You can do a lot of magical things with what-ifs. You can turn your whole world around. What if your parents had been billionaires? (I can't find another what-if to top that one. Billionaires for parents would pretty much open most of the doors you wanted to open.)
But when it comes to men's major-college basketball in Iowa, the what-ifs are plentiful and widespread. Do you realize how close we are to having all three state teams well-positioned for either NCAA tournament berths or runs at conference titles?
Iowa is 6-7 in the Big Ten. That's a humdrum record, but of course the Hawkeyes have five Big Ten losses by either three points or four, with one of those going overtime and another two overtimes. One was against Michigan State when the Hawkeyes were without Devyn Marble, who had an injured ankle.
Win just two of those games, and you're 8-5 in the league and 19-7 overall, with a favorable remaining schedule. You're going to the NCAAs barring a total meltdown.
But everyone forgets the close wins. OK, Iowa beat Wisconsin by four points and Penn State by two. But the Wisconsin score is a little deceiving, since the Hawkeyes never trailed in that game, and led by as much as 20 points. And though the win at Penn State last week was close, Iowa never trailed in the final 18 minutes.
Iowa State is 7-5 in the Big 12. It lost at Kansas in overtime, lost by 5 points at Texas Tech, lost by 2 at Oklahoma State, and by 3 in double-overtime at Texas.
Win two of those games, and you're tied for the fewest losses in Big 12 play.
The Cyclones' only conference victory by five points or less was by 2 against West Virginia. The Mountaineers never had the lead in the second half, or the ball with a chance to take the lead.
Iowa's last NCAA tournament win was in 2001, against Creighton.
Northern Iowa goes to its game at Missouri State Tuesday night with a 9-6 record in the Missouri Valley.
It lost by 4 to Indiana State, by 3 to Evansville, by 1 at Indiana State, and by 3 in overtime at Evansville. Had it won two of those games, it would be tied for the league-lead with Wichita State heading into that Missouri State game.
UNI's closest win was a 3-point decision at Bradley. The Panthers led 37-18 at halftime. Bradley came all the way back to within 66-65 with :15 left, but never had the ball with a chance to take the lead.
One or two more baskets by the Hawkeyes, Cyclones and Panthers in a couple of their games, or one or two misses by their opponents, and mock NCAA brackets would be chock full o' teams from Iowa. You know the old expression, though. Your record is what it says it is.
But still ... what if?