There comes a point in time when fans get tired of making excuses for their team. A moment occurs when no matter how much they may love your favorite program, they’ve finally had enough.
The Iowa basketball team has pushed its supporters to the brink of such exasperation.
A consistently top 25 ranked team for the vast majority of the season and even a dark horse Final Four pick, the Hawkeyes have fallen flat on their faces in recent weeks.
For awhile the prevailing sentiment among fans was that Iowa was merely going through the proverbial “slump” that almost every team seems to go through at least once over the course of a season. That was until the team’s first two game losing streak all year turned into a three game losing streak, and that led to losses in five of the last six games in conference play, effectively sinking Iowa’s once probable chances of receiving a first round bye at this week’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
Now no one is really in the mood to chalk up these losing habits to a “slump”.
After watching the Hawkeyes plummet from contention for the aforementioned first round bye, and even more importantly, a high NCAA Tournament seed, fans are no longer to willing to give slack to Iowa.
It’s time for a change.
Either the Hawkeyes pick themselves up from their recent abysmal play, or fall further into obscurity as merely another mediocre squad that doesn’t really have the fortitude to become anything more. The choice is theirs.
In the grand scheme of things this season could really be called a successful step in the ascension of the Iowa program back to prominence. Head coach Fran McCaffery has rebuilt the previously floundering Hawkeyes and re-instilled confidence and fan support. Iowa will be in the NCAA Tournament in just his fourth year on the job, and has shown improvement in each successive season since he arrived in Iowa City.
This would all be perfectly acceptable if that was this team’s expectation, but it’s not. Numerous Iowa players have talked about challenging for a long-since lost Big Ten regular season title, and maybe more importantly being able to compete with any of the best teams in America. Those goals and feelings were made public by the players, not merely concocted out of thin air by the media.
It would be one thing if Iowa lacked talent or had shown no evidence of being able to play high level basketball. On numerous occasions the Hawkeyes have flashed such ability (see an 85-67 thrashing of conference champion Michigan, or an 84-74 clinic of a win at Ohio State), so for it to be mostly absent for the better part of the past month is unacceptable.
If this team really wants to be respected by both its own fans and by those outside of the program it needs to show it out on the court.
A first round win against lowly Northwestern tonight is not going to quell any of the mounting concerns over the team (lose and all hell might break loose). For Iowa to get its fans squarely back behind it, a win of some merit and validation is needed.
Look no further than a potential second round match-up against 3-seed Michigan State.
The Spartans have been Iowa’s nemesis for quite some time, winning the last eight meetings, including knocking the Hawkeyes out of the conference tournament each of the past three seasons. If Iowa really wants to regain the respect that it has in large part lost, beat Michigan State.
A loss to MSU, even another one of the down-t0-the-wire contests that the two teams have often had against each other, will do nothing but signal a continuance of the status quo.
Win tonight against Northwestern, take down the Spartans tomorrow, and I believe Iowa will make a run all the way to the tournament final (I have neither the guts to predict such a thing will happen, nor that the Hawkeyes would win the final even if they made it that far). Bow out early again and this team will have not shown anything that leads people to believe it will have success once March Madness begins in earnest next week.
If this team wants our respect and recognition it needs to go earn it. Because no one, fans and press alike, is willing to give it the benefit of the doubt any longer.