Hawkeyes, Cyclones try to defy history, odds

Lower-seeds have owned past Big Ten, Big 12 tourneys

Published: March 11 2014 | 3:42 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:28 am in

Don’t blindly accept it when you hear everything starts fresh and new in conference basketball tournaments.

It’s been 13 years since it happened, yet people in Iowa still fondly recall the Hawkeyes’ four-day, four-win march across the Big Ten tourney field in Chicago. But the memory gets hazier all the time.

All but one winner of the Big Ten event since Iowa in 2001 has been a first- or second-seed, and the only one that wasn’t was a No. 3. Five of the league’s last seven tourney-champs were top-seeds.

Iowa remains the only team that began tournament play on Thursday and cut down the nets on Sunday.

There has been a Big 12 tournament since 1997. No team seeded lower than third has ever won it. That’s kind of discouraging if you’re, you know, seeded fourth or lower.

So are we to think sixth-seed Iowa and fourth-seed Iowa State have no hope of becoming champions this weekend? Nah.

As disappointing as Iowa’s final one-third of the Big Ten regular-season was, there still isn’t a team in the league the Hawkeyes can’t hang with on a neutral court.

Iowa really should dispose of Northwestern Thursday night to set up a clash with nemesis Michigan State Friday evening.

“If any of you guys from Ohio think this is the old smash mouth Michigan State team, you’re kidding yourself,” Spartans Coach Tom Izzo said Sunday after his team lost at Ohio State. “We’re not that team, we haven’t been that team for a while. ... We’re a little wimpier than we used to be.”

Interesting. After Iowa lost in overtime at home to MSU on Jan. 28, Fran McCaffery questioned his Iowa team’s toughness.

And after Purdue lost 74-65 to Northwestern Sunday, Boilermakers Coach Matt Painter said “We’ve got to recruit a tougher player. We have some of those guys in our program; some guys we don’t. We’ve got to get that out of them, or maybe this isn’t their place.”

Is it still a conference built on toughness, or isn’t it?

Whatever the answer, let’s say Iowa knocks off Michigan State Friday. Then it has to beat Wisconsin or the team that has upset the Badgers, and follow it with a title-game win over the Michigan team it crushed in Iowa City or some upstart.

As challenges go, maybe taking four games in four days this year isn’t quite as difficult as winning the Iditarod. But you’d like Iowa’s chances a lot more if it merely had to win three times.

As for Iowa State, it can defeat Kansas State in Thursday’s quarterfinals, though it might require a Naz Long 3-point buzzer-beater to do so.

Then the Cyclones would get the winner of the game between Kansas and either Oklahoma State (probably) or Texas Tech. Kansas is without imposing center Joel Embiid, which is liberating to any potential Jayhawks opponent in Kansas City.

So it isn’t a dream to see the Cyclones barging to the title game to face someone it’s already defeated, be it Oklahoma, Texas or Baylor. Hey, maybe ISU hoists its first Big 12 tourney trophy since 2000.

Everything’s fresh and new in the conference tournaments, you know. You just have to ignore history.

 

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