The Iowa Hawkeyes are in prime position for a postseason run, yet Hawkeye fans are ready to pounce the second anything goes wrong. This week, we’re going in on the fanbase, this season and who hurt us.
Buckle, it’s a free-for-all!
JP: Jerrrrrryyyyyyy, the Iowa Hawkeyes are in third place in the Big Ten as of Monday morning. How. You. Living my man?
Jerry: Wellllll JP, I’m living great. But I want to rant about something. Something you and I have talked about multiple times. Something I talked about on this weeks SpoCo Radio as well.
Can you set a quick pick for me so I can get a little space and ISO my way to the basket real quick?
JP: Buddy, my old man game is nothing but shot fakes and moving screens. You are wide open at the top of the key with a slow big man lumbering toward you from below the free throw line. All options are open. Hit me with it!
Jerry: If I have all that space, I’m definitely coming in to dunk on dudes.
Let me take you back a bit. Back to last March. Iowa, who was 14-19 the season before (talk about skies fallig), now found themselves BACK in the tournament as a 10 seed. Already a major underdog after a typical Franuary Fade, Iowa had the tall task of having to play No. 7 Cincinnati in a glorified home game in Columbus. From the opening tip, Iowa seemed to have missed something like 20 of their first 22 shots. They looked doomed yet again. More March sadness. More misery. More pain. More anger.
Except, it didn’t happen. Instead, Iowa found a way to create a spark late that eventually helped them knock off the AAC champions 79-72 for their first tournament win in four years. A few days later, Iowa would give every single last one of us the most thrilling comeback in school history against #2 seeded Tennessee (never forget that 43-22 second half. NEVER EVER!). They were so close to their first Sweet 16 since 1999, but ultimately didn’t have enough fire power left in overtime to get the win, but nobody and I mean nobody faulted them after that effort.
Rather, we clapped our hands and congratulated them on leaving everything on the floor and fighting for Iowa. That’s what this university and great state of Iowa is all about. Never quitting. Always fighting when you’re backed into a corner. Never let die.
Now I know hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back on those two tournament games, I believe that was a turning point for this program, for Fran McCaffery and for these players. When their season was on the line, Iowa fought and clawed and pushed and made us swallow our words and we all salivated watching it like proud parents. In that moment, faith was restored in McCaffery and Co.
How soon we forget that.
From that loss to Tennessee, Iowa basketball went through continuous and mountainous changes. A refresher:: Nicholas Baer graduated, Maishe Dailey decided to transfer out of the program, Tyler Cook decided to enter the NBA Draft, Wieskamp made us all hold our breaths as he tested the NBA waters before ultimately deciding to come back, assistant coach Andrew Francis decided to leave the program (the first coach under McCaffery to do so), Isaiah Moss decided to transfer, Fran was ripped for his 2020 recruiting class (double time after missing out on Xavier Foster who chose Iowa State over the Hawkeyes), Iowa gets the doors blown off against Depaul (which turned out to be a not so bad loss that turned into kind of a bad loss again once Big East play began), Jack Nunge tore his ACL against Cal FORKIGN Poly, Patrick McCaffery starts to face some residual health issues from the thyroid cancer he was diagnosed with and is unable to play basketball or help this team out (and while you might not have thought he was going to be a big part of this season, I sure as hell did), JoBo beat the piss out of Iowa State, left his shoes on their court and then elected to have season ending hip surgery (as first reported by yours truly), rumors immediately began to swirl if he is open to leaving the program as a graduate senior, CJ Frederick injures his ankle and misses a few games, Iowa takes a beating from the Bug Eaters, CJF comes back, Iowa gets the shit kicked out of them at Purdue and Indiana, they lose CJF again (and maybe for the last time this season) and of course, Pemsl gets a suspension for driving without a license.
Yet, with all of that stacked against them, what did Iowa do? They watched a Top-100 big man recruit turn into the best player in the country, beat the piss out of Texas Tech, Syracuse, Iowa State and Cincy (AGAIN) in the non-conference. They have only lost a single game at home including victories against No. 12 Maryland, Minnesota by 20(!!!!!!!), No. 19 Michigan, No. 24 Rutgers, No. 19 Illinois, and a sweet revenge beat down of the Bugeaters. They also won a game at Minnesota they had no reason winning despite having literally 0 offense without Luka Garza who was being jobbed by the officials the entire game. Oh and that was in the month of February. They’ve been basically ranked inside the Top-25 since Christmas. And with three home games remaining (at the time of this writing), they have a real shot of finishing the Big Ten season with 12 wins for the first time since that magical 2016 run.
So please, tell me again, why in holy hell are we all acting as if this season has been a Greek tragedy. Tell me again why Fran McCaffery is knee deep in complaints when they lose a road game in the toughest Big Ten Conference maybe ever? Tell me again why Iowa fans can’t just let go of the past pain and enjoy this ride? This was never ever ever ever supposed to be this great. Everything has been stacked against Iowa and here they are GETTING THE JOB DONE DESPITE A SMORGASBORD OF ISSUES.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
JP: Because Iowa fans, Jerry. Because Iowa fans. On the whole, we have some incredible hypocrisy and cynicism. It’s built on generations of disappointment.
We’ve talked a lot about our incredibly high hopes for next year IF we can get the likes of Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon back. Fran would have all the weapons at his disposal to make a legitimate run at a regular season Big Ten title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, there’s that little voice in the back of our heads telling us they’ll find a way to screw it up. Luka will leave early. JoBo will transfer. Someone will get hurt. Fran will go back to line changes or no timeouts or whatever and we’ll see the return of the fade. SOMETHING is going to happen to derail next year.
Because it always has. We can’t have nice things. So at the first sight of trouble, our minds have been trained to assume the worst. This is the beginning of the end. Purdue is shooting lights out? WE ARE TERRIBLE AT DEFENSE! Fredrick gets hurt at Indiana? WE AREN’T WINNING ANOTHER GAME ALL YEAR!
Bad things are always just around the corner.
And yet, despite expecting just that at the beginning of this season, we are all somehow still upset when Iowa doesn’t win every single game. Because despite that voice in the back of our head always expecting things to fall apart, we simultaneously have an innate ability to have absurdly optimistic expectations for our teams.
We expect the basketball team to go the NCAA Tournament every single year. We expect the football team to win 10 games every single year. We aspire to be a blueblood in college athletics and expect our teams to achieve at that level now.
It. Is. Absurd. You can’t have both. You can’t go into a season and expect to lose more games than you win and then be upset that your team loses a few road games and their shot at a Big Ten regular season title. You can’t expect the football team to win 7-8 games and then be upset they didn’t go to the Big Ten Championship. You can’t.
But we do.
And so here we are, upset that Iowa isn’t going to have as high of an NCAA Tournament seed as we would like. They probably aren’t winning the Big Ten regular season title. They may not even get a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament. But this team has overachieved as much as any team in the country. They’ve outperformed the most optimistic expectations BEFORE all the injuries occurred and they’ve given us every reason to be optimistic about the season. But again, we are far too optimistic and unrealistic in our expectations. We aren’t winning them all.
But what is reasonable for the rest of this year? What should we expect for these last few games and the postseason? What would disappoint you and what would have you positively surprised?
Jerry: What a wild thing it is to be a Hawkeye fan. It’s just always interesting. But I disagree in terms of the football program. I feel like there are way, WAY less vocal fans that are upset/pissed if Iowa only wins 8-games because “we’re just Iowa” and “that’s what Kirk does” and “we don’t have the same type of kids in this program”. And when we do have special seasons where Iowa pushes 10+ victories, I feel like we, for the most part, take pride in it. We bathe in it. We band together and fight everyone else about how wrong they are about our beloved program.
But not with basketball. The sky is always falling.
Before I answer your question about the end of the season, I have to ask, is this just a Fran thing? Is this a basketball thing? Do you disagree with me that the basketball hate is significantly and more consistently hostile?
JP: I’ll preface by saying my opinion on this is obviously skewed by the people I talk with most. Outside the rest of the fine staff here at BHGP, most of the people I talk with have been vocally ready to move on from BOTH Fran and Kirk at some point in the last few years and several are still in that camp.
Obviously it’s for two different reasons, but it’s there nonetheless. I can’t tell you many texts, emails and comments on the site I read last football season complaining about the disappointment of the season because we missed opportunities at Michigan and Penn State and against Wisconsin. We could have been in the title game! Nobody expected us to be there at the beginning of the season (although I believe both you and I predicted them to be in the double-digit win column), but boy were they upset we didn’t get there at the end of it.
It’s the Ferentz fatigue. People are no longer satisfied with 8-9 wins. Despite the fact it literally makes Iowa a top-10 program over the last five years, it isn’t good enough because it’s time to raise the standard (God d*mn it now I’m quoting Matt Campbell)! And they were very real people. And I spent way too many Overreaction Mondays talking about how much disdain I have for those fans.
With hoops, though, we have a totally different dynamic. There was Dr. Tom fatigue, just as there is with Ferentz, and it got us REDACTED. We both remember what came next. But so many Iowa fans seem to have forgotten that. Like with Ferentz, they’re now convinced that since we have dug ourselves out of the bottomless pit of Lick, we are all of a sudden back to where we were in the ‘80s and anything less than NCAA Tournament appearances every year is a complete disappointment.
That is only exacerbated by what I think up until this year has been growing dislike for Fran. People don’t like his substitution patterns. They don’t like his timeout usage. They don’t like his end of half strategy. They really don’t like his fire on the sidelines. IT’S YEAR TEN DAMNIT AND WE NEED TO BE BETTER!
Our fanbase loves to come out of the woodwork to bash the coaching of BOTH programs the minute things head south. Totally different reasons, but I don’t think football escapes the same wrath. If Iowa had been on the receiving end of the beatdown in the Holiday Bowl, there would have been a lot of talk about how disappointing last season was, despite overachieving the vast majority of expectations.
Jerry: You and I have spent a lot of words on these FFF talking about Iowa fandom this year, and I think it’s great. I love trying to understand the psyche of Iowa fans from Iowa and Iowa fans from not Iowa and Iowa fans when expectations are high and when expectations are low. But what I will never understand is how we as a collective can switch so drastically in the middle of a season.
Take me as the prime example: I was one of those guys that was SICKENED by the missed opportunities that Iowa squandered away the last two seasons. Every chance I got, I put my “media” neck on the line and told everyone that reads this site or listens to our podcasts why Iowa would prevail. And it didn’t happen. We were close, but that only counts in horseshoes and getting girls numbers.
Nevertheless, my expectations and hope never wavered. I believed in the defense. I believed in Phil Parker. I believed in Nate. I believed in Brian. I believed. And when I talked about Iowa football, people knew that. Was I frustrated? Absolutely. But at the same time, I understand that “firing Kirk” or hoping Brian “takes an NFL job” doesn’t do anything for this program. The ONLY reason I believe is because of trust. I trust Kirk Ferentz. I trust Brian Ferentz. I trust Phil Parker. I trust the development. I trust Chris Doyle.
You know who I don’t trust? Whoever the hell the next coach would be if the Ferentzi never existed again.
I want Iowa to be a national powerhouse more than anyone. I crave for them to be great. I know they can flirt with it every 3-4 years because they’ve proven it. Do I wish there was more consistency, hell yeah I do. Do I wish they would split with Wisconsin every two years. Damn right. But it’s also ok to realize that without a coaching tree that is absolutely ingrained into IOWA ATHLETICS that have the understanding of what it takes to win here, we could be Nebraska in seconds.
The same thing can be said for McCaffery (and you honestly laid that out beautifully). Carver is rocking again and there is a buzz around this team for the first time since I met you on campus over a decade ago and we thought it would be a great ideas to create a website to rival BHGP (RIP Meet Me on Melrose). People are talking about a Final Four next year. When has that been a real, REAL possibility since Dr. Tom? Just 2005?
It’s ok to hold this university to the highest of standards. It’s also ok to not demand them to be fired the minute something goes wrong. It’s sports. Teams win. Teams lose. But unless we as a fanbase want to hold Iowa football to Alabama standards at all time and Iowa basketball to Duke standards at all times, I think we as a collective need to stop with the weekly “fire Fran/Kirk/Brian” and “I love Fran/Kirk/Brian” hot and cold streak.
JP: I think I have lower standards for the university than a good portion of the fanbase, but I’m willing to agree that it’s fine to hold them to a very high standard. But you also have to acknowledge when they are meeting that standard.
This year, this basketball team is meeting the highest standard I can reasonably imagine for Iowa hoops. As of today, they’re in 3rd place of the best conference in America. They’re within striking distance of first place with four games to go. They’re a top-20 team in the country and they’re going to be a top-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and potentially higher.
All of that despite the adversity we’ve mentioned over and over. And they’re a hell of a lot of fun to watch on top of it all. This team, this season, has earned our trust. Fran McCaffery has earned our trust. There is no February Fade. There is no collapse coming. This team is going to fight and win. It’s time the fanbase overcome our history and just enjoy the ride.