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Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Villanova. Seen it. Too many times.
Like the rest of Planet Basketball other than North Carolina fans (and Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue fans), I rooted for Saint Peter’s to do the barely possible and win its way into the men’s Final Four.
The Peacocks did plenty of puncturing of the Might Makes Right faction of college sports, and bless their hearts for it. That they could take Kentucky out of the tournament immediately was a godsend, and their subsequent success in two more games produced joy from Jersey City to Juneau.
Finally, Saint Peter’s met its match in the NCAA tourney in powder blue blue-blood North Carolina. As often is the case, the Final Four becomes the least-interesting part of the NCAA tournament, unless you can’t get enough of the Mike Krzyzewzki farewell tour.
Here’s to the coaches who say “Seacrest out,” and go directly to the golf course without a yearlong victory lap.
Before waving goodbye to 2021-22, let’s revisit the Iowa Hawkeyes’ season. The impulse here and many places was to impulsively close the book on it as ending in disappointment when the Hawkeyes suffered a first-round NCAA loss to Richmond.
Obviously, the end was a gut-punch. What could Iowa have done after a win in that game? We’ll never know, but it might have joined Iowa State Friday night in Chicago.
But as Kentucky and the entire Big Ten can tell you, the tourney is single-elimination. It has the peril of ending with a screeching halt, an empty feeling, and a rewrite of how your body of work feels to outsiders.
Here’s how Iowa’s should feel, though: Really good.
Four Big Ten teams and their fans should be the most-satisfied in the league. They are regular-season co-champions Illinois and Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Iowa.
Michigan and Purdue were the only Big Ten teams to reach the NCAA’s Sweet 16, but Purdue didn’t get any title trophies and was upended by Saint Peter’s with a Final Four berth within reach. Michigan went just 19-15 and had Juwan Howard’s late-season suspension to stain things.
You win a regular-season crown, it’s a great season. Illinois’ second-round NCAA loss to Houston doesn’t change that, nor does Wisconsin’s second-round defeat to Iowa State. The Badgers were picked 10th in the Big Ten last fall. They returned to their winning ways that are so maddening to the rest of the conference.
Rutgers went 12-8 in the Big Ten and beat every good team in the league at least once. Its double-overtime First Four NCAA loss to Notre Dame was one of the tournament’s best games.
No Big Ten team had a more-satisfying season than Iowa, though. The Hawkeyes also were assigned low expectations, and those were holding up when they were 4-6 in the league.
What followed was a lot of dazzling basketball, eight wins in their final 10 regular-season games followed by a four-game sweep of the Big Ten tournament. It wasn’t just the winning, but the way the Hawkeyes won. It was both stylish and sound. Their pace was fast, but their ball protection and defense were good.
From Feb. 6 to March 13, Iowa scored 110 points at Maryland, won 75-62 at Ohio State, beat Michigan State 86-60 in Iowa City, won 82-71 at Michigan, and had a run in Indianapolis to remember.
There was a near-perfect 112-76 win over Northwestern, a shrugging off of a slow start to beat Rutgers by 10 points, and a dramatic semifinal win over Indiana with an unforgettable finish in Jordan Bohannon’s banked-in bomb with 1.1 seconds left. Finally, the Hawkeyes sealed the deal by outplaying Purdue in their 75-66 championship-game win.
Even with the flat first-round NCAA exit, this was as gratifying a season for the Iowa program since 1999. If you choose another Iowa team in that time as an equal, remember this season’s had Keegan Murray.
If you didn’t get the chance to see Murray play in person, you missed something. The performances he gave were rare delights.
No matter what the Big Ten told you, Murray was its Player of the Year. He will give Hawkeye fans who brush off the NBA a reason to watch it, and he’ll be an asset to the team that drafts him.
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