Hawk Blog: Hawks, Alford Survive in Chicago

Hawk Blog

Friday, March 11th, 2005

Can you remember a more pressure packed two weeks of Iowa Basketball than what we have just witnessed?

Steve Alford said after Iowa blew a second half lead against Minnesota back in late February that the pressure was now off of his team and maybe they can go out there and play like they are having fun.

They did just that against Penn State the next game, blowing out the Nits in their first road win of the year. Then Jeff Horner hit a buzzer beater against Ohio State. Then the Hawks pulled one out in overtime against Michigan.

Three up, three down to end the season, good enough for a seventh seed in the Big Ten tournament.

The Hawks rolled the Carl Landry-less Purdue Boilermakers, sending Gene Keady to the showers for good.

But that was where it was supposed to end.

After all, Iowa could not be #10 Michigan State.

I didn't think so, and truth be told, most of you didn't think so, either.

But these ‘never say die' Hawkeyes believed they could, and they did, refs be damned.

The Ghost of Tom Rucker invaded Ted Valentine, yet the Hawkeyes still beat the more talented Spartans who picked a bad night to be average from the free-throw line.

When Alan Anderson, a near 90-percent free throw shooter, misses two with less than seven seconds to play and his team down by one, it's your night.

Five in a row. Five must win games in a row.

Say what you will about Steve Alford, and I know that I have over these past few weeks when it appeared as though Iowa was headed for a sure fire NCAA tourney-less march into March; he knows how to rally the troops when the chips are down.

If he could bottle up what it feels like to have to win out in the Big Ten tourney, who could beat these Hawkeyes in the regular season?

I wish we knew why it takes Iowa so long to play with a sense of urgency, but that has been a pattern in three of Alford's six seasons in Iowa City.

You had the ‘four in four' in 2001, then the following year the incredibly disappointing 2001-2002 team won its first three games in the Big Ten tourney, only to fall to Ohio State in the title game. Iowa's seven straight BTT wins are a league record.

Now what?

Is Iowa in the Big Dance? They might be. If they lose on Saturday, we will all be sweating it out on selection Sunday unlike any season since the 1985-86 season where Iowa gained entry into the tourney as an 11 seed.

It's been 20 years since we have had to deal with that drama, with that type of unknown. A loss tomorrow means we are dealing with it, but a win tomorrow means that Iowa fans can rest easy, as an NCAA bid would certainly be in the offing.

I don't know the answer to this, but has any Big Ten team with 21 wins ever been omitted from the NCAA tourney dance card since the field expanded to 64 teams? A 20-10 (9-7) Iowa team did not get the invite in 1997-1998.

Any way you slice it, the Hawks have been quite entertaining over the last five games.

Doug Thomas is starting to play like a monster. Mike Henderson's contributions are coming at a great time, and he made us all forget about Pierre Pierce on Friday night. Jeff Horner, Adam Haluska and Greg Brunner are practically willing this team to the NCAA tourney.

Back to Alford for a moment; did he just save his job? Was it in jeopardy?

If Iowa makes it to the NCAA tourney, he will not be fired. If that happens, we will never know if Bob Bowlsby was close to pulling the trigger. It will be a debate for coffee shops and Internet message boards.

I said before the year began that if Iowa did not make it to the NCAA's, Alford should be replaced. I said that believing that there was no way that this year's team would not make it.

Another Pierre Pierce felony accusation later, and the Hawks were on the ropes.

Watching this team come together and enjoy playing with one another these last five games has been a joy. If they can win just one more, they are going dancing for sure.

They might be already.

But there has been enough drama for one season, hasn't there? Just win on Saturday, Hawks.

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