Iowa State Cyclones

Clayton Custer, Andrew Fleming, we barely knew ye

Former Cyclone, Hawkeye turned up in NCAA tourney

Clayton Custer (right) tries to get the attention of then-Iowa State teammate Naz Mitrou-Long (left) as he is interviewed by KCRG-TV9’s Josh Christensen before the Cyclones’ 2015 practice at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center the day before the Cyclones played an NCAA tournament game there. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Clayton Custer (right) tries to get the attention of then-Iowa State teammate Naz Mitrou-Long (left) as he is interviewed by KCRG-TV9’s Josh Christensen before the Cyclones’ 2015 practice at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center the day before the Cyclones played an NCAA tournament game there. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

They call the NCAA men’s basketball tournament “March Madness.” It ends in April.

Does that not tell you all you really need to know about the tournament and the sport itself?

Crazy games and wild upsets. Blue Devils and a beloved 98-year-old nun. To find true meaning in all of it seems like a fool’s game.

For instance, had we known Clayton Custer would help Loyola of Chicago (home of the aforementioned celebrity nun) get all the way to its South Regional final against Kansas State Saturday, we would have had big headlines when Custer transferred out of Iowa State in 2015.

Custer scored 13 points for the Cyclones. Fred Hoiberg left for Chicago, and so did Custer. Iowa State went on to the 2016 and 2017 NCAA tourneys without both. Hoiberg was remembered. Custer, not so much.

In 2018, though, Custer is the Missouri Valley’s Player of the Year as a fourth-year junior, and he made the game-winning shot in the second round of the NCAAs against favored Tennessee.

What does it all mean? It means Custer is a good player, he went to a program that assembled several good players, and Loyola has a good team.

OK, larger scale? For all the majesty placed on big-time basketball with its megamillion-dollar programs, little Loyola was still playing this weekend while Michigan State, North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona were done.

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Which doesn’t really mean anything, ultimately, since the superpowers still have the whopping TV contracts and whopping apparel deals. But it’s certainly a treat when it happens.

For something completely different and totally trivial: The player who tallied the last points Iowa has ever scored in an NCAA tournament game is the same guy who tallied the last points Lipscomb scored in its last NCAA tournament game.

Andrew Fleming is a third-year sophomore at Lipscomb. He scored nine points in the final 3:46 of Lipscomb’s 84-66 first-round NCAA loss to North Carolina not that many days ago. That was his stat line. Four minutes, nine points.

Which is probably more points per minute than anyone else in the entire tourney, speaking of trivia.

Fleming played in the last minute of Iowa’s 86-67 second-round NCAA defeat to Villanova two years ago. He made a jumper with 22 seconds left for the Hawkeyes’ last points. Not long after that, he transferred to Chattanooga but never played a game there.

When Chattanooga had a coaching change, Fleming transferred to Lipscomb in his Nashville hometown. The NCAA allowed him to play this season instead of sitting out for a second consecutive year.

Fleming averaged 3.2 points and 8.3 minutes for the Atlantic Sun Conference’s Lipscomb this season. He was one of the first of five players in Fran McCaffery’s 2015 recruiting class of six that left Iowa. The latest was Ahmad Wagner, a junior who announced a few days ago that he will try college football.

You sign six players in a year and you hope most will be key contributors for you. Sometimes they aren’t, and you pay for it in the standings.

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One player winds up at Lipscomb. Another, Christian Williams, heads to Indiana State. Another, Brandon Hutton, is at Northwestern (La.) State. He averaged 4.1 points there this season, starting about half the games.

Another, Dale Jones, came to Iowa as a junior college player, stayed for two injury-plagued seasons, then was a graduate transfer at North Dakota this season. No one could begrudge him leaving. He averaged 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, getting to finally play a lot of major-college ball before he was done.

Now Wagner is gone, and Isaiah Moss is the last remaining member of the Class of Six. Which Iowa can’t dwell on, because it suddenly has spots to fill with the departures of Wagner and guard Brady Ellingson, who will be a graduate transfer elsewhere.

Maybe McCaffery will replace a grad transfer with a grad transfer. Maybe that player will make a game-winning shot in the NCAA tourney for Iowa next year. Maybe Ellingson will make one for someone else.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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