College Basketball Nation: Ali Farokhmanesh

Northern Iowa's Division I status threatened

September, 14, 2010
9/14/10
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Northern Iowa, the program that gained prominence during the NCAA tournament due to its upset of Kansas and a daring shot by Ali Farokhmanesh, might soon run into a roadblock it cannot overcome -- a budget crunch.

That's the warning shot school president Ben Allen fired off in an interview with the Des Moines Register, going as far as to say that if money from the university's general fund is cut from athletics by much more than the approximately $200,000 proposed to be cut by 2015, UNI could lose its Division I status and even doing away with sports.
Trimming general fund support by much more than $200,000 would mean the university would seriously consider eliminating all sports at UNI because of lost revenue related to the loss of Division I status, Allen said in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

"I think we're pretty close to the edge of what we can cut and maintain competitiveness," he said.

...

Allen said deeper cuts would force UNI to eliminate enough programs that it would lose its Division I status. The school can cut one men's sport and two women's sports before losing its spot in the top division, he said.

That the Panthers program could go the way of the dodo bird would be stunning, and even if the president is just talking worst-case scenarios, the mere mention of canceling intercollegiate participation has to be troublesome for those involved.

It was only August when the same newspaper did the obligatory story on how the team's Sweet 16 run raised the profile of the school, with the number of prospective students' visits to campus rising and expected to lead to an increase in enrollment.

More tuition money means more money for that aforementioned general fund, but even back then, athletic director Troy Dannen was warning of economic troubles ahead.
Dannen said a magical March won't dispel the monetary realities of funding 17 sports programs on an annual budget of $11.8 million, especially as the Iowa Board of Regents asks universities to reduce or eliminate general fund subsidies to athletics.

"We could have run to the Final Four, and it would not have been an answer to the financial questions that exist," Dannen said. "Our fundraising is at record levels right now. And we certainly anticipate ticket sales to be at a record level when basketball starts. And there is some additional revenue that went along with the tournament appearance.

"But none of those things address the big picture, or solve anybody's financial woes."

UNI to start 2010-11 with a bang

August, 10, 2010
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The Northern Iowa Panthers ended their 2009-10 season about as well as they could have hoped. They're about to begin the new season with a similar opportunity.

UNI, which famously downed Kansas in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament before losing to Final Four-bound Michigan State, is beginning the 2010-11 season with a chance for another upset. On Nov. 12, the Panthers will face off against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. It will be the school's first non-conference game -- in other words, their first game, period -- of the season. Intense.

Of course, despite UNI's recent postseason success, a win at the Carrier Dome would indeed qualify as a major upset. The 2010-11 Syracuse Orange lost three leaders in the offseason, but they've reloaded with a star-studded recruiting class and a handful of players (Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, Mookie Jones) set to make major leaps in production in the coming year. UNI, meanwhile, lost five seniors from last year's team, including game-winning star Ali Farokhmanesh and leading scorers Jordan Eglseder and Adam Koch.

The difference between Cinderella and the top mid-majors in college hoops -- Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga, et al. -- is that those three expect to be good every year, regardless of personnel losses. They recruit at a high level. They play deep into the NCAA tournament. And when they lose key players, they have enough to reload almost immediately. UNI's 2010-11 season -- starting with their big matchup at the Carrier Dome -- will be a test to see if they can join that level. Whatever happens, it ought to be interesting.

John Wall skipping the ESPY Awards

July, 14, 2010
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John Wall has been nominated for the ESPY Awards for Best Male College Athlete and Best Breakthrough Athlete, but the former Kentucky star won't be rubbing shoulders with the other celebrities Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

According to the Washington Post, Wall has decided to skip the event due to scheduling conflicts -- including a meeting for NBA rookies.

But that doesn't mean college basketball won't be well represented at the event.

Butler should have a presence in anticipation of the Duke-Butler NCAA tournament championship game winning the award for Best Game.

Butler coach Brad Stevens, forward Matt Howard and former star Gordon Hayward are expected to be in attendance.

And Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, along with former players Ali Farokhmanesh and Jordan Eglseder, also hope to take the stage and win the award for Best Upset. After beating Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament, it would probably be an upset if they didn't.

College basketball's ESPY nominations

June, 24, 2010
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Kentucky's John Wall, who is expected to be the first overall pick in today's NBA draft, headlines college basketball's ESPY nominations with two of them. Wall will go up against Ohio State's Evan Turner among others in the category for Best Male College Athlete and is also nominated for Best Breakthrough Athlete.

Here's a rundown of the rest of the college basketball nominees...

Best Championship Performance:

Anthony Johnson's 34-point second-half outburst for Montana in the Big Sky conference championship game against Weber State

Prediction: If big names and big stages have the advantage, it's going to be hard to beat Drew Brees in the Super Bowl.

Best Upset:

Northern Iowa shocks top-ranked Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament

Prediction: Y.E. Yang beating Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship was also a stunner, but Ali Farokhmanesh and Co. should walk off with the hardware.


Best Game:

Duke gets past Butler in the NCAA championship game

Prediction: Twins over the Tigers in a tiebreaker game? Canada over the USA in overtime for the gold medal? Unlike Gordon Hayward's shot, this one isn't close.

Best Coach/Manager:

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski

Prediction: Phil Jackson seems to be the current sentiment, but Geno Auriemma could be a dark horse.
The NCAA tournament is funny. For example, some of its stars go on to be just that -- stars -- playing under the bright lights of the NBA, performing in big moments, nursing long careers, seeing the best of their basketball days happen not before graduation but after. But for others, "One Shining Moment" is completely literal. After the tournament's over, there will be no more basketball glory. Only highlight reels, winnowing fame, and hopefully, something resembling a normal life.

You already know to which category Ali Farokhmanesh is going to belong.

The 5-foot-11 guard from Northern Iowa became the unlikeliest of household names in March after he sank an ill-advised three pointer to shock NCAA tournament favorite Kansas in the second round of the 2010 tourney. But Farokhmanesh, like Bryce Drew before him, isn't cut from an NBA cloth -- skills aside, he's a relatively unathletic guy on the shorter end of the hoops spectrum -- and NBA scouts aren't exactly drooling over the UNI guard. So what does Farokhmanesh do next? Can he extend his basketball career, or is it already time, just a month after the greatest moment of that career, to hang up the sneakers?

Nope. Farokhmanesh is doing exactly what I'd be doing in a similar position: Trying to play overseas. From the Des Moines Register:
Farokhmanesh is consulting coach Ben Jacobson about finding an agent and playing overseas. After all, you're in your early 20s, your knees are holding up, you've got all your hair. Why not see the world? "I really don't care as far as (the country)," Ali says. "I've lived here 22 years of my life. I'd like to live some other places. It'd be a great opportunity."

He's fielded a few calls already. An assistant coach with Iran's national basketball team has extended an offer. Ali's father, Mashallah, is a native of the country and played on Iran's volleyball team before moving to the United States. "I don't know how realistic it is right now, just because (I wonder) how safe it would be to go over there," Ali says. "I'd obviously have to live over there and work out with the team and be there for a long period of time. I'm not really leaning toward it."

Farokhmanesh has the right idea here. Sometimes, I catch myself and my friends talking about former college basketball players playing overseas as though it's slightly undignified -- clearly, most of those players wanted to be in the NBA, and the fact that they aren't must surely count as a failure, right? But that's not at all true. If you find the right situation, you can get paid plenty of money (not NBA money, but maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, which down here in the real world counts as making it rain) to play basketball for a living. And, as Farokhmanesh mentions, you get to see the world: Spain, Turkey, Greece, Lithuania, maybe even South America or China. This is tremendous life. If you can live it, even for a few years, why wouldn't you?

Then, when Farokhmanesh comes home, he can polish off the Sports Illustrated covers in his rumpus room, start working on his coaching career, and settle into a normal life much like the rest of us. In the end, that's the real magic of the NCAA tournament.

UNI didn't go home empty-handed

March, 27, 2010
3/27/10
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[+] EnlargeAdam Koch
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe court that Adam Koch and the Panthers played on will be heading back with them.
UNI's loss to Michigan State in Friday's Sweet 16 battle crushed the Final Four dreams of the tournament's last real Cinderella. But it's not all bad. UNI accomplished one of the most shocking, impressive upsets of all-time with its second-round win over Kansas. Ali Farokhmanesh became an unlikely household name. The Panthers represented their school, and the entire state of Iowa, very well. The loss will sting, sure, but the Panthers and their fans can hold their heads high. They played a proud postseason.

Oh, and there's one other thing: The Panthers got a new court, too.

With the recent rise in non-traditional basketball venues for the NCAA tournament, the NCAA has taken to building brand new courts for regional events, which the organization then sells to programs in need of a new basketball court. One such program? UNI. And there's more! The Panthers actually played on their new court, which was in use in St. Louis during the Panthers' Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State Friday.

Fans buy plenty of souvenirs at NCAA tournament regionals, but what better souvenir for your first Sweet 16 than moving a brand new NCAA tournament court -- the one you played on, no less -- into your home gym? See, UNI fans? It's not all bad.

As always, Izzo a master in March

March, 27, 2010
3/27/10
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Durrell SummersScott Rovak/US PresswireMichigan State is heading to the Elite Eight, where the Spartans will meet Tennessee on Sunday.
ST. LOUIS -- In the latest installment of that long-running hit series, “Tom Izzo, Lord of the Dance,” the climactic scene went like this:

Korie Lucious driving, spinning, fading back and springing up on one foot to splash the game-breaking shot over last week’s hero of March, Ali Farokhmanesh.

Great move. Great shot. Great moment for all of SpartanKind. Michigan State evicts Northern Iowa, 59-52, in what can legitimately be called an upset.

[+] EnlargeKorie Lucious
Elsa/Getty ImagesKorie Lucious hit a spinning fadeaway jumper late in the game that gave the Spartans some separation from Northern Iowa.
But peel back a few layers on that play and you see why Izzo is just so ridiculously good at this time of year.

Lucious was at the tail end of a career-high 39 minutes – nine more than his previous high and 17 more than his season average. He was playing all those minutes at point guard because the normal starting point, leading scorer Kalin Lucas, was on crutches on the sideline after tearing his Achilles tendon last week. He had missed six of his eight shots on the night against the unyielding Panthers defense.

And Izzo had enough faith in his sophomore backup to call a clear-out for him with the shot clock draining and less than 100 seconds to play and State holding a two-point lead. It wasn’t the do-or-die shot of last Sunday, when Lucious beat Maryland with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it was huge.

“Just a hunch,” Izzo said of the play call, one he’s made many times for Lucas. “He said he felt good, and I could tell he was confident. And that was a big, big play.”

That, in summation, is what the March version of IzzoBall is all about. The hunches all come up roses. The injuries are overcome. The puzzling performances from the regular season don’t matter anymore.

And somebody always steps up.

Or several somebodies.

In addition to Lucious on this night, it was Delvon Roe, playing 27 minutes on a torn meniscus and somehow coming up with the most spectacular play of the night, soaring in out of nowhere to crush a rebound dunk early in the second half as Michigan State roared back from a seven-point halftime deficit.

“He gave us every ounce he had,” Izzo said of Roe. “… It’s a cliché: lay it on the line. He laid it all on the line, I can promise you that.”

And it was Durrell Summers, continuing his NCAA tournament flourish with a game-high 19 points. Summers is averaging 20 points per game in the tourney, after averaging 8 over his previous eight games. At times in the first half, Summers was the only thing keeping Michigan State in the game. And at one moment in particular in the second half, he rose up and hit a 3 with 7:27 left to give the Spartans the lead for good.

“At certain times in the game we just kind of huddled up and said it’s winning time,” Summers said. “Pretty much what winning time means for us is we’re going to get down and bite the floor on defense and everything’s going to go through our defense.”

Bite the floor. Perfect. That’s defense the Izzo way. And this was defense the Izzo way:

Northern Iowa’s last basket in this game came with 10 minutes and 21 seconds to play. All the Panthers could manage the rest of the way was 10 free throws, as Michigan State stubbornly took the game away.

That truly was doing unto UNI what UNI had done to so many other teams. In the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, the Panthers held Wichita State without a field goal for 10 minutes in the final, held Bradley without a field goal for seven in the semis and Drake without a field goal for 21 minutes in the quarters.

Now here they were on the receiving end.

“They made us take some tough shots, and they played great defense in the second half,” said Farokhmanesh, who made just 1-of-6 outside the arc.

Northern Iowa joins a long list of teams who have seen their seasons end against Izzo over the past 12 NCAA tourneys. He’s now knocking on the door of a sixth Final Four since 1999, close enough to taste it.

Tennessee stands between Izzo and Indy. He has less than two days to get his hobbled team regrouped, rested and ready to face the big, athletic Volunteers.

“It’s great when you’re working at this time of year,” Izzo said. “And I’m going to be working. My whole staff will be working for the next 40 hours, and we’ll see what we can do.”

We know what Tom Izzo can do in this Dance. That’s why he’s the lord of it.

Final: Michigan State 59, Northern Iowa 52

March, 27, 2010
3/27/10
12:05
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ST. LOUIS -- Quick thoughts from Michigan State 59, Northern Iowa 52.

Tom Izzo does it again. Finds a way without leading scorer Kalin Lucas. Crashes another regional final. Amazing.

  • And with that, the Panthers' run is done. But they gave everyone quite a few thrills along the way. Northern Iowa last scored a basket sometime around February, it felt like. They couldn't find enough ways to score in the last half of the last half to pull off another victory.
  • Durrell Summers to the rescue for Michigan State. He scored 19 points, after hanging 26 on Maryland. He's scored 59 points in three tourney games, after scoring 63 in the previous eight games.
  • Ali Farokhmanesh, Mr. Big Shot of March, came up largely empty tonight. He was just 1-of-6 from 3-point range.
  • Most surprising of all for Northern Iowa was its 14-of-21 free-throw shooting, including two key misses by Adam Koch while down two with 2:05 to play.

Previewing Sweet 16 games in St. Louis

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
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ST. LOUIS -- Quick previews of the Sweet 16 games here tonight:

Tennessee-Ohio State storylines

• How will J.P. Prince do checking Evan Turner? That’s the marquee individual matchup in a rematch of a thrilling Sweet 16 game three years ago between the Volunteers and Buckeyes. At 6-foot-7, Prince has the length to hinder Turner's passing lanes and shooting looks -- but does he have the mentality for the matchup? Prince has been an up-and-down, hot-and-cold player for four years -- but he played great in the first two rounds of the tourney, averaging 16 points and playing excellent defense against San Diego State and Ohio. But this is Ohio STATE, not Ohio.

• Turner gets the attention for Ohio State -- but that helps guard Jon Diebler get the open shots, and he's been killing it lately. Diebler has made 29 of 61 3-point shots the last six games, and is averaging 21 ppg over the past three games. Diebler's scoring has become progressively more important to Ohio State as the season has gone along. He's scored in double figures in 10 of the Buckeyes' last 11 games, and their record in that time is 10-1.

“Diebler is a guy that you have to respect,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “You have to fear. If he can see it, he can make it. So you’ve got to know where he is on the floor.”

• Will Tennessee be able to force a tempo that wears down the Buckeyes? Ohio State has played a very short rotation all season -- essentially just six guys -- and the Volunteers prefer to play at a frantic pace. Ohio State’s core group of players obviously is in great shape, but this could be their most difficult stamina challenge.

Northern Iowa-Michigan State storylines

• Northern Iowa's team got a congratulatory phone call from UNI alum Kurt Warner after beating Kansas. Both Warner and the Panthers know a thing or two about success in St. Louis. UNI has won six straight games here in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament over the last two years, and Warner was the quarterback who led the Rams to their only Super Bowl victory.

“When I got that call and passed it along to the guys, they lit up about as much as they did following that basketball game,” coach Ben Jacobson said. “I mean, it had a real impact on our guys.”

• Is Michigan State now an underdog against Northern Iowa, without leading scorer Kalin Lucas, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles tendon? If so, that's fine with the Spartans. Said forward Draymond Green: "I'm pretty sure if Kalin was in this game we wouldn't be the underdog. But with Kalin going down, a lot of people think we can't do it. And we know we can. So we're going to come out and play like it."

• Both the Spartans and Panthers are well-versed in playing physical, half-court basketball. But Michigan State has traditionally had an underrated fast break, and that concerns a UNI team that much prefers a slower pace.

“The biggest thing will be to stop their initial break,” guard Ali Farokhmanesh said. “That’s what they’re really good at. They get into their sets quick. And they get the ball off the rim and go. So we’re definitely going to have to be ready on the defensive end to get back in transition and be ready to block them off and set up a wall.”

Podcasts: Farokhmanesh, Bilas, Van Pelt

March, 22, 2010
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Here is a roundup of three ESPN Radio broadcasts on the first week of March Madness.

• Northern Iowa guard Ali Farokhmanesh explains what went through his mind right before he attempted the 3-pointer that iced the Panthers' second-round upset of Kansas.

• Jay Bilas continues to think that there aren't any really great teams in college basketball this season and he believes the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament were proof.

• Scott Van Pelt discusses being on the wrong side of a shining moment during the NCAA tournament in his "One Big Thing."

A dozen things I'll remember

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
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Before we get really caught up in the next round -- and here's a Sweet 16 primer that will help you do just that -- let's at least digest what we witnessed those first four days. It was a memorable start to the tournament and here are just a dozen things (in no particular order) that will stick in my memory:

[+] EnlargeAli Farokhmanesh
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAli Farokhmanesh's 3-pointer sent Northern Iowa to the Sweet 16.
1. Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh making the wide-open dagger of a 3-pointer to ice top-ranked Kansas.

2. The expression on the faces of the KU players after the stunning defeat at the hands of UNI.

3. Michigan State's Korie Lucious burying a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Maryland in the second round.

4. Ohio, the ninth seed in the MAC tournament, hammering Georgetown by 14 in the tourney's first 3-14 upset in four years.

5. Murray State's Danero Thomas making the buzzer beater to beat fourth-seeded Vanderbilt.

6. BYU's Jimmer Fredette scoring 37 in a double-overtime win over Florida in the first round.

7. Wake Forest's Ish Smith burying a buzzer-beater to finally put Texas out of its misery.

8. Purdue's Chris Kramer converting a layup to knock out Texas A&M in overtime to advance to the Sweet 16.

9. Mickey McConnell of Saint Mary's burying a 3-pointer off glass to ice the win over Villanova in the second round.

10. The post moves, the presence, the chatter that Saint Mary's Omar Samhan provided everyone in Providence.

11. Robert Morris nearly beating Villanova and the uproar over the end-of-game officiating as Nova won the game in overtime.

12. Farokhmanesh burying a shot to beat UNLV in the first round. How he outdid that one two days later was even more impressive.

Northern Iowa draws late crowd at airport

March, 21, 2010
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After its stunning 69-67 win over Kansas Friday night, the members of the Northern Iowa Panthers flew home and found fans who couldn't wait to celebrate, greeting them at the airport at 2 a.m.

According to the Des Moines Register:
Northern Iowa fans stood on the tarmac and sang the UNI Fight Song as the players and coaches got off the plane, then everyone broke into a happy chant of "UNI, UNI, UNI."

"Yeah, it's crazy," said big Jordan Eglseder, still smiling seven hours after UNI's victory over the Jayhawks.
The Gazette in Cedar Rapids has video of Ali Farokhmanesh doing an interview in the waiting area of the airport and then watching as Dick Vitale dropped his name on ESPN.

They don't call it the Sweet 16 for nothing.

Final: Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67

March, 20, 2010
3/20/10
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67.
  • Yes, you read that right. Someone other than the Jayhawks will win this tournament.
  • Northern Iowa controlled this game from start to finish but needed some unbelievable heroics to pull it out in the end. Ali Farokhmanesh, hero of March, did it again. After hitting the 3 that beat UNLV on Thursday, he hit another one -- and a questionable shot it was -- with 35 seconds left for a four-point UNI lead, then made two free throws to clinch it.
  • Northern Iowa epitomized team, getting something from everyone it played. Ben Jacobson, coaching star of March, regularly plays 10 men and it paid off brilliantly in this game. So many Panthers stepped up and made huge plays.
  • For Kansas, it is a gruesome underachievement. The solid favorite to win the national title doesn't even make the Sweet Sixteen. Bill Self has his title, but also now another crashing NCAA tourney disappointment. Kansas has now lost in the second round three times as a No. 1 seed, most of any school.

Final: Northern Iowa 69, UNLV 66

March, 18, 2010
3/18/10
9:42
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Quick thoughts from Northern Iowa-UNLV:

  • Ali! Ali! Ali! Northern Iowa guard Ali Farokhmanesh rose up from about 25 feet with five seconds left and buried the 3-pointer that won the game for the Panthers.
  • Northern Iowa took control of the game but UNLV wouldn't let the Panthers keep it, fighting back to tie the score with 37 seconds left. UNI ran the clock to get the winning shot -- which was hardly a designed play. UNI was in trouble until Farkohmanesh got open and stepped up.
  • Great game. It was tight the entire way. Two out of three so far here have been excellent and dramatic.

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