Jon Miller: I can't lie, this Hawkeye loss hurts
I’d like to tell you Iowa’s loss on Thursday night in Ames isn’t a big deal, but it’s not easy.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I can tell you that using logic and history.
I could tell you a loss in December means nothing to Iowa’s chances of putting together a good season in the Big Ten Conference, and that would be true.
Iowa lost to Iowa State at home last year and went on to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes won a first-round game in record-setting fashion. Everybody felt great. Last season was satisfying, the climb out of the Big Ten basement was complete and fans were happy.
Iowa lost to Iowa State two years ago in Ames in a game that seemed a lot like Thursday night’s loss, but the Hawkeyes still went on to qualify for their first NCAA Tournament in nearly a decade. Things worked out, people were mostly pleased.
I could tell you that a senior-dominated lineup will be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and shake off the fact of blowing a 20-point lead with less than 17 minutes remaining, or blowing an eight-point lead with less than three minutes remaining. I could do that with a straight face because they’ve done that sort of thing before. They can remind themselves of victories at Chapel Hill, Bloomington, Ann Arbor and Columbus from a year ago, the first time that has happened since Shep was a pup.
I could tell you those things and more without being out of bounds, out of line or out of my mind.
The problem is that it felt like a big deal. It felt like a big loss. It felt like a huge opportunity squandered.
The Iowa basketball program really, really needed a marquee win like that in this season. A win that would resonate all the way to Selection Sunday in March. A win that would have boosted their RPI and given them a hammer if the Hawkeyes find themselves on the bubble three months from now.
Beating the No. 4 team in the nation would have improved Iowa’s record to 8-2 and probably into the Top 25 for the third season in a row. It would have positioned them well for a third consecutive NCAA Tournament.
I believe those things are all important as next season has the markings of a rebuilding year, what with 10 or more freshmen or sophomores dotting the lineup.
Iowa really needed to hold on to that win on Thursday night. The loss felt like a collective kick to the groin of Hawkeye Nation, a fan base that has been riding high since September and one unaccustomed to losses for three months as the football team took them on an unforgettable ride.
Iowa lost to Michigan State in football last Saturday in excruciating fashion. Five days later, the basketball team lost a game it should have won in a cruel fashion.
Iowa State has a great team and one of the best home-court advantages in all of the sport. Friday’s headlines were dominated by ISU students storming the court, and while I am not an advocate of storming the court or field (Iowa fans rushed the field at Kinnick far too often six or seven years ago and it just seems tired), the real story was Iowa’s collapse. Or Iowa State’s comeback, or Hilton Magic, or Fran McCaffery not using a timeout in another end-game situation with a close game ending with Iowa on the losing end of the score; that has been a fairly consistent thing under McCaffery.
For the emotionally unstable folks saying they’ve moved on from McCaffery, that’s silly talk. The pain will fade and you’ll see clearly soon enough.
But this loss hurts. It hurts plenty and will linger for a while, since Iowa will be taking finals this week and won’t play again until next Saturday against Drake.
In the meantime, Hawkeye Nation will just need to walk down to their local florist, go to the Rose section and breathe deeply.
There … I feel better already.