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Commentary: Parallels between football and basketball?

BY BRENDAN STILES | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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For some, the feeling in Carver-Hawkeye Arena Wednesday night may have been awkward.

After all, a struggling Iowa men’s basketball team reeled off a 78-65 victory over a Northwestern squad seeking its first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

For myself, the feeling was more familiar.

Considering all the parallels fans have made between the basketball team’s current situation and the state of the Iowa football program when Kirk Ferentz first took over in 1999, one comparison stayed in my head.

Ten years ago, I sat in Kinnick Stadium watching the Hawkeyes play a Wildcat team seeking a Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. And I watched a young Iowa team dismantle Northwestern and prevent the Wildcats from reaching Pasadena.

That day left Hawkeye fans joyous and assuming the future would be bright.

Fast-forward to Wednesday’s setting inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and the stakes were somewhat similar on the hardwood.

At this point in the season, Iowa has very little to lose. Northwestern, meanwhile, came in with plenty at stake.

Consider this: The NCAA Tournament has existed since 1939. In fact, Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill., hosted the first Final Four.

But in the tourney’s 72-year history, the Wildcats have never participated in March Madness.

The 2009-10 Wildcats carried the hopes of their prestigious alumni, who thought maybe this is finally might be the year Northwestern makes the Big Dance.

But with Wednesday’s performance, the Wildcats’ tourney résumé is now severely crippled, making an invitation to the NIT look more realistic.

This year has been far from favorable one for Iowa. But a win such as this could go a long way.

What made the 13-point victory impressive was that the Hawkeyes never trailed — up by as many as 19 points even.

Right away, sophomore Matt Gatens set the tone with a triple, spurring Iowa to put on a 3-point shooting clinic, thanks in large part to senior Devan Bawinkel.

The Hawkeyes sunk a dozen 3-pointers.

Northwestern didn’t stand a chance.

A bubble popped Wednesday night in Iowa City, just as Wildcats’ dreams of roses were squashed a decade ago.

Both moments could also be beginnings, though. Following the football win over the Wildcats in 2000, the Hawkeyes reached the Alamo Bowl the next season.

Who knows? Maybe this is a sign Iowa basketball fans have waited for. Maybe the basketball program has a pulse and is moving forward under Todd Lickliter.

Whether the Hawkeyes reach postseason play next season remains to be seen. But for one night at least, there was something to feel good about.


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