IOWA CITY, Iowa – The 2015-16 sports calendar year is taking Hawkeye fans on an unprecedented journey that started with the Iowa football team winning a school record 12 games.
And now the Iowa men’s basketball team is serving notice that it also might be in the midst of something special.
Iowa improved to 5-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 1996-97 season and 14-3 overall by defeating Michigan 82-71 on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa has won 11 consecutive Big Ten regular-season games dating back to last February.
As somebody who has covered the Iowa beat for a quarter century, it’s hard to think of another time when the Iowa football team and the Iowa men’s basketball team both had the level of success they’re having now.
Both programs had incredible success in the 1950s, but rarely at the same time. The 1980s also were good to both programs, but Iowa hasn’t won a Big Ten regular-season title in men’s basketball since the 1978-79 season.
So they weren’t that good.
The current Iowa team is built to win a Big Ten regular-season title with four senior starters leading the way, along with one of the best perimeter shooters in the conference in 6-foot-6 Peter Jok.
It was the same in football where a talented and influential senior class paved the way for a historic ride in Kirk Ferentz’s 17th season as head coach.
The basketball team still has work to do and obstacles to overcome, but the foundation is solid both physically and mentally.
In addition to being a 6-foot-9 forward with immense talent, Jarrod Uthoff is also the kind of unselfish leader that Iowa needs to help navigate through the Big Ten’s choppy water.
Much of the talk after Sunday’s victory over Michigan is that Iowa could be ranked among the top 10 teams nationally.
Uthoff was asked what it would mean to be ranked in the top 10.
“Nothing,” he said with a blank expression. “I’m very excited. I want to be the best in the country. I think our team wants that.
“But rankings right now don’t matter. They only matter at the end of the season.”
That’s the perfect response because the best way to reach your destination of choice is to focus solely on the journey as it unfolds.
The Iowa football players did that and now the Iowa basketball players are following their example.
It would’ve been even a better year if the Iowa basketball team had hung on to defeat Iowa State in Ames to complete the season sweep with football instead of unraveling down the stretch.
Or maybe not, considering Iowa is 7-0 since the meltdown in Ames with two victories over Michigan State and one against both Purdue and Michigan. Maybe the disaster in Ames is just what Iowa needed to ignite this run.
The Iowa football team also earned a significant victory on Sunday when star legacy recruit A.J. Epenesa announced on Twitter that he had committed to Iowa. The 6-5, 230-pound defensive end is the son of former Iowa defensive lineman Epenesa Epenesa.
A.J. and his father, along with several other family members, sat near courtside during Sunday’s basketball game.
His commitment already had fans stoked before Sunday’s game. The victory over Michigan in basketball just took it to another level.
“This is going to be a really fun year for Iowa fans,” Michigan coach John Beilein said after Sunday’s game.
Beilein was referring to just basketball, but what he said describes the whole year so far. The football season didn’t end on happy note with Iowa losing in the Big Ten Championship game and in the Rose Bowl.
But we might never see an Iowa football team win 12 games in a single season again. The Hawkeyes had combined to win only 19 games during the previous three seasons from 2012-14.
Apathy was on the rise, while attendance was dropping heading into the 2015 season. Both of those problems have since been corrected thanks to winning.
The basketball team has been on a steady climb since Fran McCaffery was hired as head coach in 2010. Each of his first five teams at Iowa accomplished more than the previous team had accomplished.
But few outside of the Iowa players and coaches probably expected this much improvement in McCaffery’s sixth season.
Now it’s just a matter of seeing where this basketball season takes us during a sports calendar year that keeps getting better.