There’s been much ink, both digital and actual, spilled over this Iowa basketball season. I suppose that’s to be expected given the way it has gone. It’s been a remarkable ride and candidly it’s been worth the ink.
If you would have told most Iowa fans at the end of last season that they would be waking up the Monday morning of Big Ten Tournament week with a Hawkeye team in the 6th seed, with a 21-10 record, they would have thought you were nuts. Any one of us would have signed up for that in a heart beat.
Yet here we are on the Monday of the Big Ten Tournament and you’d be hard pressed to find an Iowa fan who would use anything other than frustrating or disappointing be the season we all just endured. That likely says as much about how much last year’s team underachieved than anything else.
A season ago, this team had many of the tools we saw on display for a good portion of this season - the better portion. And yet that group, which is to say this group with the exception of Joe Wieskamp, managed the putrid record of just 14-19 and 4-14 in the Big Ten. So we came into this season with unreasonably low expectations. Those were quickly blown out of the water when this team played up to its true potential.
Now, on this Monday, our expectations for the end are much the same as they were at the beginning.
Iowa basketball is not fun. It hasn’t been fun for weeks. That doesn’t just go for fans, it clearly isn’t fun for anyone involved in the program, either. That, more than any of the scores or the losses, is what has made this season so frustrating and disappointing.
After weeks of build up with all the promise this team showed, all the fun this team was to watch, it has fallen off a cliff. Each time it seems to have hit rock bottom, they find new ways to rip the still beating hearts from the Hawkeye faithful. A week ago, coming off an embarrassing home lose to an abysmal Rutgers team on senior day, it seemed as though things couldn’t get any worse.
If I’ve learned anything in my many (or not so many, depending on your view on things) years on this earth, it’s that things can always get worse. That’s what we saw on Thursday night at Wisconsin. It was yet another completely uninspiring performance by a group of players who seemed wholly uninterested in putting forth any effort.
Just when things appeared to be turning around, as Hawkeye fans allowed themselves to grasp on to one last straw for hope of a season-saving change with a runaway road win to close things out, we saw a massive collapse. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the season in one game.
For 37 minutes, Iowa looked like the vastly superior team. They weren’t having a perfect game by any stretch, but they were shooting the ball relatively well from beyond the arc for the first time in weeks. They were active and competitive on the glass and that translated to at least some semblance of defense.
Then the wheels fell off. After being up by as much as 16 at one point in the second half and 9 with only 50 seconds left, the Hawkeyes were torched by 4 three-pointers in the final minute of regulation. It was the most gut-wrenching loss of the season. You could compare it to what Iowa was able to do to Northwestern and Rutgers earlier in the year, but those teams had nothing to play for. Losing those games had to implications for the rest of their seasons. The collapse by the Hawkeyes took what could have been a pivot-point for this season and furthered the death by paper cuts the Iowa fanbase has endured for the last few weeks.
So now, on this Monday morning of the Big Ten Tournament, when Hawkeye fans should be brimming with excitement for a team that has accomplished much throughout the season, we’re instead dreading the need to endure more punishment from this team. As I’ve written numerous times before, Iowa fans are hard-coded to always be waiting for the other shoe to drop. We cannot enjoy any success without worrying about the inevitable fall. Now, in this season, where we’re past the success, we still are forced to endure and wait for further letdown.
There’s blame to go around. Head coach Fran McCaffery, 52-54 record in February and March while at Iowa (credit Jordan Hansen for the stat), certainly deserves some for the way this team has performed over the home stretch. But the players themselves, with the complete lack of energy for the last few weeks when the shots haven’t been falling, are not without reproach.
At the end of the day, they’re just kids. They’re 18-22 year old kids. They don’t want to lose any more than we want to watch them lose. But they certainly haven’t played with any of the fire and passion of their head coach of late. And their head coach hasn’t been able to channel that fire into any meaningful changes to help this team right the ship.
So here we are, feeling frustrated and disappointed. It’s time for that to change. This team and this staff have to find a way to approach these final few games in a way that is totally unlike the way they’ve played the last six. If they can’t do that, it’s time for changes in the offseason.
That may not mean what many Hawkeye fans are wanting - Fran McCaffery isn’t going anywhere and he shouldn’t. But something has to change. The defense has to get better. It’s unacceptable and there’s no reason this staff can’t find an answer. And the late-season collapses have to stop. It could be conditioning, it could be peaking too soon, it could be any number of things. Whatever the cause, there are a handful of people getting paid a lot of money to know the answer.
If there aren’t changes, it’s nothing but more frustration and disappointment for Hawkeye fans - the rest of this season and the foreseeable future.
Happy Monday. Whatever you have going on this week, put forth the effort. Don’t have a late-week collapse. If you’re looking for inspiration, the Iowa women will likely be a 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. You’ll be able to watch them in Carver starting a week from Friday and their effort from Megan Gustafson and the entire team is a thing of beauty.