Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball will have reunion with high expectations

Texas Tech, Auburn ... why not Iowa?

Cincinnati lost this first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament game against Iowa last month in Columbus, Ohio, then lost head coach Mick Cronin this week. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Cincinnati lost this first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament game against Iowa last month in Columbus, Ohio, then lost head coach Mick Cronin this week. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Let’s put a bow on the college basketball season before "Game of Thrones" gets restarted.

Evaluating the Big Ten for next season is a little murky since we don’t know for sure which players are coming back. Wednesday, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said “If we’re the same next year, we’re not gonna be good enough. Because other people are gonna get better.”

If Nick Ward and Cassius Winston are back with Xavier Tillman, Joshua Langford, Aaron Henry and Kyle Ahrens, the Spartans will be good enough. Good enough to get the Big Ten its first national championship since MSU won it in 2000.

By the way, the ACC has had eight champions in that time. So when Big Ten people tell you next February that their league is best, question authority.

Yes, Michigan State is a way-too-early No. 1 pick. That isn’t a bad thing for the rest of the Big Ten. Let the Spartans wear the yoke of great expectations.

However, Iowa gets no such shelter. Make no mistake about it, the Hawkeyes did enjoy being in no one’s preseason rankings last year. All season, the players mentioned how they were disregarded by outsiders before the season began.

(Oh, allow me to brag about picking Virginia to win it all this year in print before the tournament began. I think picking a No. 1-seed was a bold move, and the Cavaliers weren’t the least bit lucky, except in their last three games.)

Now, Iowa is in just about everyone’s April rankings for the season that starts seven months from now, and is a (whoa!) No. 3 seed in the pre-preseason bracketology of ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Who, by the way, now gets a little time off before going to his summer job at a shaved ice stand.

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Lunardi has the Hawkeyes playing in Omaha in next year’s NCAA Tournament, which means they’ll go to one of the other seven first-round sites. If you live in Council Bluffs, however, get your hands on tickets all the same. If Iowa somehow is sent there, you will quadruple your investment.

Anyway, it’s time Iowa remembered what life was like as a popular preseason pick. Recalling how a deep NCAA tourney run feels requires a great memory. It’s been 20 years since a Sweet 16, 32 since an Elite Eight, 39 since a Final Four.

These are barriers that can be scaled. Texas Tech just played in the national title game, folks. Auburn was at the Final Four.

The Iowa women’s basketball team was a vivid example of what a two-week stay in the tournament feels like. A Sweet 16 is, well, sweet. An Elite Eight is pretty elite. How much so? Hawkeyes Coach Lisa Bluder and her assistants were on “Good Morning America” Wednesday. Talk about your shining moments.

Not that the Hawkeye men’s one week in the NCAAs wasn’t entertaining. Those games against Cincinnati and Tennessee were doozies. Then, what happened afterward with those two programs was as crazy and unpredictable as those two games.

First, UCLA had a flirtation with Tennessee’s Rick Barnes for its coaching vacancy. Which was surprising, since Barnes is 64. Then, UCLA hired Mick Cronin from Cincinnati. Cronin is a Cincinnati native, a U. of Cincinnati graduate, and the head coach of UC for the last 13 years.

That’s inspiring. So after spending the last 13 years in Iowa, I am willing to listen to job opportunities in Los Angeles that match Cronin’s six-year, $24 million deal. The first smarty-pants to offer to contribute a moving van gets a home visit from my close personal friends, the Night King and his ice dragon.

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

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