By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Under normal circumstances, there wouldn’t have been a decision to make.
But there is nothing normal about Megan Gustafson or about the Iowa women’s basketball team hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament as a top-10 team and as a No. 2 seed.
So that’s why I had to make a decision about whether to cover Gustafson and her cohorts against Mercer on Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, or cover the Iowa men's first-round game against Cincinnati on Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
The two games will actually overlap with tip-off for the men’s game scheduled for 11:15 a.m. and the women at 1 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
I ultimately chose to stay home and cover the women, mostly out of respect for Gustafson, and for what she and her teammates and coaches have accomplished this season.
Choosing between the men and women would usually be a no-brainer because the men are typically a much bigger story and draw more readers.
The NCAA Tournament also has a rule that prohibits the media from only covering certain games. It is either all or nothing with the Big Dance.
So there was also that risk to consider.
But this is a unique situation with the Iowa women’s team because it is playing so well with a 26-6 overall record, and of course, because of Gustafson’s presence.
The 6-foot-3 senior center leads the nation in scoring and field-goal percentage and has established herself as the greatest player in the history of the Iowa women’s basketball program.
Gustafson already has been named the National Player of the Year by ESPNW.
I feel safe in saying that we’ll never see a player like Gustafson again at Iowa.
She makes double-doubles look almost routine and her team wins at a high level.
The risk with covering the women is that I won’t be there in person should the Iowa men make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
The odds of that happening might seem slim with Iowa having lost five of its last six games, but the NCAA Tournament is where the unlikely and improbable are known to occur.
The Iowa men have enough talented scorers and shooters to where they could get hot and pull of an upset against Cincinnati on Friday as a No. 10 seed.
Stranger things have certainly happened in the Big Dance.
That’s why this was such a hard decision to make. I was torn for two days, going back and forth wondering what my readers would prefer me to do.
Most of the feedback I received said to cover the women, so that helped to make the decision.
But I also wondered if some of the feedback was an overreaction to the men’s team having recently struggled.
Fans are frustrated with this latest skid, and the women are a nice distraction.
I still plan to watch and write a column about the men's game on Friday, and will use whatever quotes that are provided.
And while there is no replacement for being there in person, I attended both of Iowa's games in the Big Ten Tournament last week at the United Center in Chicago, but spent most of my time watching on a television in the media room because I couldn't see the action very well from my courtside seat.
The women have a storyline that we probably won’t see again with a national player of the year candidate leading a top-10 team at home in the NCAA Tournament.
The Iowa women also could face Drake in the second round, and that would create more intrigue with former Iowa player Jennie Baranczyk now coaching the Bulldogs.
This would have been a win-win situation for me no matter what I decided.
The chance to cover the Iowa men’s basketball team in the NCAA Tournament is about as good as it gets on my beat. It is similar to covering the Iowa football team in a bowl game.
Columbus is also a fun town to visit and the drive is tolerable.
So it took something special for me to skip it.
And the chance to cover the national player of the year in women’s basketball, along with her talented supporting cast at home, truly is special.