The Iowa men’s basketball team is 19-5, ranked in the top 25, and virtually a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. All is well in Iowa City following Sunday’s miraculous comeback against Northwestern, except that it isn’t.
If you’ve followed Iowa basketball closely for the past 20 years or so, you’ve learned to never assume continued success. While I’m ecstatic this team has out-performed even my wildest fantasies already coming off a 14-19 season, I not only wouldn’t be shocked to see them completely implode from here on out. But I almost expect it to happen.
That isn’t me being negative. It’s just that we’ve seen this song and dance so many times in the past. This is the third time under coach Fran McCaffery the Hawkeyes have started the season 18-5. The past two times (2012-2013 and 2014-2015), the Hawkeyes finished 20-13 and 22-11, respectively.
In 2000-2001, under former coach Steve Alford. Iowa got off to a 17-4 start before losing seven of its next eight. The following year, Alford’s team that was a preseason national title contender, was 12-3 midway through the year but finished 19-14 while missing the NCAA Tournament.
A season later, a January win against #8 Illinois propelled the Hawkeyes to an 11-3 record. Once again, they completely imploded, finishing 6-11 the rest of the season.
In 2004-2005, a year Iowa actually made the NCAA Tournament, Alford’s squad got off to another hot start (14-4) but then fell apart after star guard Pierre Pierce was arrested on sexual assault charges for the second time during his career. This time, Alford actually kicked him off the team. Iowa went 7-8 after Pierre got the boot.
The only year this century Iowa has been in this position in February – 2005-2006 – they didn’t collapse but had the most heartbreaking flame-out in school history. After starting the season 18-5, Iowa went on to win the Big Ten Tournament title, but…
With Iowa fans dreaming of the Sweet 16 or possibly even a run at the Final Four, a realistic expectation given that team was deep and as experienced as any team in the country, the Hawkeyes earned a #3 seed and a match-up against what should have been a cupcake, #14-seeded Northwestern State.
Iowa dominated that contest for 33 minutes, taking a 17 point lead into the under-eight timeout of the second half. And then, in true Iowa basketball fashion, the most epic choke-job I’ve seen happened. After Northwestern State cut the lead to two with a few seconds remaining, some dude named Jermaine Wallace, who wasn’t much of a jump-shooter, drained a fade-away three-pointer in the corner with under one second remaining.
Dreams of running deep in the NCAA Tournament were shattered, and Iowa’s basketball program didn’t recover for nearly a decade. So, forgive me if I’m still cautiously optimistic that this year’s Hawkeye team won’t break my heart again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 872 times…?