Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa basketball went about everywhere, played about everyone in 2020 bracketology

Remember the good old days, when an Iowa-UNI first-round NCAA game was projected?

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, probably working on 2020-2021 preseason brackets at this moment
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, probably working on 2020-2021 preseason brackets at this moment

This would have been the day when men’s college basketball bracketologists — our grandparents never had the benefit of a trusty bracketologist — would tell us they picked 67 out of the 68 teams correctly in the NCAA tournament.

The reality is, all but two or three spots would have been clear-cut by 5 p.m. on Selection Sunday. But it’s all for fun, so who cares?

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is an easy target because he’s so front and center with this stuff. His final bracket would have looked similar to the actual one, and that’s great. What interests me more, though, is his constant changes to brackets throughout the season. Because it seems like such an enormous waste of time, even when we assumed there would be an NCAA tourney.

For instance, Lunardi had Iowa a No. 9 seed last July, a No. 10 last August, and a No. 11 last October. The Hawkeyes’ first game was in November.

Lunardi’s Oct. 3 bracket had Iowa playing Dayton in a play-in game pitting 11-seeds in Dayton. That didn’t seem fair. It also didn’t show much foresight about Dayton, since the Flyers were a No. 1 seed in Lunardi’s final bracket last Thursday.

It was kind of incredible how the ball bounced for the Hawkeyes and everyone else in ESPN’s bracketology. Lunardi had Iowa playing 20 different teams, and that was despite leaving the Hawkeyes out of his brackets from Nov. 4 until he had them in a 12-vs.-12 play-in game against BYU on Dec. 16.

Iowa was an 8-seed the following week, and spent most of the rest of the season as a 5 or a 6. It was slotted at all eight first-round sites at least once. It was pitted against teams from 13 different conferences. Six of the Hawkeyes’ first-round opponents weren’t in Lunardi’s last brackets, including Northern Iowa.

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On Jan. 17, he had Iowa playing UNI in St. Louis in a 6/11 game. From a Cedar Rapids sportswriter’s point of view, I knew that would have been too good to be true for me and thus impossible. Being able to cover both teams at a site that easily could be reached on short notice? Impossible.

On Feb. 7, Lunardi again had an Iowa-UNI matchup, but this time it was in Tampa. Which would have been fitting, having two teams less than 100 miles apart in Iowa travel to Florida to face each other after Iowa (and Iowa State) had decided not to schedule UNI anymore.

Once the season began and Iowa got into Lunardi’s brackets, here are all the teams he had the Hawkeyes playing at one time or another:

BYU, Stanford, North Carolina State, VCU, Xavier, Texas Tech, Northern Iowa, East Tennessee State, Akron, Yale, Tulsa, Florida, Wichita State, USC, Utah State, Cincinnati, UCLA.

His final pick was 6-seed Iowa playing 11-seed East Tennessee State in Greensboro, N.C. ETSU won the Southern Conference and is coached by native Eastern Iowan Steve Forbes. Maybe that would have happened. Probably not, since the Hawkeyes still had a Big Ten tournament game or games to shape its seed.

As for Northern Iowa, it was looking at a No. 2 seed in the NIT. Says who? A website that calls itself The Barking Crow. According to the Crow, the Panthers would have hosted Wright State in the first round. Had they won, they would have hosted either Minnesota or Akron in Round 2.

That would have been interesting.

Had Lunardi’s final bracket come to fruition and Iowa gotten past East Tennessee State, it would probably have played No. 3-seed Duke in the second round. In North Carolina. That same thing happened in 1992. Duke beat Iowa in the second round, in Greensboro, 54 miles from the Duke campus.

“It was just not an environment in which to compete against anybody, never mind the defending national champs,” Iowa coach Tom Davis said after his team’s 75-62 loss.

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Selfishly as someone who covered the Hawkeyes, I favored St. Louis or Omaha as first-round destinations rather than, say, Spokane or Albany.

The last time Iowa played an NCAA tourney game in the Central time zone was in 1993 when it played in Nashville.

Maybe next year, in Dallas or Wichita. But today, who would object to Boise or Providence. Or anywhere?

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