He looks more like an adult Jerry Mathers, but for Iowa men’s basketball fans, Joe Lunardi is Dennis the Menace all the way.
Lunardi is public enemy No. 1 around these parts because he has refused to believe that Iowa is worthy of serious NCAA Tournament consideration. He reportedly softened his stand before Friday’s game against Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, saying a victory perhaps would’ve been enough for Iowa to get in.
But since that didn’t happen, the Hawkeyes (21-12) almost certainly will be headed to the National Invitation Tournament for the second consecutive season. Iowa’s fate will be decided at some point on Sunday.
As for Lunardi, we’ll keep hearing his name, reading his projections and hanging on his every word until the NCAA Tournament field is announced Sunday afternoon. He’ll pop up every now and then while the tournament plays itself out before fading away until next February when the madness starts all over again.
Somebody asked me on Twitter shortly after Friday’s 59-56 loss to Michigan State why us media types hang on Lunardi’s every word.
We do so because Lunardi has a freakish ability to pick the NCAA Tournament field almost to perfection. He correctly predicted all 65 teams to appear in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, 63 of 65 teams in 2009 and 64 of 65 teams in 2010.
Lunardi’s official title is college basketball analyst for ESPN. He also works as assistant vice president of marketing communications for Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, although I would imagine he gets some time off in late February and March to assume his role as Mr. Bracketology.
You have to give Lunardi credit for finding a way to cash in on his unusual gift of predicting who will make the NCAA Tournament. I’m pretty good at getting my spit bubbles to float in the air, at naming all the members of classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead and at knowing what my two dogs are usually thinking, but so far none of those gifts have gotten me anywhere.
Lunardi doesn’t have any inside information from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee because that group is as secretive as the Central Intelligence Agency, and I doubt that looking like an adult Jerry Mathers gets him anywhere, either.
For those wondering, Jerry Mathers is the former child star who played the role of Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver on the popular television show “Leave it to Beaver,” which gained more popularity since the 1970s through off-network syndication. I’m reminded of the show every March when Lunardi resurfaces because he and Mathers resemble each other as adults.
I’m also reminded every March that the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a runaway train that shows no signs of slowing down because the money is just too good to derail it. I enjoy watching the drama unfold on the court, but everything else that comes with March Madness is open for debate.
I don’t like that the best 68 teams don’t actually make the field of 68 because so much importance is placed on being in the NCAA Tournament. Some, perhaps many, would argue that losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament is more appealing than winning the NIT. If that’s not a sign that the NCAA Tournament has become too important than what is?
I enjoy rooting for an underdog, but not at the expense of teams that are better and more deserving of something on which so much value is placed.
This isn’t to suggest that Iowa deserves to be in this year’s NCAA Tournament field because even without Lunardi’s input, the numbers just don’t add up under the current setup where nearly half of the teams receive automatic bids. Iowa’s strength of schedule and its RPI aren’t high enough to offset the lack of signature wins.
That’s why it was considered a must for Iowa to defeat Michigan State on Friday. But instead the Hawkeyes did what they’ve done so often this season, which is flirt with a signature win away from the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena only to be rejected at the end.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery might have burned more calories than any of the players in Friday’s game with the way he worked the officials and with how he tried to inspire his players. McCaffery hurling his suit coat late in the second half while his team was unraveling is probably what I’ll remember most from this year’s Big Ten Tournament besides the hour-and-a-half of fighting through traffic gridlock that it took to get from my hotel to the United Center in Chicago on both Thursday and Friday.
McCaffery knew what was at stake and he could feel it slipping away.
You could argue that the officials helped make the lead slip away because there was an inconsistency with how the game was called in the first half compared with the second half. But at this stage it would only be for the sake of arguing.
McCaffery said afterward that his team deserved a better fate. That probably was his way of criticizing the officials without actually criticizing the officials.
McCaffery also said his team deserves to be in the NCAA Tournament. But what else is he going to say, even if he doesn’t believe it?
“I respect the job that the committee has,” McCaffery said. “I know it’s difficult. I know there are a lot of other folks that feel the same way.
“But I think you know when you look at all the numbers; I think they bear out that we should be in.”
My guess is that Lunardi feels otherwise and the NCAA Selection Committee ultimately will agree with him.
And although it’ll be deflating for Iowa to not make the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive season, and for the third year in a row under McCaffery, it doesn’t have to define this season.
Making a deep run in the NIT, perhaps all the way to New York City as one of the final four teams would be a nice way for senior captain Eric May to finish his Hawkeye career. It would also show that Lunardi was wrong about Iowa even though his projection was right.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball