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Crazy day of hoops in Iowa

Caption
(CNA photo by SCOTT VICKER)
Drake forward Jeremy Jeffers drives past Creighton's Doug McDermott during Drake's home win over Creighton earlier this season.

I had it all planned out what I was going to write about this week.

And then in a span of about 30 minutes, those plans went up in smoke, signalling not the start of a new papacy, but renewed hope for the Iowa State men’s basketball team and a new leader for the Drake men’s program.

I came into the office this afternoon for a meeting, thinking Iowa State’s game against Oklahoma in the Big XII tournament was all but over. Oklahoma held a 13-point lead in the second half, and Melvin Ejim seemed to be carrying the Cyclones on his back.

When I returned to my computer following the meeting, I stared at my computer screen in shock as I saw the Cyclones now led the Sooners by three with about 1:00 remaining.

I rushed home just in time to catch the end of the game and see that my eyes had not been deceiving me — Iowa State had, in fact, come back and won the game.

As I left the house for the meeting, I feared that a loss might be enough to keep the Cyclones out of the NCAA tournament.

Instead, the team rallied in the closing minutes and earned a third chance against Kansas, whom Iowa State has suffered two crushing defeats to this season.

It’s the matchup fans, and I’m sure the players, have been looking forward to ever since Kansas escaped Hilton Coliseum with a controversial win in February.

As of press time, ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi had moved Iowa State safely into the field, noting that the Cyclones should avoid one of the “First Four” games in Dayton.

•••

Not long after the conclusion of the Iowa State game, as I sat looking at Twitter on my laptop, I noticed a tweet that read:

Drake has fired Mark Phelps after five seasons, sources told CBSSports.”

I sat there for just a moment in shock.

It was a move I felt needed to be made, but as a Drake basketball fan, I wasn’t sure if Drake athletic director Sandy Hatfield Clubb would make it.

After all, Phelps won more games in his first five seasons coaching the Bulldogs than any other coach in program history.

His overall win percentage was just below .500, which while not great, is about on par with what has typically been done at Drake in the past. In fact, that’s really not that bad for Drake.

But, Phelps had the tough task of following Keno Davis’ one magical year at Drake, meaning expectations would certainly be higher for Phelps than for previous coaches.

And they certainly were.

Phelps is a great person. In my few brief encounters with him, he has always come across as a very kind, respectable person.

I’m not sure I’ve heard anyone ever say anything bad about him as a person.

But the hard truth is he just wasn’t getting the job done as a head coach.

“Drake University is grateful for his commitment to the program,” Hatfield Clubb said at a press conference Thursday afternoon. “He has a strong work ethic and is a man of integrity. Nobody worked hard the last five years. He’s brought high standards and personal values to this program.”

Phelps is a fantastic recruiter, bringing back-to-back No. 1-ranked recruiting classes in the Missouri Valley. But after five straight trips to the Thursday night play-in games at Arch Madness, it’s definitely time to move in a different direction.

Hatfield Clubb said she will move aggressively to find a new coach. I find myself very interested to see who she will be able to get as the next head coach at Drake University.

Hopefully, she can find a coach who will restore interest into the program similar to the way Fran McCaffery rejuvenated the Iowa program after replacing Todd Lickliter as head coach.

•••

Speaking of Iowa, the Hawkeyes took another big step Thursday night in trying to secure a spot in the field of 68.

A loss to 11-seed Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament would have eliminated the Hawkeyes from contention.

But, Iowa jumped out to a big lead early and never looked back, despite Northwestern cutting the lead to single digits late in the game.

The Hawkeyes, with a 9-9 league record, finished sixth in the Big Ten Conference. Lunardi says the Big Ten is a lock to get seven teams in the tournament, but Iowa is not one of those seven.

At press time, Lunardi had moved Iowa ahead of Baylor, but still in the “Next Four Out” category.

Translation — Iowa currently sits as the fifth team out of the tournament.

But, the Hawkeyes have a golden opportunity in front of them today, as they get a quarterfinal game against Michigan State.

A win against the Spartans could be just enough to get the Hawkeyes into the NCAA tournament.

A little help along the way with losses by other bubble teams certainly wouldn’t hurt, though.

How exciting would it be for the state of Iowa if both Iowa and Iowa State made it into the NCAA tournament this year?

If that happens, it’s sure to drum up a little excitement throughout the state.

•••

Today is shaping up to be a fantastic day of basketball.

Not only is there the third matchup of the season between Kansas and Iowa State, but you also have Iowa fighting for its NCAA tournament life against Michigan State.

Is that not enough to get you excited?

How about the final Big East matchup ever between longtime bitter rivals Syracuse and Georgetown. Michigan vs. Wisconsin also looks to be an exciting game.

Oklahoma State and Kansas State square off in yet another matchup of ranked teams, as do UCLA and Arizona.

The Mountain West Conference semifinals also feature two very good matchups as Steve Alford’s New Mexico Lobos take on San Diego State and UNLV takes on Colorado State.

This certainly is the best time of the year!

•••

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @scottvicker

Email: svicker@crestonnews.com

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