Last Lick 03/16/2010Posted by sportretort in Sports.
Tags: basketball, big ten, coaching change, hawkeye, iowa, todd lickliter
When I was attending the University of Iowa, Lute Olson was the head coach, and one of their tag lines was Iowa….the State of Basketball.
Officially, as of yesterday, the state of basketball at Iowa is a mess. Coach Todd Lickliter was let go after his third season at the University. The numberswere not pretty. Those 3 seasons were the worst 3 year span in Iowa history. Lickliter’s teams lost 20 more games than they won. They finished 6-12, 5-13 and 4-14 in the Big Ten conference during his time there. The 2009-10 season just concluded was the worst in Hawkeye history. Iowa reached the 20 loss mark for the first time in their 100 plus year basketball history, finishing 10-22. No less than nine scholarship players left the program with eligibility remaining during his tenure. Those are the bad facts. There was good, also. Because of all of the defections, Iowa fielded the youngest team in the Big Ten this season, starting 2 freshmen, 2 sophomores and a junior. There was only 1 senior on the squad. While there was no big man on the court this season, 6′ 9″ Juco transfer Devon Archie had red shirted because of a freak shoulder injury during pre season drills, and the incoming recruiting class includes a 6′ 9″ power forward. In fact, if the class remains in tact after the coaching change, Iowa had a top 30 recruiting class for next season. Additionally, there is some talent on the current squad. Sophomore Aaron Fuller has demonstrated that he can compete at the Big Ten level, as has fellow sophomore Matt Gatens. The Big Ten all freshman team this year included 2 Hawkeyes: point guard Cully Payne and forward Erik May. Payne ran Hawkeye point all season, and finished with a 25 point performance against Michigan in Iowa’s final game. May may be the best pure athlete on the team. Had Lickliter returned, things would have been better next season. Provided everyone else also came back.
But that was not assured. The team seamed to have quit on the system or the coach at the end of the season. Their last 3 road games of the seasonincluded an 18 point loss at Northwestern, a 27 point loss at Wisconsin and a 35 point loss at Minnesota. The argument has been made that the “Butler system” employed by Lickliter will not work in the Big Ten. But another former Butler coach, Thad Motta, is doing quite well at league rival Ohio State. By all accounts, Lickliter is an honerable man, posses the values that fit at an institution like Iowa, and perhaps deserved better than to be dismissed with 4 years left on his contract. But something was not working, and here we are.
The next hire by AD Gary Barta may just define his tenure at Iowa. Barta brought Lickliter to Iowa, and now, 3 short years later he is asking for a mulligan. One thing is for sure. The fan base had quit on the program. Attendance has been in a free fall for years, long before Lickliter arrived on the scene. The paid attendance fell below 10,000 per game for the first time in decades, and the actual per game average of people in the seats hovered around 6000 this season. This once proud program appeared in 16 NCAA tournaments in the 21 seasons from 1979 to 1999. Iowa played to packed houses during those years. But since the turn of the century, under coaches Steve Alford and Lickliter, The Hawkeyes have been included in the NCAA field only 3 times, have won just one game in those appearances and will miss the tournament for the 4th straight season.
Football is king at Iowa. That will not change. But basketball used to be played on the national stage. Iowa was a good coaching job. It can be again. The fans will come back if given a reason. While Iowa will not compete for a Big Ten crown every season, it is a place that, with the right coach, can compete in the field of 64. The first decade of the 21st century was a lost one for the Hawkeye hoopsters. The next hire in Iowa City will decide if that slide into basketball irrelevance continues.