Archive for December, 2012
Only one thing spoiled the New Year's Eve bash Monday afternoon at Carver-Hawkeye Arena - somebody invited Indiana. The fifth-ranked Hoosiers ultimately displayed why they are the favorite to win the Big Ten title this season, making just enough plays in critical moments to survive a 69-65 scare from the Hawkeyes. Neither team played particularly well, especially on the offensive end of the floor, but at least one thing was drawing rave reviews from every locker room beneath the 15,400 seats at sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The atmosphere in the joint was worthy of an upper echelon Big Ten battle. That is something that hasn't been said a lot lately. The sellout was just the fourth in the games Iowa has played in the three seasons Fran McCaffery has coached the team and for the first time in years, it felt like old times. Beckoning back to an era when Iowa basketball was a consistent factor in the Big Ten race, the place was jumping. Fans arrived early, stayed late. That didn't go unnoticed. "We kept telling our guys that if we got a win at Carver it was going to be a big deal because not many people are going to be coming in here and winning,'' Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "I hope their fans keep it up. That was a great atmosphere, exciting to be in as an opponent.'' McCaffery praised the racket the crowd was making as well as did his players. "The fans were great. It was as loud as I've heard it,'' forward Aaron White said. "It's the way we want it to be every time we play. I know our fans will keep coming out. That's the way they are. And, we need to keep working so we can hold up our end of the deal, too, and give them the win they want.'' Crean believes those wins will come. "I like watching Iowa play. They play so hard, so competitively,'' he said. "Coach McCaffery mixes lineups, and he's got a lot of versatility.'' McCaffery was impressed with his team's fight. "We have great character on our team. We fought hard. We hung in, but we have to understand is the anatomy of the game,'' he said. "This game is different than any other game we played before or any game we will play in the future. "So, you have to understand what we have to do to win, and what are the things that we can't do, because if we do those, we are going to lose this game. They did a little better job at that than us. A little bit more experienced, a little tougher on the road. We have some things to learn, and we will.''
The Christmas trees haven't even hit the curb yet and Kirk Ferentz is already being mentioned as a possible candidate for this job or that job in the NFL. The league annually celebrates the end of its regular season with Black Monday, the firing of coaches and dismissal of front-office personnel unable to lead their teams to successful seasons. Tomorrow is that day this year and already, as lists of potential firings are discussed Ferentz is being mentioned in the same breath as a potential replacement. For the second straight year, Ferentz has been linked to a long-time friend who will be searching for yet another coach at Kansas City. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, whose own job security has been somewhat in question, will likely be seeking a replacement for the coach he hired a year ago, Romeo Crennel. Retained after working as the Chiefs' interim coach a year ago, the current season has been a trainwreck in Kansas City and Crennel may be the one who pays for problems that extend well beyond the guy walking the sidelines. Ferentz, to his credit, doesn't make a habit of talking about his interest level of coaching opportunities at any level. Like an old mule with blinders on - as his former boss used to say - he has typically remained silent and continued to work for the people paying his salary. It is known that Ferentz has talked with NFL personnel during his 14-year stay in Iowa. He has talked about interviewing for the head coaching position in Jacksonville in 2002. In that situation and in other discussions, however brief, he also ultimately has chosen to stay put. It was late during the 2002 season, a year when the Hawkeyes went unbeaten in the Big Ten and played in the Orange Bowl, that Ferentz said he might one day be interested in another coaching position. "If you pinned me down right now, yeah maybe the NFL when I'm 58. If you get your butt shot off when you'[re 58, who cares? I'm not going to worry about it at that time,'' Ferentz said, adding that if that scenario played out and he wasn't successful at the next level he would just ride off into the sunset of his career content. Ferentz turns 58 years old next August, but there are plenty of reasons for him to remain with a program he built and has led twice to BCS bowls despite slipping to a 4-8 record this past season. Iowa's football facilities are in the midst of a multi-million upgrade, son Brian is now a member of his coaching staff and son Steven just completed his freshman season as a walk-on at Iowa. Ferentz also already has an NFL-type contract. Terms call for him to receive $3.7 million annually through 2020, a deal which allows Ferentz to walk away from Iowa without a buyout. So where does that leave things on the eve of Black Monday? Here we go ... again.
Overseeing practice as his team works toward Monday's Big Ten opener against Indiana wasn't the only preparation Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery was concerning himself with Friday. The Hawkeye coach was preparing his program for the future as well, following Iowa's afternoon workout with a recruiting trip. While high school gyms in Iowa are quiet from a competitive standpoint during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, that's not the case elsewhere and McCaffery is among a number of college coaches who will make the most of this week to evaluate potential future players. In tournament settings across Illinois, for example, coaches have ample opportunities to watch multiple prospects in one gym on the same day. From Proviso to Pontiac to Pekin, prospects are being challenged by multiple games within a short timeframe and giving coaches a glimpse of the mental toughness as well as the physical skill they possess. With no remaining scholarships currently available for Iowa's 2013 recruiting class, McCaffery is currently shopping for 2014 and beyond. Before leaving today, he discussed in general terms his thoughts on the Hawkeyes' 2014 recruiting. "I think we are doing pretty well,'' McCaffery said. "We've locked in on a few guys. I think it's a good class. We've had a number of people on campus. We'll see.'' At first blush, McCaffery said Iowa's recruits are need based. "You typically target what you lose,'' he said. "We'll look for a wing guy who can play the point and we'll look for some post guys so we've got to get some forwards, preferably versatile ones.'' That doesn't necessarily mean Iowa would look the other way if talent at another position would express an interest. "If you have an opportunity to get somebody who is a great player at a position, you're going to try to get them anyway,'' he said. Asked about the importance of the Chicago area as Iowa recruits, McCaffery said it is among the areas the Hawkeyes have targeted. "We've worked Chicago since we've gotten here and it's been good to us over the years,'' he said. "A lot of terrific players, terrific coaches, a lot of really good players who have come in ready. "But you know, like I always say, if we don't get somebody from Chicago, we'll get somebody from somewhere else that can play.''
Today's 30-point win over Coppin State ended one chapter for the Iowa basketball team and marked the beginning of another. Coach Fran McCaffery's team worked its way to an 11-2 record during the non-conference portion of its schedule without playing a single game decided by fewer than seven points. It's tough to say how the Hawkeyes will react when they find themselves in that situation because frankly, they haven't been tested yet. The two games that they lost, to Wichita State in the finals of the Cancun Challenge and at Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, were decided long before the final gun sounded. The same could be said for most of the 11 wins. Iowa State and UNI tested the Hawkeyes, as did Gardner-Webb. Iowa may have told us as much about their make-up in that game as any, overcoming a 20-point deficit to win. What is clear is that this Hawkeye team has improved defensively and certainly has more dimensions than the first two teams McCaffery has had to work with in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have mixed and matched lineup combinations frequently, and typically the 11 players that are seeing action for the Hawkeyes on a regular basis are all getting a chance as McCaffery searches for the right button to push against a particular opponent. He will have options as Iowa enters the Big Ten play, something that hasn't been the case in Iowa City since Steve Alford was on the bench. Those options will allow Iowa to re-invent itself on a game-by-game basis based on what challenges are presented by the opponents. Devyn Marble's offensive development, and his ability to slide anywhere from the 1, 2 or 3 position in the lineup, will prove valuable in the weeks ahead. The team's lone senior, Eric May, provides similar possibilities at the 2, 3 and 4. Iowa will be tested early and often in Big Ten play, facing two teams ranked in the top six nationally in its first two games in Indiana and Michigan. We'll learn as much about the Hawkeyes in those two starts which precede a home game with Michigan State as we have learned about Iowa in the opening months of the season. That's just the way it works. McCaffery was asked if in retrospect he would have preferred to have added another test or two to the nonconference schedule Iowa just completed. His short answer: No. The schedule this team faced included a handful of challenges - a stretch of six games in nine days, a quick trip to Mexico for two games in two days, a road game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a pair of rivalry games. McCaffery believes that is enough of a challenge for this particular team and a starting five which includes three freshmen. As Marble said following today's game, Iowa hasn't faced a team of Indiana's caliber yet this season. That changes one week from Monday when the Hoosiers take the court at Carver-Hawkeye for a New Year's Eve matinee. It's the start of the next chapter in the development of this Hawkeye team.
After fans filed out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight, 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson was knocking down a few jumpshots from the right wing before skating home to Cedar Rapids. Never hurts to work on your game, something Iowa forward Aaron White can relate to. It's been a struggle from the perimeter this season for the sophomore. He's knocked down 4-of-22 attempts from 3-point range this season. That included a 1-for-4 effort tonight against South Carolina State when he knocked down a 3 ball early in the second half on a shot he thought never had a chance. White shook his head as he looked at assistant coach Andrew Francis after burying the shot which gave Iowa a 57-22 lead. "Sometimes a shot feels good, but won't go in and sometimes one that doesn't feel good coming off your hand goes in. That was one of those shots I thought never had a chance,'' White said. Known for the time he spends working on his shot, White figures the only way to regain a bit of an edge from the outside is to do what he does every day. "Keep on shooting,'' he said. White said he is working to keep his release point high and the routine, it will never change. "I can't be working on my shots enough because they aren't going in,'' White said. "In my mind, shooting is about the bottom line - you've got to make them - and the only way to do that is to keep shooting them until they drop.'' With his 1-for-4 game tonight, White actually improved his season shooting percentage from 3. It went from 16.7 percent to 18.2. He shot 28.6 percent from behind the arc a year ago as a freshman.
Eric May quietly played one of his better games in an Iowa basketball uniform today. The Hawkeye senior came off the bench and scored just two points, but don't underestimate the importance of his contributions in the Hawkeyes' 80-73 victory over Northern Iowa. As Anthony Clemmons dealt with foul issues, May provided a calming influence on an Iowa offense which coughed up the ball 13 times during the first half, struggling with the quickness and aggression of the UNI backcourt. May played 17 minutes after the break and helped the Hawkeyes deal with the Panthers on both ends of the floor. "They have good perimeter scorers and (Devyn) Marble, May and (Mike) Gesell, did a terrific job on defense,'' Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "Eric has been through it with those guys before. He knows how to play against those guys, how they drive the ball, how they jump stop, and he stepped in and made plays.'' That was important for Iowa, particularly early in the second half as the Hawkeyes kept the Panthers at arms' reach, never letting UNI get any closer than a two-possession game. "That was a good team that we beat out there,'' May said. "... We have a lot of guys who can help and we pick each other up. That was huge.'' So was the contribution provided by the only scholarship senior on the Hawkeye roster. "We need him to be able to step in and do that,'' Marble said. "We need everybody.'' In addition to the defense he provided, May also dished out a career-high seven assists and did not record a turnover.
There's only one thing that has surprised Iowa point guard Anthony Clemmons about college basketball - and it's not ease in the freshman's transition to the college game. "The media timeouts. I didn't think about those at all, but they've been really helpful,'' Clemmons said today. The made-for-TV timeouts which kick in at the first stoppage in play under the 16-, 12-, 8- and 4-minute marks in each half provide players with a welcomed two-minute breather. "I like those a lot,'' Clemmons said. "They keep you fresh.'' That hasn't been an issue for Clemmons, who has recorded 21 assists and turned the ball over just twice in 71 minutes of action since moving into the starting lineup for the Hawkeyes three games ago. Clemmons doesn't consider his performance to be anything beyond his expectations. "I've always had the mindset that I'm a team player first. I know I'm capable of scoring 20 points if I need to or want to, but that's not my job,'' he said. Clemmons said he always simply let the game come to him and has never been one to force the issue. "When you come out too anxious or too nervous, you don't play up to your potential,'' he said. Still, that steadiness impresses his teammates. "His assist-to-turnover ratio has to be one of the best in the nation. He's playing really well right now,'' Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. "We push each other every day in practice. He's shown me things. I've shown him things. It's been a good situation for both of us.''
When tonight's 80-71 victory over Iowa State was over, Iowa basketball players sprinted to the south end of the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. There, they celebrated with the sizeable turnout of students in the near sell-out crowd of 15,127, a group which brought life and energy to the arena that matched the energized effort which transpired on the court. Anthony Clemmons put it all in perspective minutes later, asked if the Hawkeyes had made a statement with their strongest overall effort of the season. He didn't hesitate, answering that this win meant bragging rights for the next calendar year and little more. He's right. It is December. From start to finish, Iowa's effort was solid and the result is the only win over an opponent from one of the big-six conferences the Hawkeyes will have on their resume when Big Ten play begins in a little over three weeks. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. The Hawkeyes out-hustled an ISU team which seemed somewhat disinterested at the start of the first and second halves. Most importantly, the Hawkeyes made plays when they needed to make plays. They hit critical baskets at critical moments, knocked down 15-of-18 free throws and forced 19 turnovers. Iowa's 3-point shooting remains problematic. The Hawkeyes went 5-for-20 from behind the arc tonight, something that was masked by the energy which helped lead to 15 offensive rebounds. As much as anything, the Hawkeyes learned to overcome that type of adversity with their effort against the Cyclones. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery described animated and agitated discussions he had with several Hawkeyes at halftime. He said he lit into Melsahn Basabe and Josh Oglesby during the break. Both responded. Basabe provided defense and rebounds in the second half. Oglesby scored all of his eight points after the break. Lessons. Lessons learned. All a part of keeping it real in early December, a time of growth for this Hawkeye basketball team.
Fran McCaffery uses one word to describe the importance of rebounding for his Iowa basketball team in Friday's match-up with Iowa State. "Critical,'' McCaffery said this afternoon, pointing to the Cyclones' early-season dominance on the boards. "For anybody that plays them all year, it's going to be the most critical factor,'' McCaffery said. The numbers illustrate his point. Iowa State's Melvin Ejim and Will Clyburn rank 1-2 in the Big 12 in rebounding, averaging 9.3 and 8.4, respectively. As a team, coach Fred Hoiberg's team has out-rebounded each of its eight opponents and has a rebound margin of 11.6, a number which ranks in the top-10 nationally. Matching Iowa's preference for an up-tempo attack, the Cyclones lead the Big 12 in scoring and are averaging 45.6 rebounds per game, a total that ranks third nationally. "Rebounding is going to be a big key to our success in this game,'' center Adam Woodbury said. "They're great athletes and they really attack it. We've got to get after it on the glass because we know they will.'' The Hawkeyes are holding their own on the boards. Iowa averages six more rebounds than its opponents and has out-rebounded seven of its nine opponents. "It's something we have to do every game but against Iowa State, it's going to be really important,'' McCaffery said. "They attack it on both ends and limiting their offensive rebounds is something we have to be prepared to do.''
When Prophetstown's Bret Bielema packed his bags for Fayetteville instead of Pasadena today, the seventh-year coach who has led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowl berths stunned more than a few folks. We shouldn't be surprised. Money talks. Like it or not, Bielema's payday check as the new coach of a middle-of-the-pack program in the Southeastern Conference will far exceed what he was taking home in Madison. This season, the coach of the program which earned its third straight Rose Bowl berth by flattening Nebraska last weekend took home $2.64 million. Not bad money, but a figure which ranked fifth among his peers in the Big Ten. With the move, he'll understandably find the challenge of rebuilding a program but he'll reportedly be in the same high-rent district as Ohio State's Urban Meyer. The first-year Buckeyes' coach pocketed $4.3 million this year, a figure which ranked fourth nationally but was tops among Big Ten coaches according to statistics compiled by USA Today. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz ($3.835 mil), Michigan's Brady Hoke ($3.046 mil) and Nebraska's Bo Pelini ($2.875 mil) all earned more than Bielema did. Fans love to complain about the salaries coaches make, but the fact of the matter is that the marketplace drives the dollars. The Big Ten's five highest-paid coaches all rank among the top 20 in the nation, reflective of the positions they hold and the size of the athletic operations they work for. Sixth on the list is Bill O'Brien of Penn State, who made $2.3 million and ranks 33rd among FBS coaches. Here's a breakdown of the rest of the Big Ten, according to the publication: 45) Mark Dantonio, Mich St, $1.934 mil 55) Tim Beckman, Illinois, $1.6 mil 61) Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern, $1.26 mil 62) Kevin Wilson, Indiana, $1.26 mil 64) Jerry Kill, Minnesota, $1.2 mil 65) Danny Hope, ex-Purdue, $970,000 And the top three nationally? Nick Saban, Alabama, $5.477 mil Mack Brown, Texas, $5.354 mil Bob Stoops, Oklahoma, $4.55 mil