Iowa Men's Basketball

After wild, wondrous week, serious work awaits Iowa basketball

Iowa must elevate its recent play to extend 4-game win streak

Rutgers’ Shaquille Doorson (2) and Iowa players react after the Hawkeyes’ Joe Wieskamp (10) made the game-winning shot in Iowa’s 71-69 victory Saturday night at Rutgers Athletic Center. (Noak K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
Rutgers’ Shaquille Doorson (2) and Iowa players react after the Hawkeyes’ Joe Wieskamp (10) made the game-winning shot in Iowa’s 71-69 victory Saturday night at Rutgers Athletic Center. (Noak K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)

For the most meaningful back-to-back wins in the last 50 years of Iowa men’s basketball, it’s the Hawkeyes beating Syracuse and Georgetown in Philadelphia to advance to the 1980 Final Four.

For the most emotionally powerful back-to-back wins in that time, they were at Michigan State and at home against Michigan’s Fab Five in 1993, the first two Iowa games after Chris Street’s death.

For the back-to-back late-game heroics that meant the most, I’ll go with Luke Recker making a jumper with 1.4 seconds left for Iowa to beat Wisconsin in the 2002 Big Ten quarterfinals and Recker driving for a buzzer-beater to defeat Indiana in the semifinals.

The Hawkeyes’ last two games need a category of their own. Consecutive last-second bombs that improbably snatched victory from the jaws of defeat isn’t your every-decade deal.

When the Hawkeyes are opening ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on a Saturday night for having defeated Rutgers, you know something is different in the universe. If you’re an Iowa fan, you can’t justly complain about any bad break from now until all our snow melts or the start of the 2019-20 season, whichever comes first.

Iowa basketball has become like the national news. Something extraordinarily crazy happens, and a week later it has faded from memory because of something crazier that just happened.

Last Sunday in Iowa City we saw something beyond crazy when the Hawkeyes rallied from 15 points down with 4:15 left and 11 with 2:09 remaining to beat Northwestern on a 3-pointer by Jordan Bohannon with 0.6 seconds to go.

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You shake your head smiling, write that off as one of those lightning bolts that strike in sports, and move on. Because who gets hit by lightning twice in the same week, or millennium? But then Joe Wieskamp banked in a 3-pointer from the corner (go ahead, try to do that yourself) with 0.2 seconds left Saturday, and Iowa won at Rutgers, 71-69.

That was No. 1 on the “SportsCenter” Top 10 plays of the day. One of the show’s anchors called it “Pythagorean theorem witchcraft.” It prompted Northwestern basketball’s Twitter account to send this:

To which Rutgers’ basketball account responded: Too soon. Way too soon.

You have to figure an Iowa player will swish a 65-foot heave at the final buzzer to beat Maryland Tuesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena while standing on his head. That has to be the logical progression, right?

It’s kind of funny that for all the pregame strategizing and in-game decision-making, for all the physical and mental prowess that factor into these contests in which we attach great meaning, sometimes things simply boil down to a piece of great luck. That the basketball found its way into Wieskamp’s hands on that final play was luck. That he made the shot the way he did — great shooter though he is — was luck.

What isn’t luck is putting yourself in position to at least have a chance for something weird and wild to save you, and the Hawkeyes did that the last two games. So onward they proceed with no time to think about how the basketball gods seem to have taken a shining to them. Tuesday comes fast, and the Hawkeyes have to elevate their recent play against Maryland or risk having their four-game winning streak halted.

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Suddenly, a top-four finish in the Big Ten and the bye all the way to Friday in the Big Ten tourney that comes with it are on the table, providing Iowa does considerably more winning.

Beat the 25th-ranked Terrapins, and Iowa will pass them in the league standings and be tied for fourth with Wisconsin at 10-5 at the worst. The Badgers host Illinois Monday night.

As just the sixth Iowa team to win 20 of its first 25 games, these Hawkeyes have much to be pleased about. But the last Hawkeyes outfit that got to 20-5 was the 2015-16 club, which then lost its next four games and six of its final eight.

Iowa’s last two flights of last-second fancy will long be recalled. But they’re over. It’s time to see what it is made of in the part of the season that will be remembered the most.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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