The sting of defeat had in large part begun to subside for fans of the Iowa basketball team following its 65-78 “First Four” overtime loss to Tennessee last Wednesday night.
After watching the 14th seeded Mercer Bears shock Duke (Iowa’s assumed round of 32 opponent had they advanced that far), things became a little bit harder to swallow.
Later that day Tennessee blew out the far over-seeded Minutemen of Massachusetts.
Then two days later the Volunteers did the same to a Mercer team missing its starting center.
Just like that, Hawkeye fans had received another sucker punch to the gut with the realization of just how different things could be today if their team had taken care of business against Tennessee, a game which they controlled throughout. The feeling was comparable to ripping a band-aid off of a nearly healed wound, and in effect start the bleeding all over again.
When Iowa faced off against the Vols in Dayton, Ohio, they did so entering the game reeling down the final stretch of the season. Without a whole lot of faith from the national media or their own supporters, the Hawkeyes had the benefit of playing expectation-free basketball to keep their season alive.
For much of the night they did indeed look like a team with a burden lifted off of its shoulders, but unfortunately it wouldn’t last.
As unnecessary and frankly painful as it may be, the recent string of good fortune experienced by Tennessee serves as a continual reminder of what could have been for this team in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Had the Hawkeyes merely closed out the game last Wednesday night they might very well have found themselves taking the practice floor in Iowa City today with their sights sets on a Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan in Indianapolis this Friday.
Oh yeah, as if the hypothetical scenario couldn’t have gotten any more tantalizing, Iowa would have met the Wolverines for a chance to advance to the Elite Eight. You know, the same Wolverines that Iowa wiped the floor with in February, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half.
But Iowa fans aren’t bitter…
The possibility of making a run to the Sweet Sixteen and potentially the Elite Eight would have been very realistic had Fran McCaffery and Company come away with that first win in Dayton. Then again, not doing so served as a microcosm of sorts for the entire 2013-14 season.
The tease of potential greatness and a deep tournament run seemingly sat just beyond the fingertips of everyone associated with or invested in the Iowa program all year long. As much as anyone wants to talk about the “Could have, should have, would have” of this year’s Hawkeyes, in the end it remains a futile endeavor.
In a month appropriately dubbed as “March Madness”, the only madness that Iowa fans experienced was the agony of watching a tournament play out that their team had the potential to make a deep run in.
But alas, what would life be without wondering how the ways of the world might have gone differently? It’s probably best to simply accept the past, live in the present, and remain hopeful of the future.