B1G Basketball Historical Perspective – (Maryland Alum) Dr. Tom

Dr. Tom Davis - Photo: File phoot/Iowa City Press-Citizen

This entry in the Historical Perspective FanPost picks up on something I mentioned a while back. One of the things I saw watching B1G basketball on PBS in my dorm room was an exciting brand of up-tempo basketball featuring baseline-to-baseline full-court defense, the flex offense (which would become near-and-dear to Maryland basketball fans), and (VERY) frequent substitutions. This high-rev brand of basketball came from Iowa City, and was masterminded by a University of Maryland PhD graduate: Dr. Tom Davis.

Davis is a Wisconsin native who played guard at Wisconsin-Platteville in the late 50s. After college, Davis coached at Portage High Shool who – as a way to reward all of his players with playing time – developed hig trademark pressing/trapping up-tempo style:

From 1961 to 1966, Davis was head coach at Portage High School in Portage, Wisconsin. While there, he faced a dilemma in allotting playing time to his players, most of whom he believed were good enough to warrant it. Davis awarded playing time to all deserving players, which gave rise to his philosophy of constantly pressing and rotating players in an effort to wear down the opposing team.

In the late 60s Davis earned his Masters degree from the University of Wisconsin, and his PhD from the University of Maryland (as an assistant to head coach Frank Fellows). Davis' first head coaching position was at Lafayette, where one of his assistants was fellow Maryland alum Gary Williams (who tenure at Ohio State in the mid 80s will be the subject of an upcoming FanPost). After being a head coach at Lafayette, Boston College, and Stanford; Davis took over for George Raveling at Iowa in 1986.

Davis first season in Iowa took the B1G by storm; leading Iowa to a surprising 30-5 record (14-4 in conference play, including a 101-88 home victory over eventual National Champion Indiana), and an appearance in the Elite 8 against UNLV: an 88-84 loss in one of the best games of the 1987 NCAA Tournament. The key to Davis (initial) success was employing the 1-2-1-1 full-court diamond press for the entire game, falling back into his trademark flat 3-2 zone in the half-court. What made this scheme work was playing literally his entire bench (including players who would, under any other coach, be members of Dick Vitale's 'All-Airport Team') and literally running Iowa's opposition into the ground.

From 1986-87 through 1992-93 Davis' teams make 6 NCAA Tournament appearances in 7 seasons, and would knock off highly-ranked opposition with some level of regularity; including a huge non-conference win over Top 10 North Carolina in Chapel Hill the moi watched on national television in January 1989, just days before entering the 'real world' as a freshly-minted electrical engineering graduate. Iowa games back then weren't 50-49 snooze fests; these were fast-paced high-action games.

By the mid 90s though, Davis became a victim of his own success as Iowa either lost on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament (noting that Iowa never lost in the Round-of-64 during Davis' tenure) or ending up in the NIT. Working against Davis even more were rumblings that he couldn't recruit; as high-profile Iowa recruits such as Raef LaFrentz and Nick Collison didn't 'stay home' and sign with Iowa; but rather headed west to the University of Kansas to play for Roy Williams.

(Another factor coming into play was Davis assistant coach Bruce Pearl, yes THAT Bruce Pearl, accused University of Illinois assistant coach Jimmy Collins of offering money to basketball recruit Deon Thomas. That however is another story, for another day...)

The Iowa Athletic Department and boosters decided that they had enough following the 1998-99 season and did not extend Davis contract. The ironic thing is that the 1998-99 season included an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance and a victory over Roy Williams #10 Kansas Jayhakws IN LAWRENCE (that I watched while holding my toddler son from our apartment in Schaumburg, IL). Iowa banked the basketball fortunes on Indiana Hoosiers legend Steve Alford (yes, THAT Steve Alford); who ended up leaving Iowa City after the 2006-07 season to take a 'step up' as head coach at the University of New Mexico.

And, to date, Iowa has yet to advance to the Sweet 16 since Dr. Tom Davis' departure nearly 19 years ago.

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