“(U)niversity of (N)othing’s (I)mpossible”

“(U)niversity of (N)othing’s (I)mpossible”

March 16, 1990 was a historic day for the University of Northern Iowa men’s basketball team.

To write that is a big understatement.

Maurice Newby...the man who made the shot that sent the Cedar Valley into a frenzy. (UNI Athletics Communications)
Maurice Newby…the man who made the shot that sent the Cedar Valley into a frenzy. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Twenty-five years ago today, in their first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament as a Division I-A program, the 14th seeded Panthers faced the Missouri Tigers, who were seeded 3rd and at one time, were ranked #1 in the polls.

UNI, tied with Mizzou, 71-71, with 10 seconds left, had the ball on the sidelines. Troy Muilenburg inbounded the ball to point guard Dale Turner. Turner dribbles the ball to the right, then reverses back to the left. Maurice Newby comes towards Turner, as Mizzou’s Anthony Peeler doesn’t switch off Turner quick enough as Newby receives the pass from Turner. Newby, with time running out, gathers himself behind the three-point line and lets one fly…

…swish.

The Tigers, with no timeouts to use, hurry to inbound the ball and heaves it past the basket into the crowd as the buzzer sounds.

The Panthers won, 74-71 over the Tigers. It was one of the biggest upsets in the 1990 tournament and goes down in the annuals as one of the most memorable in Iowa sports history.

There is a distinction that has to be made here, if you don’t mind.  The 2010 win versus Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament was the biggest win in the program’s history. The Jayhawks were the top seed and nationally ranked in the top 5 during the 2009-10 season.

While many fans, and rightfully so, will say Kansas ranks #1 as the biggest win, the victory over Mizzou was the most “defining” win for the Panthers’ basketball program.

Huh?

You can’t dismiss what that win over the Tigers meant to UNI. Until 1981, UNI was a Division II school. When they made the leap to Division I, they went through plenty of growing pains. To Iowa, Iowa State and the rest of the state, Northern Iowa was a blip on the map. Yes, they are a state school, but they were not always treated as equals like their big brothers were.

UNI is the school where the student body is slightly over 90% Iowan. It was known as Iowa State Teachers’ College until 1967. Norm Stewart, the losing coach for Missouri, was the head coach for ISTC from 1962 to 1969. Panthers athletics were known more for wrestling, volleyball, and most times than not, football.

Jason Reese cuts down the nets after the Panthers' 53-45 win over UW-Green Bay for the Mid-Continent tournament championship. (UNI Athletics Communications)
Jason Reese cuts down the nets after the Panthers’ 53-45 win over UW-Green Bay for the Mid-Continent tournament championship. (UNI Athletics Communications)

The 1989-90 season for UNI was a defining moment for the team for various reasons. They hosted the Iowa Hawkeyes for the first time in seven decades. The game, held in the UNI-Dome on January 3rd, created a buzz that hasn’t been seen since the Dome opened in late 1975. With the court raised and centered in the middle of Dome, 22,676 fans witnessed and were part of history. It was the largest crowd to watch a college basketball game in state history. That record still stands today.

UNI, behind 15 second half points by reserve Brad Hill, upset the Hawkeyes, 77-74.

In early March, the Panthers hosted the Mid-Continent Conference tournament. After finishing in fourth place in the league, and losers of three of their last five games, there were plenty for UNI to prove. They lost only two games in “Eldon’s Dome of Doom” in the regular season.

After a wild triple overtime win over Illinois-Chicago in the first round, Northern Iowa got a go-ahead basket to lead (Southwest) Missouri State 63-61, the Bears had the ball and a chance to tie or win the game. They were called for traveling with 4 seconds left. The Panthers advanced to the title game against a Wisconsin-Green Bay team that beaten the twice during the season.

With a loud raucous crowd behind them, Northern Iowa stymied the Phoenix and star player (current Virginia coach) Tony Bennett, 53-45, to earn their first ever appearance in the “Big Dance.”

Jason Reese (left) and Nick Pace joking around during a 2012 reunion of the '89-90 UNI team on campus. (Courier archives)
Jason Reese (left) and Nick Pace joking around during a 2012 reunion of the ’89-90 UNI team on campus. (Courier archives)

Purple fever was running white-hot through the Cedar Valley and the state. Panthers fans had something to boast about and a moniker for the team: University of Nothing’s Impossible: beating Iowa, winning three games in three nights to win the conference tournament. Nothing was impossible for this team: Jason Reese, Maurice Newby, Troy Muilenburg, Dale Turner, Steve Phyfe, Cedric McCullough, Cam Johnson, Nick Pace, Brad Hill, Jonathon Cox, Scott Socha, Kent Pollpeter, and Steve Deering.

Northern Iowa drew Missouri in the Southeast regional at Richmond, Virginia Friday morning, March 16th.

Here is the full game, without commercials.

See what I mean why I say a “defining” moment for UNI basketball? That season gave the Panthers the foundation they needed to build success…and what we see today, as Northern Iowa returns to the tournament to face Wyoming on Friday.

Since 1990, Northern Iowa has made the NCAA tournament in 2004-06 and 2009-10, and won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in 2004, 2009, 2010, and two weeks ago.

Steve Phfye holds the Mid-Continent trophy in the air. (UNI Athletics Communications)
Steve Phfye holds the Mid-Continent trophy in the air. (UNI Athletics Communications)

The win against Mizzou turned UNI from a “blip” to a place where getting an easy win was no longer possible. Before beating Kansas and Missouri, Iowa was their biggest win, only to eclipse that two months later, knocking off the Tigers.

Northern Iowa may still be the little brother Iowa and ISU would rather not be bothered with, but there is no disputing this: UNI is no longer a pushover. They’re the ones doing the pushing around, which makes the rivalry between the three public schools, and Drake, something that fans in Iowa can appreciate and enjoy.

Nothing is impossible for the Purple and the Gold.

Nothing.

 

BREAKING NEWS: Des Moines to get NCAA Wrestling Championships in 2013!

WFA getting the 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships should shut the local critics up once and for all.

Dave Zawilinski (@DaveZABC5 on Twitter)  reported on Twitter tonight that Wells Fargo Arena will host the Division 1-A NCAA Wrestling Championships in 2013.  Big, big news for UNI, ISU, and Iowa.  More importantly, it’s great news for the state and the sport of wrestling in this state.

More information is expected to be released on Friday.

“Bracket” Science

Are you filling out your brackets yet?  If you are, put your pencils down for a moment.

Bracketology isn’t exact science.  It’s “fun” science.  The inner Bob Knight, Digger Phelps, and Bill Raftery in us revel at this time of the year.  Selection Sunday is one of those sports “holidays” on the calendar. The world around us stops when the Super Bowl, the start of the football season, baseball Opening Day, and Selection Sunday rolls around.

I find it amusing to listen to the reaction from coaches and pundits about who “deserved” to be in, who got left out, who was seeding, and where they were going.

"Jake" isn't complaining. Just play ball, baby. Courtesy of Matthew Putney of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

With that said, let’s get to the big details.  UNI did not get “screwed” with a #9 seed (vs. #8 UNLV, Thursday, 6:20pm, Oklahoma City).  They were “punished” with a #9 seed because of who they lost to (DePaul, Bradley, and Evansville.  Wichita State was a “good” loss).  I commented on Twitter that even though the Panthers were going to make it to the tournament, the committee was going to stick it to them for the Bradley and Evansville loss.

The fans may not like it, but Ben Jacobson and his boys don’t care.  When the selection show was over, they had an impromptu practice last night.  They’re not complaining about seedings, like Bob Huggins of West Virginia is.  Here’s an interesting fact about Huggins, courtesy of ESPN’s Colin Cowherd.  Huggins’ teams, Cincinnati and now WVU, have bowed in the first two rounds of the Big Dance 10 out of the last 12 times.  Why?  Because Huggins is too busy whining and his teams see that, and in turn, they play like a team who doesn’t want to be there.

Stop scheduling cream puffs, Seth.

Memo to Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenbergshut up.  For the second year in a row, the committee decided that your team wasn’t going to be in the tournament because you don’t schedule good teams.  Playing the Sisters of the poor isn’t going to cut.  UNI’s strength of schedule was 168.  VaTech?  317.  UNI plays in a mid-major league.  VaTech’s in the ACC.

Stop scheduling Longwood, Maryland-Baltimore County, and N.C. Central.

Initial thoughts of the brackets, since today is Monday…

The knockout region: Midwest.  Kansas, Sparty, Ohio St., and Georgetown headline this region.  The toughest region overall.

Who got a Christmas gift: Duke.  Though Villanova and Louisville could pose problems, Duke has three starters who can score.  Name another team in the South region that has more than one scorer. This could be a walk in the park, unless Texas A&M or Baylor get to the regional.

Watch your back, ’cause you may not last: Butler, Xavier, BYU, Clemson, and Marquette.

Trends: With the exception of George Mason (#13 seed), teams that make it to the Final Four are seeded #6 or higher.  9.5 out of 10 times, teams seeded #13 or lower will be done in the 1st round.

Prediction:  who you got as the new Iowa coach?

Who is on your “wish” list?  Let everyone know and why.

Good guy, good coach, dead man walking.

Lessons Learned…Hopefully?

Wichita "shocks" UNI, but the Panthers are still in a good spot. (Courtesy of Fernando Salazar of the Wichita Eagle)

Tuesday night wasn’t a good night for plenty of reasons.  But, in hindsight, it may help those who seemed to hit that road bump last night.

UNI got ambushed at Wichita State, falling 60-51.  It’s not a bad loss.  Yes, UNI fell behind, but Wichita has surprised a few critics so far this year after two lean years under Gregg Marshall.  UNI is going to be okay.  The Missouri Valley is a “black-and-blue” conference.  They beat each other up and the team that gets through with the less bruises and cuts, will win the MVC.

On Saturday, Iowa State snapped their long road losing streak by beating Nebraska.  Last night, Lucca Staiger decided to pull the rug from under Greg McDermott and the team by quitting the team to return to Germany and play for a pro team.  The timing could not have come at the worst time, as ISU has started Big 12 play.

Cyclones fans are pulled in different directions on who to blame.  The majority blame Lucca for pulling up stakes and leaving, some are blaming McDermott for the large number of players leaving the team, but here’s another angle that seems to be forgotten in all of this.  This was the second time that Lucca was offered an opportunity to play pro ball back home in Germany.  I guess Deutschland couldn’t wait until the end of this season before asking Lucca.

Auf Wiedersehn Lucca.  Deutschland is happy to have your back home.  (Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Register)
Auf Wiedersehen, Lucca. The Motherland calls you home. (Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Register)

It’s too bad that when Iowa State takes one step forward in establishing themselves and gain confidence (win over Nebraska and a valiant effort in the loss vs. Texas), they end up taking 4 steps backwards with situations like this (Lucca, Chris Colvin being suspended, etc).

Let me go off tangent here with a discussion that Keith Murphy and Andy Fales had on their show “Murph and Andy” (2pm-4pm M-F, KXNO-AM 1460) about McDermott “not keeping his word” regarding keeping Colvin suspended until February, win or lose.  When mitigating circumstances occurs, in the case of Staiger bolting, the coach has every right to rescind that suspension and make Colvin eligible to dress and probably play.   McDermott does not have to “promise” to keep his word.  He’s down to 7 scholarship players and no depth on the bench whatsoever.

The only person McDermott answers to and ask for advice, if needed, is AD Jamie Pollard.  The fans’ reaction are what they are:  reactions.  I have no problem with Colvin dressing, as long as he understands that he needs to “check” himself before he has a temper tantrum and walk out of a team meeting next time.

Besides that, this is gut check time for this team.  You can blame McDermott for this team being underachievers, but it comes down to the players.  They choose to come to Ames and play for McDermott.  For them not to fully grasp the style of play that Mac runs is a weak excuse.  Either they run it the way they have been coached, or they don’t win.  That’s the lesson this team needs to learn now or the natives will get restless fast.

Martha Stewart thinks Martha Coakley is an amateur. (Courtesy of AP)

If you thought I wasn’t going to talk about the big national headline from Tuesday night, you would sadly mistaken.  Don’t blame Massachusetts for voting for Scott Brown.  Don’t blame Massachusetts for being stupid and going Republican.  Massachusetts doesn’t deserve the scorn or any punishment for electing Scott Brown.

It was Martha Coakley’s fault that Martha Coakley lost.  Good ol’ Martha committed the ultimate sin in Politics 101:  don’t piss off, alienate, and take your voting constituents for granted.  Similar to the business world, the customer is “always right” even when they’re wrong.  Coakley did what former Iowa Congressman Jim Ross Lightfoot did in ’98 when he ran for governor:  they erroneously assumed they won the election, before the election ever took place.

By the way, this election wasn’t about maintaining the “super majority” for the Democrats, or the typical mid-election backlash against the majority party in office, or about the healthcare bill.  Those are minor factors and pales in comparison to a simple rule:  don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  Read the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe about all of the stupid mistakes Coakley made, which opened up the backdoor for Scott Brown to quietly walk in and earn an one-way ticket to filling the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

Calling Curt Schilling a “Yankee fan” and the joke backfired, going “John Kerry” by going on vacation, blowing off potential voters in meet and greets, and being arrogant, is what did her in.  The late Ted Kennedy thinks what she did was an insult to the voters.

Kennedy busted his ass in every campaign and never took it for granted.  That, in itself, made him one of the most respected politicians in U.S. history.

Memo to the Democrats:  just because you lost the “super majority” and the ability to manblock any GOP filibuster, that doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world.  It means that you’re going to have to work a hell of lot harder to convince your fellow colleagues, regardless of party affiliation, to support your bills, including the HCR.  Having a 59-41 vote is still more than enough.  You’re just going to have to find a way to snuff that filibuster the old fashioned way.

From a nobody to a somebody, unless you pose for Cosmo. (Courtesy of MassLive.com)

Republicans, I know you’re happy about capturing a Senate seat in Massachusetts for the first time since Edward Brooke (1967-1979), and you’re geeked up about putting a monkey wrench in the HCR crusade, but you still has some drama to sort out on your end of the aisle.  For anyone who hasn’t paid attention since last summer, the Republicans are in a midst of a civil war within the party, between the common-sense moderates and the ultra-conservative (Bible beating) right-wingers.  The moderates are fighting back and hopefully with Brown, this puts a dent in the far right’s agenda.

UNI will learn from losing to Wichita.  ISU, you hope they can move on from Lucca bailing out.  Martha Coakley, I hope you learn that voters are not stupid and gullible.  Even long-time Kennedy Democrats were not down with Martha’s act.

Crash and Burn

Nate, this isn't helping your rep...

It does feel like a Monday Morning Quarterback type of day.  Who am I kidding?  Today is Monday.  I have a few thoughts to jot down, because I brainstorming for a few topics to post this week.

-Nate Kaeding, I love you because your are a Hawkeye and you’re our boy, but I seriously suggest that you get a kicking coach, or better yet a shrink.  You are becoming into a choke.  There’s no way I can defend you.  Three misses on Sunday?  Add the other three colossal FG game-winning misses over the last 5 playoff games?

Scott Norwood thinks you need help.  It was agonizing to watch your eyes as you trotted out on the field yesterday.  You looked scared as hell.

At least I have sympathy for you.  Norv Turner isn’t getting any love from me, nor is San Diego’s general manager A.J. Smith.  Norv is a choking-dog savant as a head coach.  Great offensive coordinator and one of the best quarterback coaches in the NFL, but a horrible head coach.

-The Cowboys provided Tony Romo no protection from Chad Greenway and Jared Allen, as Brett Favre, with his “ready-made” Vikings, are one game away to the Super Bowl.  And before anyone piles on Keith Brooking about the Vikings tacking on that late TD, read the entire text, courtesy of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.  He was complaining about Minnesota running up the score, but understood that the ‘Boys defense still had to stop them.

“I don’t really want to get into that,” Brooking said at first. “I mean, I will say it was classless. It was disrespectful to do that.”

Brooking acknowledged that it is the job of the defense to prevent scores. But still …

“We’re paid professionals,” Brooking said. “We get paid to stop them. But I just think it was totally disrespectful what he did in the end. I don’t think that’s what the NFL is all about.”

It’s amazing when you take the time to find the entire statement and read the rest of the story.

From doghouse to penthouse, Shonn Greene is putting the hay in the barn with his play in 2008 with Iowa and this season with the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets!

Shonn Greene, you are a stud.   It’s good to see the NY media giving Greene well-deserved accolades for his contributions for Gang Green this year.  I still think Mike Lupica has a hard time trying to say “Iowa” when speaking glowingly of the rookie from Iowa.

If Kurt Warner does decide to hang it up and walk away from the NFL, there should be no question or doubts (Marty Tirrell) that Warner is a future Hall of Fame.  Three Super Bowl appearances and a class act makes those long nights working the third shift at the College Square Hy-Vee look so distant, and yet become the start of a dream that no one envisioned.

-The Big 4 schools scored big wins over the weekend, leading off with UNI’s dismantling of Indiana State to set a new school winning streak, at 15 games.  The Hawkeyes picked up a much needed win over Penn State.  Hey, guess what?  They’re not the cellar dwellers in the Big Ten now!  ISU should pack up the campus and move to Lincoln, Nebraska if they keep winning “character-building” wins versus Nebraska.  Football, volleyball, and now basketball?

Drake University doesn’t get a lot of talk, but what ever is working with the men’s hoop team, I wouldn’t change a thing.  After Sunday night’s win over Illinois State, they have notched some key wins in MVC play over Missouri State and at Southern Illinois.

As Sammy would say, "Keep it continue" Bulldogs!