage of the event will be posted to later today.

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“Cyclone fans, you just witnessed a perfect season!”


Jon Reader was wearing a t-shirt which said "Whatever it takes!" prior to his appearance in the NCAA finals at 174 pounds.

After shedding the shirt, Reader dominated Stanford’s Nick Amuchastegui, 10-3, and his perfect 39-0 national title season was in the books. In becoming the 50th NCAA Champion in ISU history, Reader outscored his opponents by 48-11 in the tournament.

"Cyclone fans, you just witnessed a perfect season," the public address announcer screamed into his microphone after the title match.

Reader became just the eighth Cyclone in the last four-plus decades to finish a title season undefeated and untied. Among the greats on that list are Olympians Cael Sanderson (he did it four times), Chris Taylor, Dan Gable and Ben Peterson.

Reader’s championship match opponent was the No. 7 seed, so he was a big favorite. Just 19 seconds into the match, however, Reader suffered a cut above his right eye. Twice, he was forced to the sidelines for medical attention and came back the second time with tape wrapped around his face.

At the end, Reader looked a bit like Rocky Balboa with traces of blood seeping through the tape. But, the real thing he shared with Philadelphia’s famed boxing legend was a championship.

"I spent a lot of time with Coach (Kevin) Jackson and the Paulsons (Travis and Trent are his workout partners)," Reader said. "I was coached by a man who is like another father to me."

That respect is mutual.

"Every day this veteran was in our wrestling room showing the young guys what it takes," Jackson said. "He demonstrated how to train, study and act outside of the room."

In his ESPN interview after the title bout, Reader said the win was surreal.

"I love you, Cyclone Nation," Reader said.

It’s a mutual feeling, Jon. You have left a significant legacy.

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58 points would be a positive indicator for Cyclones



That might be a good point total target for the Iowa State women’s basketball team Saturday when it opens NCAA Championship play against the nation’s best defensive team (Marist).

"For us, it will come down to scoring," Head Coach Bill Fennelly said before departing for Durham, N.C.

In games this season in which the Cyclones scored 58 points or more, they were 22-4. When ISU failed to reach that figure, the mark was 0-6.

"We always try to (push it offensively)," Fennelly said. "But, they might not let us. In the NCAA Tournament, it eventually becomes a half-court game. It will likely be a 50s, 60s kind of game (against Marist)."

Fennelly compared the Red Foxes to Kansas State. The Cyclones and Wildcats met three times during the season and ISU won twice, season scoring 61 and 58 points. K-State won a meeting in the Big 12 Tournament when ISU scored 53.

"They (Marist) are a bigger, better version of Kansas State," Fennelly said. "But, we’ve played against this style recently and that makes it a bit easier to prepare for."

Scoring at least 58 points would be a positive indicator for ISU. Just to be safe, however, it would be more comforting if ISU can reach 63 points. They lost only once this season when that happened.

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