Don’t believe in curses, but Iowa’s NCAA Tournament woes hard to explain
Maybe Iowa's NCAA Tournament drought too much of a burden for teams to carry
By Pat Harty
You never would convince me that the Iowa men’s basketball team is under an NCAA Tournament curse due to how Tom Davis was treated as a lame duck coach nearly a quarter century ago.
Because that’s just silly.
Even the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.
Some fans still like to go there, half-jokingly I would hope, after Iowa makes an early exit from March Madness as was the case again on Thursday as No. 12 seed Richmond upset the fifth-seed Hawkeyes 67-63 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo, New York.
So, the dubious streak lives on, 23 consecutive seasons in which Iowa has failed to make the Sweet 16.
Heck, this team didn’t even make it out of the first round against a team with 12 losses, and despite having won 26 games, having a first-team All-American on the roster in Keegan Murray, and having the program’s all-time leader in assists, 3-point field goals and games played in sixth-year senior point guard Jordan Bohannon.
I don’t believe in jinxes or curses or whatever you want to call something that is hard to explain.
But I am starting to believe that the weight of Iowa’s festering NCAA Tournament failures becomes a burden for each Iowa team that now has to carry it into the postseason.
Fran McCaffery probably wouldn’t agree with that because he lives in the moment and doesn’t worry about things he can’t control.
But there has to be a reasonable explanation for why Iowa so often unravels in the NCAA Tournament.
It can’t just be a coincidence because a coincidence doesn’t last for over two decades.
Iowa looked timid, nervous and indecisive in Thursday’s loss to Richmond, as if the weight of its NCAA Tournament history was too much to carry.
Even Keegan Murray looked timid and nervous at times, especially in the first half.
He just wasn’t himself, which happens to even the best players every now and then.
Unfortunately, for Iowa fans, it happened in the NCAA Tournament, and in what was almost certainly Keegan Murray’s final game as a Hawkeye as he is expected to declare for the 2022 NBA Draft as a sophomore.
The problem with the NCAA Tournament is that it has become such a massive event that it overshadows whatever happens before it.
It was just five days ago that Iowa won the Big Ten Tournament as a five seed with four victories in four days.
There are memories to cherish forever, but sadly, those memories are now dwarfed by what happened on Thursday against Richmond.
It is reminiscent of the 2005-06 season when Iowa won the Big Ten Tournament as a No. 2 seed, but then lost to Northwestern State 64-63 in the first round. of the NCAA Tournament.
If those two teams would’ve played 20 times in 2006, Iowa probably would’ve won 19 times.
The gap between Iowa and Richmond this season wasn’t as wide as the gap between Iowa and Richmond in 2006, but Iowa was clearly the better team on paper.
Play a seven-game series and Iowa almost certainly would prevail.
But it only takes one win in the Big Dance, and therein lies the true beauty of the event, unless you’re on the wrong side of the final score.
Iowa became the latest five seed to lose to a 12 seed. There were three games in the 2019 NCAA Tournament in which the five seed lost toma 12 seed.
So, what happened on Thursday wasn’t that unusual because 12 seeds have a knack for pulling off upsets.
What was unusual is that Iowa lost because it was taken out of its game on offense where the slow and deliberate pace never worked to Iowa’s advantage.
The fact that Iowa also shot poorly from 3-point range was another big factor in the loss, but sometimes, that just happens, even to good shooting teams.
And it wasn’t as if Richmond torched the nets, making just 5-of-17 3-point shots.
Upsets often occur in the NCAA Tournament when the underdog catches fire from 3-point range, but that wasn’t the case in Thursday’s game as Richmond missed a bunch of open shots.
But Iowa just couldn’t take advantage as its normally high-powered offense continued to sputter.
Iowa fans are upset and frustrated, and understandably so.
But those screaming for sweeping changes, or, saying that Fran McCaffery is a horrible game-day coach need to settle down.
Iowa’s 26 wins is the second most in program history and this team is just one of three in program history to win the Big Ten Tournament.
Those are worthy accomplishments, but they also make what happened against Richmond harder to explain.
Iowa was on a roll heading into Thursday’s game, but then came out flat and listless.
Iowa goes from combining to make 40 3-point baskets in the four Big Ten Tournament games to making just 6-of-29 attempts from 3-point range in Thursday’s game.
Again, I’m starting to at least wonder if Iowa’s NCAA Tournament woes have become too much of a burden for the teams that now have to carry it.
Tom Davis was the last head coach to lead Iowa to the Sweet 16, and he did it as a lame duck coach in 1999.
The players rallied behind Davis whose contract wasn’t renewed by then Iowa Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby, by making the Sweet 16.
Most of those players are now in their early to mid-40s.