Dec. 27, 2004
Let's look at two teams that have been under the radar early this season: Iowa and Cincinnati are ranked in the Top 20 and have combined for just one loss so far, but neither team is getting enough respect.
Big Ten fans had better watch out, because Steve Alford's Hawkeyes can flat-out play. Iowa has already proven a lot with wins over Texas, Louisville, Iowa State and (most recently) a 30-point blowout over Texas Tech. Alford's team recorded an 83-53 victory over the Red Raiders, who are led by Bob Knight, Alford's former coach at Indiana.
Iowa (10-1) has a number of offensive threats, with four players averaging 12.7 points or better. Pierre Pierce (16.3), Jeff Horner (15.6), Adam Haluska (13.7) and Greg Brunner (12.7) are capable of leading the Hawkeyes in any given game, making it difficult to defend against them.
Alford is enjoying a special, special season after a few rocky years. There is excitement galore because, in the Big Ten, all the talk has been about the Illini Express (and rightfully so).
This Illinois trio of Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head is reminiscent of the Illinois team with Kenny Battle, Marcus Liberty, Stephen Bardo and Kendall Gill. That squad made a run for the national title in 1989 before losing to Michigan, the eventual national champ, at the Final Four.
If the Illini want to win the Big Ten they'd better watch out for the Hawkeyes, who are on their way to an NCAA berth.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati (9-0) is rolling along with few taking notice. Granted, a number of cupcakes have been on the schedule, but coach Bob Huggins' Bearcats are so tough. There is that Cincinnati pride and swagger again. I've been impressed watching them on the tube.
Huggins is coaching his heart out, and he has quality players in Jason Maxiell, James White and Co. Jihad Muhammad, a juco transfer, has been solid at point guard. There is a strong, rebounding toughness.
Cincinnati will be a difficult test in its last season in Conference USA before moving to the Big East next season. Louisville may be the favorite, but the Bearcats will be in the thick of things.
Iowa and Cincinnati are two teams that are making some early progress without much national attention.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.