Looking Back and Peering Forward

The big writer in the sky only made one flaw this year as he penned Iowa's storybook season; the Hawks finished one game back of first place. But with a Big Ten Tourney title in tow, Jeff Horner was named the tourney's MVP while Greg Brunner earned first team honors. As Horner and Brunner helped cut down the nets, each snip was cathartic in healing wounds from the past. This was a year of healing and unification, and their legacy will be all about that.

The big writer in the sky only made one flaw this year as he penned Iowa's storybook season; the Hawks finished one game back of first place.

However, Iowa won one of the league's two championships in beating Ohio State in the Big Ten Tourney finale on Sunday. Jeff Horner was named the tourney's MVP while Greg Brunner earned first team honors.

As Horner and Brunner helped cut down the nets, each snip was cathartic in healing wounds from the past. This was a year of healing and unification, and their legacy will be all about that.

As I spent some time on Steve Deace's radio program on Monday (Deace in the Afternoon, 1460 KXNO 3-6pm), there were some calls from Iowa fans that I expected and hated to hear.

People expressing their feelings that they were just waiting for the wheels to fall off this year, fueling their disapproval of Steve Alford. But then in the end, how much they really loved the effort the Iowa kids showed in Indy. Some Iowa fans didn't get to enjoy this season as much as others because of such feelings.

Let's not forget seniors Doug Thomas and Erek Hansen; both played great minutes in this tournament and Hansen was key on Sunday.

However, the faces of the Iowa basketball program for the last four years, or at least the faces we want to remember, belong to Horner and Brunner.

You might be thinking that you have read this column before from me. You are partly right. But I think it bears repeating just what this year's Iowa team has done, and Horner and Brunner were at the heart of it all.

Iowa's 25 wins is the second best single-season mark in school history. Iowa's #3 seed in the tournament is the second best seed an Iowa team has ever earned. Iowa's Big Ten Tournament championship is just the second league title of any kind for Iowa since the late 1970's.

In likely his final game against league competition, Horner was not going to go down without a fight. Every one of his seven field goals was key, and he had 10 assists to two turnovers. When Iowa needed buckets early on in the game with Terence Dials on the bench for Ohio State, they went to Brunner on the block.

If you would have spoken with Jeff and Greg before the season began and asked them the best case scenario for their senior season, they would have included a regular season and post season Big Ten title among their goals. They fell one game short of the former and they fulfilled the latter.

Now, Iowa will play Northwestern State in the first round of the NCAA tournament and will likely meet West Virginia in round two. Should they advance to the Sweet 16, they might play Texas, a team they faced in November. Iowa led 75% of that contest but fell by seven to the Longhorns.

So much could be written about this team, but one of Jeff Horner's post game quotes sums it up best, with the rest left to just sink in.

"It finally feels like we got what we deserved," Horner said.

With that, writers/reporters should just get out of the way, because truer words have never been spoken.

GREAT STRETCH

Dating back to the last seven games of last year, Iowa is 30-10 in its last four games. During that time, they are also 19-6 against league foes. Iowa has beaten Michigan State in three of the last four meetings between the two schools.

BRACKET DRAWS

Should Iowa make it to the Final Four, something that it has not done in over 26 years, the Hawkeyes have one heck of a draw on their hands.

West Virginia is arguably the best six seed, with the other three being Indiana, Michigan State and Oklahoma. Iowa was 2-0 against the Hoosiers this year and 2-1 against the Spartans.

Texas might be the toughest two seed in the tournament, with UCLA, Tennessee and Ohio State being the other two's. Iowa was 2-0 against Ohio State this year and lost 68-59 against Texas in Kansas City.

Should Iowa win its first three games of the tournament, it would likely face Duke, which was the top rated #1 seed in this year's tournament.

That being said, being placed in Duke's region was one thing I was hoping for before the seeds were released. However, the road to get there is going to be a bear, starting with a pressing Northwestern State squad on Friday.

I have felt all season that Iowa might be susceptible against a press; we are going to find that out come St. Patrick's Day.

Should Iowa face West Virginia, the most reasonable comparison to them from this year's slate of Iowa opponents is Ohio State.

More than 40 percent of Ohio State's field goal attempts were from beyond the three-point line. That is a pretty gaudy percentage, but it has nothing on West Virginia. Of its more than 1,700 field goal attempts, 51 percent of those were three-point shots; that is unbelievable.

As you saw with Ohio State down the stretch, when they don't hit their three's, they are quite beatable by just about any caliber of opponent. Northwestern and Penn State nearly beat them in recent weeks and Indiana nearly knocked them off in the Big Ten tournament. Against Iowa in the tourney finale, the Buckeyes made just 6 of 28 three's, or 21.4 percent.

West Virginia finished the year 20-10 overall. In their 10 losses, they shot just .311 from three-point land and took an average of 31.5 three's in each of those losses. In an early loss to LSU, the Mountaineers were 15 of 45 from downtown. 45 three-point attempts!


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