Blum: Prime Time for Prime-Time
Hilton Coliseum gets a little extra juice in the rafters when Kansas comes to town. Say what you want about the dudes from Lawrence, but when the crimson and blue step on the floor, everybody ratchets up their intensity a few notches. The fans included.
In my 28 years of going to games in Ames, there have been four teams that fired me up more than any: Nebraska Football, Iowa Football, Missouri Basketball and Kansas Basketball. Growing up, Nebraska and Iowa were the ultimate bullies. Tom Osborne and Hayden Fry took great pleasure in absolutely destroying Iowa State and the Cyclones were regularly embarrassed. Iowa State wasn't even in the same stratosphere and I desperately wanted the Cyclones to compete; to be relevant. Every time they came to town, I waited with eager anticipation like a Cubs fan; this was finally the year.
Missouri basketball under Norm Stewart was another animal. They provided a different level of motivation. I hated those guys. Just despised them. It wasn't that they were overly dominant, it was just the whole team was a bunch of jack-wagons. I learned my first cuss word telling Norm Stewart to sit down. Anthony Peeler, Jason Sutherland, Derek Grimm, Brian Grawer, the Haley twins--I'm getting aggravated just typing their names.
Kansas was, and still is, unique. Yes, they had their share of slappies (Jerrod Haase, Scot Pollard, Eric Chenowith Luke Axtell) but there was a level of respect accompanying the annoyance. They carried themselves like a professional team. Beating Kansas felt like a great accomplishment. It still does. Their consistency over the years is unreal. In my lifetime (I was born in '84) Kansas has missed the NCAA tourney one time. They have made an NCAA best 23 straight tournaments.
Few teams have a rearrange your life quality, but when the schedule comes out, the first thing most Cyclones fans do is find when Kansas is coming to town. It's always the toughest ticket in town.
This year the normal buzz and anticipation for KU has an extra level of mystique. The Cyclones and Jayhawks get the ESPN "Big Monday" spotlight.
Kansas is used to it, they are on more Monday's than How I met your Mother. But it has been seven years since the Cyclones played on the Big Monday stage. The last time Iowa State was under the Monday bright lights was during Wayne Morgan's final year when eighth ranked Texas rolled into town with LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and company. The Horns dispatched the Cyclones 78-58. Iowa State actually led early in the 2nd half of the game, but the Cyclones eventually succumbed to an all too familiar collapse later in the period.
Perhaps the more memorable portion of that day came during Iowa State's shoot-a-round several hours before the contest began. Some coaches have very structured shoot-a-rounds, others prefer to have a relaxed atmosphere and let their 'fellas get loose and get shots up. Wayne Morgan was in the more relaxed camp. TV personnel also utilize this shoot-a-round time to talk to coaches and players and get some additional insight for the broadcast. As the legend goes, Iowa State was wrapping up their session in Hilton and a few Cyclones decided to have a punting competition with the basketballs. (Kids will be kids.) Sitting near the floor on the baseline, ESPN's Holly Rowe was meticulously taking notes with her head down. Unfortunately, an unnamed Cyclone guard drove his punt like a two iron instead of a lob wedge. You can guess what happened. The Spalding smacked Rowe square on the noggin. Luckily for her, it caught her fore-head and not her nose, so there was no Marsha Brady situation. Rowe rallied like the professional she is and reported that night with no ill effects. Seven years later Rowe and crew return for a huge match-up tonight.
There are four games remaining in the regular season and the conference remains up-for-grabs. Kansas is seeking an unprecedented ninth straight Big 12 championship. But unlike most years, the Jayhawks are in a struggle to claim the crown in 2013. Iowa State could throw an upper-cross to their hopes with a win. And believe it or not, the Cyclones have an outside chance of winning the conference as well. They would need a lot of help and would essentially need to win out, but that dream is still on the table.
And yet despite being alive in the Big 12 championship race, the Cyclones have not locked up an NCAA tournament bid yet. A win over a top 10 ranked Kansas squad would put Fred Hoiberg's bunch in great shape. It would get them on the metaphorical green, with a three putt needed to dance. I believe Iowa State can get into the tourney by winning two games the rest of the way--either in the regular season or the Big 12 tournament. Two is cutting it close, three is a guarantee.
What makes beating Kansas such a daunting task however is their vengeance to account for any mishap of the past. The Jayhawks have not lost to the same team in back-to-back years since Missouri beat them in 2005 and 2006. Iowa State of course knocked off KU in Hilton a year ago.
The circumstances should compute to a jacked up Hilton Coliseum. Yes, Iowa State has played in bigger games than this throughout the years, but this February night is a prime position for a prime-time game. For the first time in a long time, Ames is the center of college basketball this evening.
This is what college basketball is all about.
Get ready for some Magic.