Posted on: February 20, 2010 2:23 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2010 11:13 pm

Why are we at DePaul and what's that smell?

By: Drew Franklin

1:10 PM

Last night’s Iditarod-like drive from Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids left us stranded at a Days Inn, which happened to be the official hotel of the Spam Museum and the Alzheimer’s-To-Work program of Iowa.  It was here that we sat down for a rigorous 45-minute board meeting of road trip salvaging.

With our originally scheduled game, Sienna-Butler, out of the question, it was time to figure out the next move for this traveling circus.  I suggested watching today’s slate of games from the Freezing Beaver in Waterloo but Tomlin is allergic to glitter.  Matt requested a CBS helicopter but there is a no helicopter clause in our contract with the Kia Ronda.   Tomlin tried closing his eyes and pointing to a location in Rand McNally’s Magical Book of Mystery but kept landing on Wal-Marts and Sam's Clubs.  After a few more failed attempts at the selection process, we decided to each draw a team out of the Days Inn ice bucket and select the best of the three:

Matt drew Howard University.

I drew the University of Phoenix.

Tomlin drew Louisville.

The decision was easy:  Louisville is at DePaul.  DePaul is an easy drive.  Chicago is doable.  Louisville has Rick Pitino.  Rick Pitino is an easy target.  Karen Sypher is doable.

So, here we are, last minute additions to the DePaul media roster.   We smell like last night’s truck stop diner, stale Wisconsin cheese, and Bob Valvano.  The teams just tipped-off and I couldn’t be any less interested in the outcome.

See you soon.  (Hopefully)

Posted on: February 20, 2010 2:08 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2010 5:18 pm

Scrappy Lucas O'Rear Energizes Northern Iowa

By C.M. Tomlin

10:00 AM

They call him “Big Country,” but he looks like he’d better fit in on the south side of Boston than here in the endless cornfields of Northern Iowa. Yet here is Lucas O’Rear, Northern Iowa University’s reliable sparkplug, rousing the crowd and providing the boosting surges of energy which often push the Panthers over the cusp.

To fully appreciate O’Rear, you have to understand the beauty of how he sticks out like a sore thumb among his teammates. With faux-hawked red hair, thick bushy muttonchop sideburns and tattoos on both biceps, he would appear to be more of a hit man than a sixth man.

Yet the 6’6”, 255-lb.forward was named Missouri Valley Conference Sixth man of the year in 2009 and continues to be a brute force beneath the basket which just may propel the Panthers into 2010’s Big Dance..

“We’re not just happy making it to the NCAA Tournament, we want to be the Cinderella team” says O’Rear, laid-back and genially confident in a sweatshirt and cowboy boots. “To do that, we’re going to have to play every game like it’s the most important game we’ve ever played.”

Between post-game moments with the press, O’Rear is approached by families wishing him well and children wanting autographs or pictures. He sincerely thanks the former and stoops to accommodate the latter. He’s very clearly adored.

I ask what he tells the kids who look up to him. :”I just encourage them to keep working,” says O’Rear, who began his career at Illinois’ Nashville High School. “When I came in here from high school, I was scoring nine, ten, eleven points a game. Now I might only score three. I’m a small fish in a big pond.”

Yet O’Rear understands and even seems to cherish the role. “I’m happy that the crowd here realizes that I don’t have to score twenty points a game. set a screen for Ali [Farokhmanesh], he hits a three. I’m fine with that. It’s the little things that make the big things.”

If it seems like O’Rear has a good grasp on things, it’s because his outlook on life is one rare for a junior in college. After his mother passed awy in 2000, O’Rear grew closer to his brother; the two are separated in age by 15 months.

“It was a hard time for us, but we both learned to live each day – and now it helps me look at the day-to-day differently. Something tough comes up, you think to yourself that you’re still lucky, because things can always be worse.”

O’Rear’s appreciation for family is evident in his tattoos. A shamrock adorns one arm to signify his Irish father; a Polish eagle inks his opposite arm, an homage to his Polish mother. He has two others unseen beneath his jersey: the polish word “rodzina,” which means “family,” and a cross on his back to commemorate his mother.

It’s clear to see that O’Rear looks at his Northern Iowa teammates and fans as an extension of that family, and they clearly love him back. The crowd erupts when O’Rear makes a big move and a portion of the student section even wears giant false muttonchops and t-shirts reading “Fear the “Burns.”

The Panthers’ plan for the post-season is to mix it up for opponents by mixing up styles and keeping opponents on their toes. Whatever it takes to get them where they're headed. “They won’t see us coming,” O’Rear says, adding his own personal philosophy, learned from his own life lessons. “We have to just play every game like it’s going to be our last."

O’Rear thinks for a moment as a young child in an NIU jersey runs up to him and jumps into his lap, and O’Rear welcomes him like he were family. “I just feel honored to have what I have,” he says. “If you work hard, good things come.”


Posted on: February 20, 2010 3:18 am
Edited on: February 20, 2010 3:28 am

Road Trip Takes Its First Detour


2:30 AM

This was the scene as we left Cedar Falls, Iowa at 9 pm Central for what was to be a 7 hour drive through the night to Indianapolis for an 11 am Eastern tip for Siena-Butler.  We took off down the road and assumed we were in for a long night of driving and being careful on the road.  What we ended up with were the worst road conditions I have ever seen and a stretch of road from Waterloo to Cedar Rapids Iowa in which we were told (after we had navigated the 45 miles), "police are advising motorists to not even consider going on that road tonight."  We wish we had know that prior to the scariest 75 minutes of driving of my life.  After pulling off at the end of a 45 mile ride from hell, we decided we had been defeated and the dream of making Siena-Butler at a time before Drew would normally even be awake, was shattered.

We then stopped in Cedar Rapids at a Days Inn, and an old lady at the front desk asked what we were doing.  I said, "well its snowing hard and we dont want to be on these roads anymore."  As Drew and Tomlin began making jokes about driving from Cedar Falls to Cedar Rapids on roads that are slicker than Jamie Dixon's hair, the lady began to get angry.  She then replied with total disdain, "oh do you think you are better than Iowa?"  Hopefully Jeff Foxworthy will take that premise for a new gameshow on Fox.

So we have decided to do a instead of Siena-Butler, we are going to try and make the 2 pm Eastern tip of Louisville-Depaul.  The CBS College Basketball Road Trip rolls on with a car full of travelers who are better than Iowa.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 20, 2010 12:38 am
Edited on: February 20, 2010 3:40 am

Is This Heaven? No, It's Iowa.

By C.M. Tomlin

11:10 PM

If there was supposed to be a giant onslaught of awful winter weather, we didn't get the memo. But it's apparently sitting right on top of our heads. And collecting at an alarming rate.

No one in Cedar Falls seems to be bothered much by it, though. As it is, snowy roads had us rolling into the McLeod Center just in time to catch Northern Iowa's Panthers taking on Old Dominion's Monarchs.

The drive from Milwaukee to Cedar Falls had us passing through miles of snow-covered, barren farmland and through Dubuque, where we stopped at a hotel just in time to catch a mafia-themed wedding party. I'm not sure if this is the norm for Dubuque, but it seemed natural. On the way, we listened to an AM stion that some might argue overcovers the high school wrestling landscape here in the Hawkeye State. And we learned that Iowa is so flat that you can see Oregon from your car window.

Full disclosure: we weren't prepared to be impressed by our UNI experience. It definitely had chips stacked against it. We'd been driving for hours with little to no signs of life. Roads were a little dicey. The fourteen-foot mound of plowed snow backed up to the McLeod Center didn't exactly seem inviting. Plus, it's hard to get excited about a smaller D1 school when you have porterhouses like Kansas, North Carolina and Syracuse on the menu.

Despite the increasing nightmare of frozen terrain outside this arena, however, Panther fans were in full regalia and ready for battle. Something tells me these folk know how to handle a little inclement weather -- and far be it for them to let a dusting like this make them miss a nationally televised outing like this.

I'm here to tell you -- firsthand -- that Northern Iowa fans do it up ght. The McLeod Center,, small potatoes compared to a monstrosity like the Carrier Dome, was lit to the rafters and louder than a 747. What's that? Elaborate further? Don't mind if I do.

-Normally, at any reputable college basketball game, there's a distinction in the level of excitability dictated by the age of the fans. Not so here in America's heartland. Don't get me wrong: the Panther student section was as loud, if not louder, than many large schools you'll visit. And they're absolutely rabid. But everyone else is in on the act too. Northern Iowa basketball isn't just a sport, it's a collective push by an entire community. John Mellencamp could write a song about this kind of familial camaraderie. (Ed. note: I'm watching you, John Mellencamp, I'm already writing my all-American tune for Northern Iowa.)

-If you sell white body paint in Cedar Falls, you're making a killing. The laws of probability in sports fandom (Schleppenfelder's Fan Love and Outward Expressions Thereof; page 63, paragraph C) dictate that in any large crowd of supporters, there will be at least two body painters. Northern Iowa had tonight, at best estimation, upwards of 25 frothing Panther hooligans decked out mimes on a bender. Don't get me wrong, Northern Iowans are already white as it comes, but with this much body paint it's like the college basketball scene from Night of the Living Dead. You remember that scene, don't you? No? Moving on.

-Children play a huge role in the proceedings. That's actually pretty rare. At larger schools, where season tickets cost a cool thousand, you're not going to find many parents wasting a ticket on a child who'd be just as entertained by  same episode of Yo Gabba Gabba on loop or a refrigerator box. They're going to bring colleagues, friends, people they want to impress. At the McLeod Center, it's a family affair. Not only are the stands littered with entire families having a great time, but children help the mascot do its routines and play in the foyer.

-You don't want to make the wrong call here. Iowans take any things very seriously. Corn. The Andy Griffith oeuvre. Hay. And fair and balanced judgment of a basketball game. The din of madness that overtakes these fans when they feel slighted is terrifyingly sincere. Not a good idea to break up with a girl from Northern Iowa, I'll bet. There were moments when the rush of noise from a supposed malfeasance portended to erupt into the Watts riots. (Note to John Mellencamp: that song is the one I'm writing after the one about community fandom.)

So, yeah, consider me a new fan of the Northern Iowa Panthers. They've got it right. Somewhere, out there in Midwestern America, they know the score.

Speaking of scores, the final was 71-62 Panthers, and this small portion of the state is sated until the next skirmish. As we left this monument to great feeling, however, we skidded back into the hellish reality of snow-covered roads and buckets of powder dumping from the sky. And that, dear readers, is why this particular missive comes to you from the welcome dining room of Junie's Diner at a truck stop in Evansdale, Iowa.

The snow continues to fall gently but quickly, stars falling from the sky and onto the families and fans of Cedar Falls. And all is well in Northern Iowa tonight.

(Don't take that awesome line, John Mellencamp.)

Posted on: February 19, 2010 10:03 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2010 11:22 pm

An Exclusive Interview with ODU's Head Mustache

By: Drew Franklin

9:05 PM

Northern Iowa knocked off Old Dominion 71-62 tonight in an electric McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  After the game, I caught up with Old Dominion head coach Blaine Taylor's mustache for an exclusive interview.

Drew Franklin: Tough loss out there tonight.  How do you feel about your team's performance?

Blaine Taylor's Mustache:
Blaine hasn't screamed like that in a very long time.  I was worried that I might be thrown from his upper lip.

That would've been a disaster!  Have you ever been detached from his face before?

No, but I've had a few close calls.  Last year against Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA tournament was a tough game to hold on to.  And, when he eats pizza.  Not any pizza, just the Sicilian pizza at Del Vecchio's.

Del Vecchio's, huh?  Never heard of it.

It's a local joint in Norfolk.  They have great lunch specials.

I'll have to try it out next time I'm in the Norfolk area.  But back to the game, your team went down early to start the game and never really got back into it.  Was the significance of this game and the national spotlight too overwhelming?

Honestly, I didn't see much of the first half.  I could tell by the explosiveness from the UNI crowd that we weren't doing well, but I couldn't actually see what happened on their early run.

How could you not see?  I was at the press table right across from your bench and you seemed to be into the game.

Well, due to the inclimate weather, we were a little late arriving to the arena.  It was almost halftime before I completely thawed out.  I was still cold and damp for most of the 2nd half but at least I could see the game

The weather is pretty treacherous outside and I'm hearing it's only getting worse.  Are you traveling back tonight?

 The assistants and the players are flying home as we speak.  I, however, have to fly out to Burbank for a Wario cover shoot and I'll be back in Norfolk by the end of the week.

Wario cover shoot?  You do media appearances too?

Oh yeah.  I was a stunt double for Tom Selleck's mustache in Magnum P.I.

Wow.  You filled-in for one of the world's most famous mustaches and now you're coaching D-1 basketball.  What a life.  What's next for Blaine Taylor's mustache?

I keep my options open.  I'm very career-minded and I understand that it's always important to keep growing.

Truer words have never been spoken.  Blaine's mustache, thanks for your time and travel safe.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 19, 2010 8:45 pm

Northern Iowa's "Jump Around" Guy

By: Drew Franklin


Move over, Marquette "Jump Around" guy; there's a new sheriff in "Jump Around" town.  
Northern Iowa student Geoff Beuker took a break from screaming in my ear to showcase his moves during a timeout.  The UNI student section is absolutely crazy and I'm looking forward to getting snowed in with them.
Posted on: February 19, 2010 7:19 pm

Northern Iowa vs. Old Dominion LIVE Blog

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 19, 2010 4:40 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2010 5:55 pm

Day 2: Iowa Bound

By: Drew Franklin

4:09 PM

iowa is gorgeous After a long night of sampling Milwaukee’s cash crop and getting ‘served’ in spontaneous dance-offs, we’re back on the road with our eyes, hearts, and keyboards set on the Fighting Corn Panthers of Northern Iowa.

Tonight’s contest against Old Dominion is UNI’s only nationally televised game this season and, more importantly, the second stop on the greatest road trip to hit Highway 151 since the car in front of us.  We’re expecting great fundamental basketball, a crazy atmosphere, and delicious mouthwatering popcorn.

Our only concern at this point is actually getting to Cedar Falls.  As the Garmin GPS rests in the glove box (per Matt’s ancient ways), Tomlin is staring cross-eyed at the Rand McNally road atlas, which he calls the Magic Book of Mystery.   Hopefully, we’ll make it by game time. But, if not, the atlas’ Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club directory will lead us to something exciting and we'll be sure to tell you all about it.

Check in with us later once (or if) we make it to the McLeod Center and join us for a live game blog tonight at 6:00pm Iowa-time so you ‘n I can talk U.N.I.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or