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Overreaction Monday: Iowa Basketball Spurns the NCAA Tournament, Opts for NIT

It isn’t the tournament Hawkeye fans were hoping for, but it’s the one we should’ve expected. It’s time for some perspective and some enthusiasm as Iowa starts its quest for an NIT Championship on Wednesday.

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NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Iowa vs Indiana
Thursday’s result left Hawkeye fans everywhere frustrated with the resulting trip to the NIT. But recalling where this team started should make that trip much more tolerable.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s unfortunate, really. It’s unfortunate the Hawkeyes didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. It’s a shame this group of freshmen won’t get that experience and senior Peter Jok won’t go out firing from all over the court in “the tournament.” But I think the most unfortunate thing is that people legitimately got their hopes up. We should know better. If you’ve been an Iowa fan long enough, you should know to never truly get your hopes up. It’s so much better to have your doubts and be surprised in a good way. That’s how much of the second half of this season went. Expectations had dipped to the point where the NIT was set to be a blessing and then we saw a late run. That was the good surprise. But then everyone went and got their hopes up. I’ll admit, I had hopes of them being able to pull off the improbable. But I also had doubts. I had this feeling that the most Iowa thing of all would happen: that the Hawkeyes would put themselves in a position to get a bid and then come out flat. To be fair, they didn’t exactly come out flat against Indiana. To the contrary, they looked pretty damn good early. But when Indiana made their first run, it looked much like the Outback Bowl looked this year. And reality set back in.

So now that we’re back in reality, let’s revisit those expectations. Who here had Iowa pegged for the NCAA Tournament at the outset of the season? Who had the over on 18 wins? Put your hands down, liars. This group was almost universally picked to be a middle of the road Big Ten team, make a push to make the NIT and that was about it. How did things end up? Iowa went 18-14, finished 10-8 in the Big Ten and finished 7th with a #1 seed in the NIT. Sounds about right. And given the youth of this team, it sounds pretty damn good to me.

What was disappointing about the performance last Thursday was what I saw from the senior leader, Peter Jok. I can excuse the low scoring output. It happens. Indiana put a focus on him, much like everyone else has this season, and he flat didn’t shoot it well (4-11 from the floor and 1-6 from 3). The 9 points was frustrating, but made up for by guys like Jordan Bohannon and Cordell Pemsl. The thing that was frustrating to see was the lack of interest in playing defense. Jok and everyone else knew the game was a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament and the one thing that did have my hopes up was the prospect of this group showing some fight. I saw it from Bohannon. That kid has no fear and what we saw from him down the home stretch of the regular season and his guts in the BTT should make every Hawkeye fan pretty excited about the future. But with all that on the line, Jok showed almost no fight. No intensity and no effort on defense.

I’m going to give the kid the benefit of the doubt. Maybe his back was giving him trouble. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well. Maybe the grabbing and holding and poor shooting was just in his head. I don’t know. But it was the one area that was disappointing to me. I expected Iowa to play better defense than they did and I thought Jok, while not some defensive specialist but the senior with the most on the line, would lead the charge for defensive intensity.

After the early exit, the Iowa Basketball official Twitter account put out a comment I’m sure they meant to be positive, but which I took as a gut punch.

I had assumed after Thursday Iowa was likely in the next four out or maybe even further out. Nay. They were one of the first four out. Meaning if they had found a way to beat Indiana (or Minnesota - #%*#^&*@# - or Nebraska or ...), they were likely in. Is it worse to know just how close they were? I don’t know. But it of course brought out all the critics. This marked the 4th consecutive year Iowa has lost its opening round game of the Big Ten Tournament.

Let me just say this: it’s frustrating as hell. Almost as frustrating as the bowl game disasters the football team has had lately. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. The Hawkeyes have had some excellent teams the last few years. And all of them have been beaten by a lower seed in the BTT. But this year, we knew it was a possibility. We knew Indiana was a team much better than a 10 seed and that Iowa was a roller coaster of a team who could either get bounced in the first round or make a push to the championship. Unfortunately, once again, it was the latter. And everything we knew about his team and the circumstances is precisely why anyone calling for Fran’s head after last Thursday needs to be called out as an internet troll or someone with no knowledge of basketball. Fran is the man. He has this program headed in the right direction. And the future is no less bright after Thursday than it was before it. And whether Iowa gets ousted by South Dakota (and former Hawkeye Trey Dickerson - who has been doing just fine, thank you) in the first round of the NIT or makes another trip to Madison Square Garden for a championship showdown, those facts will remain unchanged.

Speaking of that bright future, a pair of future Hawkeyes and McCafferys won another Iowa class 4A state championship over the weekend. The youngest, Patrick, did his part. He finished with 12 points, five assists and a pair of blocks. Oh, and some sweet faces while dunking

And Pat’s older brother, West High senior Connor McCaffery did his part too. he led all scorers with 19 along with eight boards and three steals. The Hawkeyes are getting a good one next year.

Fellow incoming Hawkeye commit Jack Nunge also seems to have some talents that could be useful.

Try defending against that.

AJ Epenesa is universally regarded as an all-world football player who could have an immediate impact on the Iowa Football squad next season. Maybe the basketball staff should find a spot for him?

And the big man can get up!

The full NCAA bracket was, indeed released yesterday. While it’s disappointing the Hawkeyes fell short of a bid, I think we can all find solace in the fact that, despite totally botching a number of seeds (Minnesota as a 5 with Wisconsin an 8???), the committee set up ISU for a classic 12 seed upset of a 5 seed and left Syracuse at the altar. If you’re still looking to prove your internet wisdom and general superiority, you’re encouraged to join the Black Heart Gold Pants bracket challenge. And with the Hawkeyes officially out of the NCAA Tournament, Iowa fans need to find another team to root for. I suggest hitching your wagon to the Arizona/Sean Miller. After REDACTED pulled an REDACTED and called a TO with a second to go in an earlier defeat of the Wildcats, Miller gave the Bruins’ coach a taste of his own medicine. The d$&%^#bag didn’t like it. Good.

On the topic of former Hawkeyes, let’s look at decent human beings. Jarrod Uthoff got his shot at the NBA last week. After signing a 10-day contract, Uthoff saw his first action on Friday. In two minutes of play he tore it up with 2 personal fouls and no other accumulated stats. I’m not positive on the math, but I believe the 10-day contract is worth somewhere between $30-35k. Not bad for a couple minutes’ work. Here’s hoping Mr. Uthoff gets more of an opportunity to earn that payday soon.

And finally, because it’s Monday morning and moping around about an NIT birth rather than an NCAA invite sounds like a crappy way to start the week, here’s a random look at the evolution of the artist formerly known as the Birdman.

Here’s to hoping your week progresses better than Bridman’s face over his career. Go Hawks. See you in Carver on Wednesday. The future is bright.