Hlas: Hawkeyes' season has become so satisfying

The 2016-17 Iowa team defies expectations in a winning way

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Let’s play the game that’s sweeping Hawkeyeland called “If You’d Told Me …”

If you’d told me the Iowa men’s basketball team would lose its 7-point halftime lead at Wisconsin, trail 56-47 with 3:46 left, and still rally for a 59-57 win over the Badgers in Kohl Center Thursday …

If you’d told me the Hawkeyes would win despite making 19 turnovers and getting just eight points from Peter Jok …

If you’d told me Iowa, using just two players who weren’t sophomores or freshmen, would have more players who gave substantial contributions than the veteran, 22-win Badgers …

If you’d told me ESPN’s Joe Lunardi would appear on the network’s telecast of the game at the start of the second half and seriously discuss the Hawkeyes’ chances of reaching the NCAA tournament …

If you’d told me after Iowa lost at home to Illinois on Feb. 18 that it would then beat Indiana at home and knock off nationally ranked Maryland and Wisconsin on the road to get to 9-8 …

I’d have said unlikely, unlikely, unlikely, unlikely, and “You’re a crazy dreamer.”

I’m not ready to proclaim this the most-satisfying season of Fran McCaffery’s seven as Iowa’s coach. But I’m not ruling it out, either, especially if the Hawkeyes close out the regular season with a win over Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday afternoon.

Two years ago, Aaron White went on a monster run as Iowa rocketed from 6-6 in the conference to 12-6. It lost a Big Ten tourney quarterfinal to Penn State, but put an 83-52 hurting on Davidson for the program’s first NCAA tournament victory since 2001 before getting drubbed by a Gonzaga team that simply was better.

That, more than the Hawkeyes of last season who also went 12-6 in the Big Ten and won a first-round NCAA game, was the top feel-good season under McCaffery. So far.

If Iowa prevails Sunday and gets a win Thursday in this week’s Big Ten tourney in Washington, D.C. (Washington, D. C.???), this season rivals the 2014-15 Hawkeyes no matter what it does Friday.

But just winning Sunday at home and again Thursday in Washington obviously wouldn’t be fulfillment enough to this Iowa team given the way it has put itself in position for a winning Big Ten record.

This season has been about more than the won-lost numbers for the Hawkeyes. It’s been about more than going from an NCAA tourney near-impossibility to a team that is trying to shoehorn itself onto the NCAA bubble in the nick of time.

This has been about senior Jok doing great things on so many occasions. It’s been freshman Jordan Bohannon of Linn-Mar going 4-for-19 from the field in the three games before Maryland, then canning 8 of 10 threes out East. Then, without hesitation he swished what was the game-winning 3-pointer in Madison after having missed his six previous attempts from that distance.

This has been about freshmen forwards Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl both coming up big at various times, with Cook so good at Maryland and Pemsl likewise at Wisconsin.

It’s been about sophomore forward Nicholas Baer being the spirit animal of the team, doing so many different winning things. Some fill up box scores, others fit in no category and are still clear to everyone in the gym.

This has been about McCaffery and his staff, keeping his young players from playing out the string after that home loss to Illinois when it looked to most of us like his team had finally hit the wall, run out of gas, whatever cliche you want that didn’t turn out to be the least bit applicable.

This has been about hustle and desire and growth and flair and fun.

Hey, the Hawkeyes are a long way from being a finished, polished ballclub. But if you’d told me they would be charging into today’s home finale with a chance to go 10-8 in the Big Ten ...

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