The Big Eight is in its final season as an eight-team conference
and, this year at least, seems to have become Kansas and the
Seven Dwarfs. The Jayhawks stumbled on Saturday at Oklahoma,
losing 85-79 to the Sooners, but they still finished conference
play with a 12-2 record, three games ahead of their nearest
pursuer. They are almost a lock to go into the NCAA tournament
as the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Regional. Almost every other
team in the Big Eight has been up and down like a yo-yo, with
the exception of Iowa State, which has been one of the biggest
surprises in the nation this year.
The Cyclones were picked to finish last in the league after
losing 10 players--including NBA draft picks Fred Hoiberg and
Loren Meyer--from a team that had gone 23-11 in the debut season
of coach Tim Floyd, who succeeded Johnny Orr. Floyd's only
returning first-stringer was junior point guard Jacy Holloway,
who averaged a measly 1.8 points per game in 1994-95. Worse,
Floyd believed the Cyclones would be in trouble if a new floor
leader couldn't be found.
"I never told Jacy that," Floyd says. "I said it in private. But
he's made me eat my words. He's developed into a certifiable Big
Eight player. Mainly he's a winner, and that rubs off." That
last part isn't just a coaching cliche; Holloway played on four
straight state championship teams at Moundridge (Kans.) High. At
week's end he was averaging 4.9 assists (and only 1.9
turnovers), and he had the Cyclones winning, too. They closed
out the regular season with a 20-8 record after defeating
Colorado 84-75 on Saturday to finish second in the Big Eight
with a 9-5 mark. "I never dreamed we'd have this kind of
record," says Floyd. "When we were picked last before the
season, I bought into it. I wasn't trying to hustle anybody."
He did have to hustle, though, to field a team of transfers and
junior college players--nine new players in all. One key stroke
of luck occurred in September 1994, when Floyd was recruiting at
a high school tournament in New Orleans. There he bumped into
Dedric Willoughby, who had played as a redshirt freshman for
Floyd at the University of New Orleans in 1993-94 but had lost
his eligibility because of poor grades. He asked Floyd if he
would be willing to take him at Iowa State. "You'd have to get
your grades together," Floyd told him.
Willoughby enrolled at Indian Hills Community College in
Centerville, Iowa, where he earned enough credits to transfer to
Iowa State last fall. He has flourished as the Cyclones'
shooting guard, leading them in scoring with a 20.2 average.
"He's developed remarkably," says Floyd. "At New Orleans almost
all his shots were three-pointers, and he never went to the foul
line. He's developed a middle game now--the ability to go to the
basket and get fouled." Free throws have been central to Iowa
State's success this season. The Cyclones have made more foul
shots than any other team in Big Eight conference play. "We're
not a great perimeter team like we were last year," says Floyd.
"But you still have to score points to win, so the biggest thing
for us is our ability to get to the line and keep the other team
off the line."