CHICAGO – It’s the middle of March, and Iowa’s basketball team has a pulse at this glorified and magnified time of the college basketball season.
Holy Dr. Tom, has it really been 2006 since March Madness has meant something to Hawkeye faithful? Since games had significant meaning? Since people watched with a passion and intensity reserved for “One Shining Moment?”
Yes, 2006. For the first time since the “Demons of Destiny” delivered a crushing blow in the first round of that NCAA Tournament. Since Northwestern (La.) State’s Jermaine Wallace made a desperation heave of a 3 over Adam Haluska’s reach to give the Demons a 64-63 upset of Iowa.
That is the last game Iowa has played in the Big Dance. And now, a program that once took 20-win seasons and NCAA berths for granted in the Dr. Tom Davis era is relevant again.
Friday’s game with Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals stands for much more than a chance for a 22nd victory this season. It represents a last grasp for March Madness glory, an opportunity to beat a Top 25 team and put the Hawkeyes squarely on the NCAA bubble.
When Devyn Marble called it the biggest game of their careers after Thursday’s victory over Northwestern, he wasn’t speaking in hyperbole.
“I’m not foolish, I hear what everybody’s saying about this game,” admitted Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “To me, I’m very comfortable with where our resume is right now. I think we deserve to be in (the NCAAs). But there are so many factors and I respect whatever the (selection) committee decides. There are a lot of other really good teams. The only thing we can control is how we play (against Michigan State).”
Iowa had won seven of nine games heading into Friday’s game with Michigan State, but there were no bells-and-whistles victories in the bunch. Just good, solid basketball by a team that has learned the value of defense and toughness during McCaffery’s three-year watch.
The RPI powers-that-be pointed to Iowa’s weak non-conference schedule – a legitimate talking point – and an 0-6 record against Top 25 teams. What’s not factored in are close losses. Six of the Hawkeyes’ nine regular-season Big Ten losses were by four points or less or in overtime.
Entering Friday’s game, Iowa had attempted 1,070 field goals. Opponents had launched 1,082. If two had turned out differently, the Hawkeyes would likely be penned into the committee’s NCAA brackets already. Iowa’s Josh Oglesby had a potential game-winning 3 in the final seconds of regulation go halfway down and pop out at Wisconsin. And Minnesota’s Austin Hollins hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds to play at Williams Arena and Iowa ahead by two points.
Had miss and make been make and miss, Iowa could have had an 11-7 Big Ten record and a 23-win season heading into the meeting with the Spartans.
But there is no such thing as revisionist history in college basketball, where crazy dribbles and what-if situations are replayed, to no avail, time and time again.
Fate might have Iowa back in the NIT for a second straight season, despite the program’s first 20-win season since 2005-06. McCaffery stands to receive a $200,000 raise if Iowa goes to the NCAA Tournament this year, plus another $150,000 one-time bump. The NIT will give him a $10,000 bonus.
But dollars don’t define a coach, or a team. And McCaffery, who has inherited four different programs with losing records and coached them to at least 20 wins in his third season every time, is paying dividends at Iowa. Hawkeye basketball is no longer an embarrassment.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball