MILWAUKEE — Imagine if Iowa wins two outright Big Ten men’s basketball regular-season championships in the next five years.
How many baby boys and girls in Iowa would be named “Francis” or “Frances” in honor of Fran McCaffery?
Sports is a funny animal. It’s not about how much you win as it is how much people think you should win and how much they’re used to winning. If someone before you won big, you better win big. Even if that someone left 20 years ago.
If you’re Chris Collins at Northwestern, and have gone where no Wildcats coach there has gone before by taking a team to an NCAA tourney, you are the program’s wise and holy man.
If you’re Tom Crean at Indiana, with two outright Big Ten titles in the last five years including last year’s, your agent is wondering how interested LSU or California might be in you. You got fired Thursday after going 18-16 in your ninth year at the school.
From a statement released by Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass: “The expectations for Indiana University basketball are to perennially contend for and win multiple Big Ten championships, regularly go deep in the NCAA tournament, and win our next national championship — and more after that. We will identify and recruit a coach who will meet these expectations.”
While you’re at it, make Mexico pay for your team’s next set of candy-striped warm-up pants.
This all comes back to Iowa, you know.
Once, the Hawkeyes had a coach who took them to nine NCAA tourneys in 13 years, and somehow never lost an opening-round game in that event. His name was Tom Davis, and many Iowa fans grew weary with him because the Hawkeyes didn’t go deep into the big tournament.
“The next level” became a catchphrase as the years passed. Iowa Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby appeased Davis’ critics, let Davis’ contract expire, and replaced him with a coach named Steve Alford who had just taken Southwest Missouri State to the Sweet 16.
That year was 1999. Which, coincidentally, was the last time Iowa reached the Sweet 16.
Alford spent eight years at Iowa and produced one NCAA win, in his second season. His tenure began as with a lot of love from the fans and ended in an unpleasant divorce. He beat the posse by getting a golden parachute in New Mexico.
We flash ahead to the present, 10 years after Alford left for Albuquerque. Iowa dug out of the hole that got a lot deeper by the time Todd Lickliter’s three years were done. McCaffery has the program in a good place. We wait to see if it becomes a great place. The potential certainly is there.
Alford had six years of winning at New Mexico, but never got the Lobos past the second round of the NCAAs. He then suddenly jumped to UCLA, where he went to Sweet 16s his first two years. Nothing short of a Final Four will be appreciated this spring or in any other in Westwood, where they remember the now-distant past just as vividly as they do in Indiana, which hasn’t been to a Final Four in 15 years.
The Indiana job is open. UCLA’s fans have never been in love with Alford. If he ever is to coach the Hoosiers, the time is upon us.
But it isn’t the same Big Ten or same college basketball landscape as when Alford played for a national-champ at Indiana and Bob Knight ruled the world, is it?
Parity is real. Everyone plays virtually every game on television. The Hoosiers don’t resonate with America like they once did, no more than Nebraska football does now compared to decades ago when the Huskers were kings.
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This is a soap opera Iowa can watch with amusement. But sooner or later, everyone boils in a cauldron of overheated expectations. It will even happen with Northwestern basketball one of these years.