From cyclones.com: “Hilton Magic,” the power of the Coliseum faithful to produce unexpected victories, was first recognized by Des Moines Register sportswriter Buck Turnbull. On a Feb. 14, 1989 showdown with No. 3 Missouri, the Cyclones conjured up the spirit of the Hilton crowd to produce a stunning 82-75 victory. The following day’s headline read “Hilton Magic Spells ‘Upset’ One More Time.”
This may have been the first recorded recognition of Hilton Magic, but it was alive much earlier. Between the 1982-83 season and that 1989 win over #3 Missouri, Iowa State was 11-4 against top-20 opponents in Hilton Coliseum. If, instead of the 1989 game, we use the 1983 OT win over #10 Missouri as the birth of Hilton Magic, then the legend turned 27 years of age this month. But this is where the debate, at least among Cyclone fans, begins.
Hilton Magic and our storied home court are a tremendous source of pride for most every Cyclone fan, but is Hilton Magic still alive? It’s a question I’ve heard asked many times over the past few years. Rather than debate this point from the Cyclone fan’s perspective, I’d like to examine it from an outsider’s point of view. In the context of college basketball, does Hilton Magic still live in the national consciousness?
If the commentary from any nationally televised game is an indicator, then, yes, Hilton Magic still lives in the national consciousness. You routinely hear ESPN broadcasters, for example, raving about Hilton Magic and our amazing fans. You hear the same from many national writers. Some of this may be due to laziness, with the talking heads going to the trusty stand-by material so they can avoid doing any real research. Nevertheless, there is some level of national awareness, which leads to my next question: What are we doing to feed it?
Johnny Orr was the father of Hilton Magic, and he’ll forever be known for raising Iowa State basketball from the depths of irrelevance. That said, the three coaches who followed him should also be recognized for keeping the Magic alive, in some form or fashion. While the task of maintaining this reputation may not be as difficult as it was to build it, it’s a difficult task nonetheless. Tim Floyd, Larry Eustachy, and Wayne Morgan all did their part. What are we doing today?
The following shows the home records for each of Orr’s four successors.
Overall, 4 seasons: 50-15 (.769)
Overall, 5 seasons: 70-13 (.843)
Overall, 3 seasons: 38-10 (.792)
2009-10: 10-6 (through 2/20)
Overall, ~4 seasons: 47-23 (.671)
Clearly, McDermott has struggled more at home than any one of his three immediate predecessors. If we project a 1-1 finish in the final two home games this season (Nebraska and Missouri), his career home winning percentage would drop to .667. This is well below even the next best performance (Floyd’s .769 home win percentage). But let’s look beyond the overall numbers to what Hilton Magic is really about: upsets and victories over ranked opponents.
The following shows the home records versus ranked opponents for each of Orr’s four successors.
1994-95: 1-3 (win over #3 Kansas)
1996-97: 2-1 (wins over #20 Texas Tech and #19 Colorado)
Overall, 4 seasons: 3-8 (.273)
1999-00: 3-0 (wins over #12 Kansas, #14 Texas Tech, #10 Oklahoma St.)
2000-01: 2-0 (wins over #15 Oklahoma and #6 Kansas)
2001-02: 1-2 (win over #17 Missouri)
Overall, 5 seasons: 6-5 (.545)
2003-04: 2-1 (wins over #15 Kansas and #11 Texas)
2004-05: 2-1 (wins over #19 Virginia and #13 Oklahoma)
2005-06: 2-1 (wins over #12 Iowa and #25 Colorado)
Overall, 3 seasons: 6-3 (.667)
2009-10: 0-4 (through 2/20)
Overall, ~4 seasons: 0-10 (.000)
The first thing that jumped out at me was the winning percentage during the much maligned Wayne Morgan era. I’d rather not go there, but it would be interesting to travel back in time and relive those three seasons to see if my impressions would remain the same. But back to the subject at hand. In terms of trends, Iowa State improved its home court winning percentage against ranked opponents with each coach before completely falling off the map over the past four seasons. It’s also interesting to note that McDermott’s four seasons without a single home win versus a ranked opponent matches the total over the 12 seasons prior.
Taking it one step further, let’s look beyond the numbers against ranked opponents and examine the results against foes on the other end of the spectrum. For the sake of this analysis (i.e., due to the lack of an easily queried statistics database), I considered non-conference opponents to be these “lesser” teams. After all, for every high major non-conference opponent there are several Idaho States or Tennessee States on the schedule.
The following shows the home losses versus non-conference opponents for each of Orr’s four successors.
Overall, 4 seasons: 4 losses
Worst loss (by my analysis): 1997 loss to UNI (finished 10-14)
Overall, 5 seasons: 3 losses
Worst loss: 2001 loss to San Jose State (finished 15-15)
Overall, 3 seasons: 2 losses
Worst loss: 2005 loss to Fresno State (finished 15-13)
Overall, 4 seasons: 6 losses
Worst loss: 2008 loss to South Dakota State (finished 13-20, first full season after completing D-1 transition)
These numbers further emphasize the recent slide in home court success. Not only are home wins versus ranked opponents non-existent, but we’re losing a higher rate of home contests against lesser teams. Which finally brings me to my point. How long can we fail to produce on our home court before the concept of Hilton Magic fades from the national consciousness? We’ve now gone four full seasons without doing a thing to feed the reputation that was birthed nearly three decades ago and maintained (to some extent) for 23 years.
Regardless of what Cyclone fans believe, Hilton Magic lives on in the national consciousness… for now. But I worry that this perception is on life support, and we can’t expect it live on if we continue down our current path for much longer. To lose such a treasured reputation would be devastating to the Cyclone psyche. Frankly, it would be unacceptable. So what needs to be done to once again start feeding the national consciousness? Who will get us there and how?
Addendum: Lynn Nance through Wayne Morgan, Iowa State has never lost more than six home games in a season. We currently sit at six home losses. If we lose one of our final two home games, it will be the most home losses since the 1975-76 season, when we went 2-10 in Hilton Coliseum. That would be an ugly addition to the resume.