Commentary: Men's basketball is back where it belongs


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More than 15,290 fans showed up for the 500th game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena to start the basketball year. That’s the most for a season-opener since 2001.

When I came to Iowa in 2010, Kirk Ferentz and the football team were the big draw coming off an Orange Bowl victory, and the wrestling team had just won its second of three-straight national championships.

Men’s basketball was a joke, to put it lightly. Then-head coach Todd Lickliter had just been fired after running a sometime-NCAA Tournament team into the ground. Tickets could barely be given away because the team was so bad and boring to watch (imagine playing at Bo Ryan’s slow pace, but with the coach’s unathletic son at point guard).

The team wasn’t just a joke in town. It was an afterthought.

My freshman year I had basketball season tickets given to me for graduation and thought, “Who cares about basketball here? The team sucks.”

The six-something-thousand freshmen weren’t the only new people on campus; Fran McCaffery had just been hired to resurrect Iowa basketball. And now, in his fourth year, it’s been amazing to watch this team mature and return what Iowa basketball should be.

When I went to my first Iowa basketball game (about half way through the season because the team was bad) the squad wasn’t all that competitive in the Big Ten. This is a team that gave Andrew Brommer significant playing time. Matt Gatens (then just a sophomore) was the only true established scorer going into that season.

But, games were surprisingly fun. Where else could you show up 10 minutes for the game and get front row spots?

On the final day of the 2010-11 season, the culture around the program changed. Iowa upset No. 6 Purdue. The Hawkeyes had lost two overtime games to Michigan and Wisconsin earlier that year, games that they should’ve won. But the Carver faithful finally could see the page turning after the dark days of Todd Lickliter.

The 2011-12 reinvigorated the fan base. The team returned to postseason play, earning an NIT bid and won 18 games, the most they had won since their Big Ten Tournament-winning season in 2006.

And then there was last season. The team won 25 games and finished .500 in the Big Ten for the first time since Steve Alford’s final season as head coach. The team tied a school record with 18 wins at home. Carver was finally becoming the fortress it used to be.

So here we are in my senior year. The football isn’t at the level of it was when I arrived in Iowa City. However, there’s as much hype and expectation around the basketball team as there’s been in quite some time.

Look back at the roster from 2010-11. How many of those players would even be good enough to play on McCaffery’s team this year? Aaron White represented USA in the World University Games.

Transfer Jared Uthoff has come into the team and fit right in just after two games. Last year’s ranked freshman class has a year under its belt and look to be make a bigger impact this year.

Fans have taken notice — 15,293 fans showed up for the 500th game in Carver to open up the year. That’s the most for a season opener since 2001.

The men’s basketball team isn’t what caught my attention when I was a freshman here. By now, in my last six months here at Iowa, I’m hoping this year’s basketball team is as special as the football team that brought me here.

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