Upbeat on hoops

BY BEN ROSS | MARCH 25, 2014 5:00 AM

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DAYTON, Ohio — Four years ago, it was hard to imagine Iowa basketball in a position of success. Almost as hard as it was to envision Iowa getting placed lower than a No. 6 seed in this tourney in January.

The chips didn’t fall in Iowa’s favor, however, and the Hawkeyes ended up as an 11-seed in a play-in game in the first (sort of) round of the NCAA Tournament. Iowa came into the tournament cold, losing seven of its last eight games, and history repeated itself as Iowa lost its third overtime game of the season, this time to Tennessee, 78-65. Iowa shot 0-of-8 in the extra period and was outscored by the Vols 14-1 in the final five minutes to propel Tennessee to the next level of the Big Dance.

The successes of this most recent basketball season will be argued. Can a team have success if it didn’t make it to the tourney? A play-in game isn’t the Big Dance, they will say. Can one call any season a success when the team loses seven of its final eight games? Iowa forward Aaron White answered this question best:

“I think the successful part of the season is how we brought the Iowa Hawkeyes back to relevancy on the national level,” he said softly in the Iowa locker room following the loss to Tennessee. “The season didn’t end like we wanted it to, but a month ago, we were on ‘Sports Center’ talking about how we were one of the best teams in college basketball. That wasn’t happening two or three years ago, when I got here.

“As competitive as I am, I’m not going to say it was a success because we didn’t go as far as I thought we could have and as far as I thought we should have.”

White shows us that success can’t be measured just by wins and losses. Much of the reason the ice-cold Hawkeyes even made it to a play-in game can likely be attributed to Iowa’s getting so much love and lip service on ESPN and its employees for two-thirds of the season. And that’s half the battle, really — passing the eye test for those who dictate who gets invited to the party.

The other half of the battle remains lost. As White said, his team underperformed. And the key to success for just about any team in March is to peak at the right time, and for lack of a better word, overperform.

And while the departure of Iowa’s leading scorer in Devyn Marble, as well as key role players in Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe, may not bode well for the squad’s future endeavors, Marble said he expects just making it to the NCAA tourney is enough for Iowa to improve next year.

“Hopefully, this short loss in the tournament can help them go deeper next year,” he said. “I was hoping this season happened last year, so we could have been in it last year, even it was short like this … This was new territory for us. I was thrilled with the way we competed. It wasn’t like one of our previous performances. If we would have played like that, that would have really pissed me off. This was a learning-experience season. These guys know what it takes to compete at this stage. These guys are only going to get better.”

Some thought that Iowa’s run to the NIT championship game a year ago was the learning-experience season, setting the table for bigger things in 2013-14, but that wasn’t the case. Iowa didn’t take the giant leap in the right direction most thought the team would, but it was still a step forward, and that’s better than going backward.

After the game, Basabe reminded everyone that one has to hit a plateau before a peak is scaled.

“You definitely can’t take away from the season we had,” he said. “My college career, you go through a lot of ups and downs. You win close games and you lose close games. That’s what happens at the elite level. It’s just tough sometimes.”

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