WHOSE FLOOR IS IT?

I figured a basketball season that exciting warranted dusting off the ol’ blog.  Check out CycloneFanatic.com for my take on eventually naming the Hilton Coliseum floor.  GO CYCLONES!

–psychlone99

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IOWA STATE, THE FRANCHISE

It’s clearly been awhile since I was last inspired enough to hammer out a blog update.  Well, the mood finally struck again, and my latest update has been posted over at CycloneFanatic.com.  I enjoyed writing it, so I hope you all enjoy reading it.  GO CYCLONES!

–psychlone99

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SLEEPING GIANT

CycloneFanatic.com recently posted my latest blog update to their front page.  It’s a quick and dirty take on the growing number of basketball transfers that have decided to call Ames their home.  Enjoy!

–psychlone99

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CHANGES

I wanted to pass some news along to those of you who subscribe to my blog (and there’s more of you than I ever thought there would be).  You may be seeing less material from me here, but not because we’re entering the long layoff between the college basketball and college football seasons.  Instead, I will be contributing occasional pieces to CycloneFanatic.com, an opportunity that I’m very excited about.

While this material will be exclusive to CF and will not be posted here, I will not be completely abandoning Eye of the Storm.  There will likely be things that I will want to discuss here that may not be the type of material that Chris Williams (CF Publisher) is looking for on his site.  And, quite frankly, some of the pieces that I submit may not make the cut.  In that case, I will probably post them here.

I’m pumped to have an opportunity to contribute to a site that has such a large following of Cyclone fans.  As I understand it, my pieces will be posted to the front page, which is the case with my first contribution, “Opportunity Knocks.”  (Believe it or not, I wrote this and sent it off to Chris last night.  You’ll understand why that is ironic once you read the piece.)

I’m sure many of you are already familiar with CycloneFanatic.com.  If you aren’t, check out the site after you jump over to read my latest piece.

–psychlone99

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BELIEVE IT.

If you’ve been inside Hilton Coliseum in the past week, you may have noticed something- something that may have caught many of you off guard.  It starts with a buzz and then quickly grows to a roar.  You may even notice the hairs on the back of you neck standing up just a bit.  There’s been a hint of electricity that has returned to the atmosphere inside of that majestic concrete structure at the corner of Lincoln Way and University Boulevard.  Could that be what some of us think it is?

By now you probably know what I’m about to ask, so I’ll just get on with it.  Is the Magic returning to Hilton?  To answer that question, I think we first need to define what the Magic really is.  Some have argued that it would never return- that it was, in fact, dead.  These folks are the ones that I would categorize as the traditionalists- the ‘Keepers of the Magic’.  They define Hilton Magic as those memorable happenings where an underdog Cyclone squad is willed to victory by the energy and atmosphere generated by a frenzied crowd.

While I agree that these are the very circumstances that created the Magic in the first place, I refuse to believe that these are the only circumstances under which the Magic can exist.  And, frankly, if Iowa State needs to be the perennial underdog for the Magic to be present, I’ll go ahead and pass.  I’d rather cheer for a talented team that’s expected to win on their home court more often than not.  But it’s a moot point, as I believe you can define Hilton Magic in more generic terms.

In my mind, there is a modern-day Magic, which is more about an electric atmosphere than an overachieving underdog.  Of course I’m not talking about just any college basketball atmosphere, but one that is feared by opponents, respected by the national media, and cherished by the Cyclone fans and players.  We’ve had that, even without the underdog status.  I respect the Keepers of the Magic and their borderline stubbornness when it comes to applying the Hilton Magic tag to anything beyond its original roots.  Those were special times in Cyclone basketball history, but this Cyclone fan is unwilling to declare dead something that we all take such great pride in.

For those who were in Hilton this past week, did you not sense a hint of something special in air?  Granted, it was fleeting.  But, even with a team sitting in last place in the conference, there were glimpses of an arena and its inhabitants that are clawing their way up off of the canvas.  Cyclone fans are hungry, and our once-feared coliseum is ready to explode again.  Look no further than this year’s attendance figures, where Iowa State trails only two Big 12 schools- perennial powers, Kansas and Texas.

Cyclone fans believe in Fred Hoiberg and the future of Cyclone basketball.  This team plays an exciting brand of basketball and they never stop fighting, which, combined with improved talent, are two ingredients that will eventually lead to the rebirth of Cyclone basketball and Hilton Magic.  That rebirth is nowhere near complete, and it may not be completed next season, even with the debut of the All-Transfer Team.  But it will happen.  Believe it.

–psychlone99

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SMALL VICTORIES

Winning is everything, or so they say.  Under normal circumstances, I would agree with this all-or-nothing stance.  And by ‘normal circumstances’ I mean those that don’t involve a BCS conference team going from the brink of the Final Four to almost complete irrelevance within the span of a decade.  But those are exactly the circumstances that Iowa State basketball finds itself in.

If winning was everything, it wouldn’t be possible for me to feel any better about this current team than I did about any of the previous four.  But it is possible, and I do feel better about this team- at least better than I felt about McDermott’s final two squads.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not jumping for joy over a team that currently sits at 1-12 in conference.  But when a program has bottomed out, a part of you shifts from hoping for the highly improbable W to looking for the smaller victory- that w within the L.

First and foremost, this team is competitive, even as the losses have mounted.  Some may consider this loser talk, and it probably is.  That’s the reality that is Iowa State basketball.  But a silver lining in this reality is that this current group of Cyclones fights like hell more often than not, and does so with the most limited rotation in the Big 12.  Of Iowa State’s 14 losses, only four have come by double digits, and those losses were at #14 Mizzou, at Colorado, at #2 Kansas, and at #5 Texas.

Another reason to feel good about this team is the freshmen, namely, Ejim, Godfrey, and Railey.  Many had high expectations for Ejim, but, as a whole, this trio has overachieved.  Not only have they performed well for first-year players, but they carry themselves with a little swagger and don’t seem to be intimidated on the court.  With everyone looking forward to next season and the debut of the All-Transfer Team, it’s nice to know that these sophomores-to-be will be able to contribute… or more.

Also encouraging is the fact that this team seems to respond well to Hoiberg and his staff.  Clearly they haven’t quit, competing deep into a very difficult season.  And, anecdotally, the coaches seem to get a lot of bang for their buck when it comes to coaching this group up during timeouts.  I’ve never seen a Cyclone staff that convenes a shorter huddle, which would be worrisome if the team flopped more often than not following the break in action.  But, typically, it’s just the opposite.

Finally, I’ve mentioned the freshmen, so let’s talk about a senior: Diante Garrett.  The very mention of his name will ignite a heated debate any time two or more Cyclone fans are gathered.  For the record, I would just like to say LAY OFF!  The guy has put in four full years as a Cyclone, something that hasn’t happened since… Jared Homan???  I’m guessing, but the point is that, during a turbulent period when player after player has decided to leave Ames with eligibility remaining, Garrett has gutted it out with little reward.  But he doesn’t complain and, believe it or not, he’s actually turning in one hell of a senior season.  This has a lot to do with Garrett’s dedication, with a little assist from a coaching staff that lets him do what he does best.

This wouldn’t be an honest post without acknowledging those things that have given us all a reason to be concerned.  I think it goes without saying that this year’s Cyclones have displayed a gut-wrenching inability to seal the deal in close games.  When only four of 14 losses have come by double digits, that means you’ve lost a slug of close contests.  In fact, Iowa State has won just three games decided by single digits, and we did everything we could to give away the Creighton game before dodging OT with an illegitimate “game-winner” at the buzzer.

With a limited rotation that is undoubtedly gassed by the time 40 minutes have elapsed, I typically wouldn’t be nearly as concerned.  What has frustrated this Cyclone fan is the coaching staff’s apparent stubbornness in handling late-game situations.  Time after time they employed the same strategy with the same frustrating result.  Going to your best player made sense the first few times, but eventually it falls into the definition of insanity that is commonly attributed to Einstein: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Throughout the season, these failures in close games have haunted the Cyclones, and have continued to be my greatest concern.  But, as we all know, Hoiberg is a highly-intelligent man, and I’m confident that he will find a way to correct this deficiency.  While a comfortable win may be just what the doctor ordered for this team, part of me is hoping for some nail-biters down the stretch to see if we can discover the winning formula yet this season.

Ultimately, the 2010-2011 Cyclones have proven to be exactly what most experts predicted them to be: talented enough for last place in the Big 12.  But there are many reasons for hope, and I honestly believe that I’m not grasping at straws when I say that.  Here’s to next season, a return to relevance, and the rebirth of Cyclone basketball.

–psychlone99

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BIG BOY PANTS

Word spread on Thursday that a big announcement had been made by Coach Rhoads at a recent Cyclone Gridiron Club event.  The announcement was one that many Cyclone fans, including myself, have been waiting to hear for quite some time.  Without an official release from the athletics department, many details remain unclear, but here are the basics: According several who were in attendance at the event, Rhoads announced that the new score/videoboard structure will be completed before the coming season and, most importantly, that the south endzone and football-only complex will be constructed not long thereafter.

It’s unclear what was actually said regarding the construction schedule for the south endzone and football complex, but this is excellent news, regardless.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that this news is second only to the hiring of Rhoads and Hoiberg in recent years.  In my preseason football write-ups, I identified this announcement as the number one thing that I would be watching for during the season.  I put this announcement above all potential on-the-field happenings because, in my mind, it is that important for Iowa State football and Iowa State athletics in general.  Here’s why.

As I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t just about the stadium.  Pollard has spearheaded many much-needed facilities improvements, but this is about making a big leap towards bringing our facilities to a level more comparable to some of the ‘haves’ in college football.  This announcement is about no longer being little ol’ Iowa State and, instead, acting aggressively to improve our position in the college football pecking order.  And, most importantly, it’s about impressing Joe Recruit and finally having a stadium worthy of the Big 12.

With signing day not far in the rear view mirror, the importance of attracting high-caliber athletes should be fresh in the minds of Cyclone fans.  Drive by Jack Trice on a Saturday night after football season and you may wonder why the stadium is lit up like a Christmas tree.  The season has been put to bed, but some important business is taking place down on the field.  With the lights glowing, potential future Cyclones are strolling the field as the coaching staff helps them envision playing on that surface next fall.  The recruits soak it in, recalling other football stadiums they’ve recently visited.  And, if they’re the caliber of athlete that Iowa State needs to win in the Big 12, those young men have seen several stadiums that are significantly more imposing than Jack Trice.  That is the current reality, but it’s a reality that Coach Rhoads and Jamie Pollard are working hard to change.

So what of the naysayers who continue to insist that Iowa State doesn’t need to increase the capacity of it’s football stadium?  For starters, we’re not yet sure if this initial phase will include an upper deck in the south endzone.  If it does not, overall capacity will not be increased by any notable amount.  The grass corners will simply put on their big boy pants and become permanent seats.  If an upper deck is eventually constructed, then we’re looking at a nominal increase in overall capacity.  Either way, this Cyclone fan has no concerns that this is an unwarranted investment.

For some perspective, let’s take a look back at when the Cyclones moved from Clyde Williams Field to Jack Trice Stadium.  In the final five seasons in Clyde Williams, the average attendance was just over 30,500.  The capacity of the old stadium was 36,000.  In the Cyclone’s first season in Jack Trice (1975), Iowa State averaged just shy of 40,000 per game.  This was a substantial bump in attendance, but this single season doesn’t mean much by itself.  Looking further, average attendance continued to grow at a healthy clip, reaching almost 52,000 in 1982.

So do these numbers prove that if you build it, they will come?  Not necessarily as Cyclones had a nice run of success under Earl Bruce over the three seasons following our nation’s bicentennial, winning eight, eight, and eight before Bruce left Ames and went on to win four Big 10 titles in nine seasons at Ohio State.  Clearly, winning puts butts in the seats, and that responsibility will fall on Coach Rhoads and his staff.  What the attendance figures do prove, however, is that a school isn’t forever relegated to certain attendance ‘bracket’.  Teams can and do move on up, but the seats have to be in place or it’s a moot point.

Iowa State has made tremendous strides on Pollard’s watch when it comes to improving facilities, but everything that’s been done to this point will pale in comparison to these improvements.  Football is king in college athletics.  It pays the bills and brings in the big bucks.  As a result, die-hard Cyclone fans like myself will be anxiously awaiting an official announcement from the athletics department.  Until then, we will continue our quest to explain this to those fans who (shockingly) fail to grasp the significance of this news.

–psychlone99

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