Leistikow: Where does Sunday's Iowa win at Ohio State rank in Fran McCaffery era?
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Several people texted me after Sunday's 73-57 Iowa victory at Ohio State to ask one variety or another of the same question: Was this the best win of the Fran McCaffery era?
At first, I kind of thought ... yeah, maybe it was. But I wanted to think it through, and I couldn't imagine two better guys to consult with than Rick Brown (my former Register colleague and a newspaper legend with a steel-trap memory) and Tom Kakert (of HawkeyeReport.com, who has covered all of the McCaffery years). They helped make sure I didn't leave any obvious games out.
And all three of us agreed on No. 1.
The discussion was fun and led to me ranking the top 10 wins of the McCaffery era, both regular season and postseason, with a sentence or two on each. (Spoiler: None of the four NIT wins in 2013 made the cut.)
No. 10: Iowa 78, Iowa State 64 (Dec. 8, 2016) — The Cyclones had owned Iowa (having won six of seven) and would go on to win that season's Big 12 Tournament. But the Hawkeyes, who had started 3-5 including a home loss to Nebraska Omaha, blitzed Monte Morris and Co. behind Peter Jok's 23 points in Iowa City.
No. 9: Iowa 60, North Carolina 55 (Dec. 3, 2014) — Anytime you can win in The Dean Dome, it's a monumental moment. Mike Gesell won the battle of point guards from Iowa; he scored 16 points. The Tar Heels' Marcus Paige had 13 on 4-for-16 shooting.
No. 8: Iowa 72, Wisconsin 65 (Dec. 31, 2011) — A young freshman named Aaron White came off the bench to score 18 points in a stunning upset of the 11th-ranked Badgers, who had won 12 of 14 against Iowa. This marked a key step forward in Year 2 of the McCaffery era.
No. 7: Iowa 83, Davidson 52 (March 20, 2015) —Iowa collecting its first NCAA Tournament win in 14 years definitely makes the list. After one timeout in Seattle, White came to the huddle telling teammates, "They can't guard me." He was right. White scored 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
No. 6: Iowa 83, Michigan State 70 (Dec. 29, 2015) — With 50,000 Iowa fans in Los Angeles in anticipation of the Rose Bowl, Gesell was back in Iowa City scoring 25 points (and walk-on Nicholas Baer was everywhere) to lead a home upset of then-No. 1 Michigan State. If Spartans' all-American Denzel Valentine had played, this would be higher on the list. (Stay tuned.)
No. 5: Iowa 84, Ohio State 74 (Jan. 12, 2014) — The Buckeyes were 15-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country before the Hawkeyes came to Columbus in front of a national CBS audience and announced their arrival. Devyn Marble scored 22 points, and eight days later Iowa had secured its first top-10 ranking of the McCaffery era.
No. 4: Iowa 76, Michigan State 59 (Jan. 14, 2016) — Valentine was back for the No. 4 Spartans, but Iowa was up to the challenge to end an 18-game losing streak inside the Breslin Center. Jok was sensational, with 23 points. Afterward, Jarrod Uthoff (15 points) said plainly: "We knew we were the better team."
No. 3: Iowa 67, Purdue 65 (March 5, 2011) — The final game of an 11-19 regular season provided a resounding signal that McCaffery, in Year 1 after the dormant Todd Lickliter years, had the necessary buy-in to revive the program. Jarryd Cole had 16 points and 10 rebounds in Iowa City to deny the sixth-ranked Boilermakers' shot at a Big Ten title.
No. 2: Iowa 79, Cincinnati 72 (March 22, 2019) — In Columbus, Iowa fell behind by 12 points in the first half of its first NCAA Tournament game in three years but fought back to overtake the Bearcats behind up-and-coming sophomore Luka Garza's 20 points. Freshman Joe Wieskamp added 19, and the Hawkeyes would push second-seeded Tennessee to overtime two days later before falling just shy of their first Sweet 16 since 1999.
No. 1: Iowa 73, Ohio State 57 (Feb. 28, 2021) — Yes, Sunday was No. 1. Given the expectations of this season ... and the fact that Iowa was a projected No. 3 NCAA Tournament seed playing at a projected No. 1 with an elusive top-four Big Ten Tournament seeding possibly at stake ... this was a statement against a top-five opponent. The dominance against a great team reminded me of that 2016 win in East Lansing, except in this case there was more on the line. Iowa is now in the conversation for a No. 2 NCAA seed; heck, maybe a No. 1 if it keeps winning. In addition, Garza delivered no doubt with 24 clutch points on 10-of-16 shooting that he deserves to be Big Ten player of the year.
Sunday will mark a memorable win for years and possibly decades to come ... although, a month or two from now, Hawkeye fans surely hope that there are more 2021 games atop this list.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.