Iowa Hawkeyes

Is third place in Big Ten wrestling the new normal for Iowa?

Ogden column: Defining success depends where you stand

Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands (center) and associate head coach Terry Brands talk to Pat Lugo as he wrestles Minnesota’s Thomas Thorn in a 149-pound consolation semifinal match at the Big Ten Conference wrestling tournament in Minneapolis. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa head wrestling coach Tom Brands (center) and associate head coach Terry Brands talk to Pat Lugo as he wrestles Minnesota’s Thomas Thorn in a 149-pound consolation semifinal match at the Big Ten Conference wrestling tournament in Minneapolis. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

How do you define success?

I think we all can agree the Iowa women’s basketball team had a wildly successful weekend in Indianapolis, capturing its first Big Ten tournament title since 2001. The regular season was a huge success, too, and beating Maryland — not to mention Rutgers — twice in one year is beyond impressive.

Success, it seems, is Megan Gustafson’s middle name. The best player in the state — male or female — just keeps getting more and more impressive.

What about Iowa men’s basketball? You could argue this has been a very successful season coming on the heels of last year’s 14-19 campaign. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find a team that lost its last four games and limps into this week’s Big Ten tournament in Chicago with a 21-10 record. If you think you’ve see this act before, look back to the 2015-16 season. Iowa was sitting 20-5 overall and 11-2 in the Big Ten after a 75-71 win over Minnesota, then promptly lost five of its next six games, including its Big Ten tournament opener against Illinois.

That’s not a successful ending. But the bigger body of work doesn’t look too bad.

What about UNI men’s basketball? The fact the Panthers were even in the hunt for an NCAA berth by making the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game on Sunday is pretty impressive. The league is weak this year, but there’s no doubt UNI’s run in St. Louis was a success, until ... it blew an 18-point lead and lost to Bradley. UNI finished the season by winning six of its last nine games, but some would argue the Panthers — and Coach Ben Jacobson — have trouble with composure late in big games or holding on to leads. Remember the 2016 NCAA tournament when UNI was on the verge of beating Texas A&M and earning a Sweet 16 berth, but couldn’t inbound the ball?

That’s not a successful way to end a season, either, but aren’t most campaigns a roller coaster?

What about the Iowa wrestling team? The Hawkeyes crowned one champion and finished third behind Penn State and Ohio State at the Big Ten championships in Minneapolis last weekend. Six of the Hawkeyes’ 10 entrants wrestled to their seeds and two — Alex Marinelli and Kaleb Young — wrestled one spot above their seeds.

There’s no doubt Marinelli’s performance was a success. He saved his best match of the weekend for the final, dominating two-time NCAA champion Vincenzo Joseph in the 165-pound finals.

But is third place now the standard of success for a Hawkeye program that has won 35 Big Ten titles? The year before, in East Lansing, Mich., the Hawkeyes were fourth — behind champion Ohio State and Penn State, plus Michigan. The year before that, Iowa was third — behind Ohio State and Penn State.

Iowa hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2015, an NCAA title since 2010.

Is this the new normal? Do Penn State and Ohio State now rule the Big Ten by such a wide margin that third place is a successful tournament?

It depends how you define success.

Does simply making the NCAA tournament in basketball constitute a successful season? For many, the answer is a definite yes. Others — in places like Durham, N.C., and Storrs, Conn. — would likely argue that point.

Defining success, of course, depends on where you’re standing — and when. It’s all about perspective.

There was a time when a third-place finish in the Big Ten wrestling tournament would have been considered a down year for the Hawkeyes. That happens when your program wins 25 straight tournament titles.

Maybe the perspective of older Iowa wrestling fans is out of whack. Maybe this is a different time, a different era when Cael Sanderson and Tom Ryan now rule the sport from State College and Columbus.

Maybe third place is a successful season.

I’m guessing some would argue that point, too.

l Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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