It had been 12 years since Iowa had last been in the Top Ten of Associated Press' men's college basketball poll. Twelve years. Wow.
It was the poll of Jan. 1, 2002. Iowa was 11-3 and one night from going to 12-3 with a Big Ten-opening 69-57 home win over Wisconsin. Iowa's losses were to then-No. 5 Missouri in Kansas City, then-No. 1 Duke in Chicago, and by two points to Northern Iowa in the UNI-Dome. The Hawkeyes were ranked ninth in the preseason poll, with a big bounce from winning the Big Ten tournament and an NCAA tournament game against Creighton the season before.
"You look at last year, there was enthusiasm and excitement. This year there's tremendous expectation. I think last year we were picked fourth or fifth. This year we're one of those talked of winning the thing.
"I think that's extreme pressure. I think all of us felt that. The last thing you want to start the Big Ten season with is a home loss with all those expectations."
Those comments were harbingers. The '01-02 Hawkeyes hit the rocks in '02. They went 5-11 in the Big Ten, and ended their season with a first-round home loss to LSU for a 19-16 record. Iowa had Reggie Evans, who is still in the NBA, and Luke Recker. But it didn't have top-shelf point guard play, it didn't have chemistry, it didn't have a winning mix.
I had a lot of really wonderful advice for Iowa Coach Steve Alford after that NIT loss. Want to read it? No? Well, here it is anyway:
Leave the preseason hype for others. Even if you have five preseason All-Americas starting for you, let others do the touting in October. They will. Disappointments are compounded by buildups.
Keep telling people the Big Ten is a tough league and nothing can be taken for granted. That's because, even at low tide like this season, the Big Ten is a tough league and nothing can be taken for granted.
Officially put the 2001 Big Ten tourney title in the past. Conference tournaments are great, especially when you perform as well at them as the Hawks have the last two years. But at the major-college level, they aren't the measure of a team's overall status.
Big Ten programs are judged by successes in league play and the NCAA tourney. Iowa has catching up to do there.
Don't call out your players in public. Stop telling us that they don't listen well enough, or that they listen to too many outside voices, or that they aren't vocal enough on the court.
It's up to coaches to get their players to concentrate, to push them to be leaders, to make them reduce turnovers and take better shots, to teach them how to win.
There are no striking parallels between that team and the current Hawkeyes, who are ranked 10th by AP and the USA TODAY coaches' poll. This year's team wasn't in the preseason Top 25. It didn't break into the rankings until the fourth poll of the season, and didn't get into the Top 20 until two weeks ago.
This season's team isn't going 5-and-whatever in the Big Ten. It's 4-1, and almost surely won't be in the NIT for a third-straight year. It has point guards. It has a lot of things.
Whether it will win at Michigan (5-0 in the conference) Wednesday night, we'll see. But that 2002 team was out of the rankings for good three weeks after it was last in the Top Ten. I think this Iowa team will stay ranked for considerably longer.
More rankings notes: Before this season, the last time Iowa was ranked in the AP poll was 2006. It was as high as 12th on Dec. 6, and was 15th in the final poll after winning the Big Ten tourney championship.
The Hawkeyes used to be ranked. A lot. In fact, they were ranked at least sometime in every season from 1979 through 1993, from 1995 through 2002, and from 2004 through 2006.
Here are the seasons since 1979 in which they spent time in the Top Ten and their highest rankings in those years:
1987: 1st (That was the week of Jan. 20. Iowa finished sixth in the final poll that season.)
Here are the total number of appearances Big Ten teams have made in the AP Top Ten since 1949:
Ohio State 225
Michigan State 189
Penn State 4