The Hyball is a weekly basketball column.
Because my brain is my brain, I can't think about Iowa without thinking about Michigan.
Two worlds I've bounced between my entire life, with my home state of Illinois always bridging the gap. Not sure I've ever vacillated between "These are my people!" and "I can no longer relate to these people" so many times with each. Elitist Wolverine fans; always wanting the circle smaller. Them Hawkeye dreamers; almost begging for heartbreak with their hopefulness.
This year was supposed to be different. For Iowa, at least. Yeah, last year's guy already has his number retired and won some hardware, but this year's guy is even better; Top-10-of-the-NBA draft better. We even had the computers.
For the women, this year's gal was an even better version of last year's gal. And last year's gal made the second weekend. She was on her LeBron James shit. All year. Nonstop.
Both were fresh off dream conference tourney runs in Indianapolis. It was hard to remember what losing felt like.
Until wham -- it happened. And then it happened again. The first weekend blues.
And the Wolverines go while the Hawkeyes don't. There are probably some football parallels to make right now, but I won't be making them; you can connect the dots, but only if you wanna.
Michigan men's basketball is no stranger to the Sweet 16. Iowa, since I became a fan in 2004, hasn't made it once. As someone who's followed both teams in that span, all I can tell you is getting that far is really fuckin' great. You get a week. Another week of hope. Seeing those 64 (68) teams whittled down to 16 and thinking "One of these programs is going to win this thing, and we are part of that group."
Ranked the Sweet 16 teams in the mens tournament https://t.co/64a0HkQVAu— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) March 21, 2022
Even when they put you near the bottom of their lists, you don't care. Sometimes, you're just happy to be there. Cinderella still got to dance for some of the night.
But even without the macro "durrrr, we survived and advance" element of what winning gets you, it what you don't get from losing that stings the most. Cue Eli Brooks:
I had a full column written in my head before Brian Cook sunk that battleship. So the floor is his:
...sports aren't just numbers adding up over a set period of time. They are story machines.
One of the great delights of college sports is that the timeframes are generally long enough to see a player become what they're going to become and short enough that there is always someone new to see develop. The pros are more static, with colossi (Brady, Lebron, Baseball Man) bestriding the sport for a decade or more...
These stories exist on various levels: players. Seasons. Programs. This game wrote down some history on all of these levels. It provided the definitive Eli Brooks Game for the longest-serving player in program history. It rewrote this disappointing season, at least somewhat...
..."Imagine that a fifth-year player everyone wanted to run off campus because he seemed terrified of basketball appropriated the delightfully weird shot a previous player—one denied a career culmination by covid—had painstakingly developed over the course of a few years; imagine that this one-time wilting flower of a player would uncork an audacious hook shot at a crucial juncture to defeat a heavily favored opponent, thus writing himself into annals of program history. If you were invested in this sort of thing, watching the maturation and development of this young man would not just be a guy hitting a shot, but the climax of a character arc. It's like Game of Thrones except the source material never runs out. Once you have the context that gives the numbers meaning the drama outstrips any planned fiction. Joy and pathos intermingle. We reach down into the vast beating heart of human striving and drink deeply of its nectar.
"Also sometimes Wisconsin shoots 9% from three."
I haaaaaaaaaaaaated watching Eli Brooks when he first hit Ann Arbor. Not only did I feel like he wasn't good in the moment, I didn't see any type of path for him to be an impactful player in the future. The good news is I was very dumb and very wrong. The Professor has been a stabilizing force for M all year.
His time in Iowa City was always going to be on a different curve due to his pro-ready talent, but I wanted this for Keegan Murray. I mean, more than a hook shot, I wanted this for Keegan Murray.
Three Bennedict Mathurin plays presented without comment pic.twitter.com/DRXsythHkZ— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) March 21, 2022
We just kinda deflated like a balloon. And please don't get me wrong, P-Mac was on his way. And yes, I will always appreciate the double Big Ten tourney champs. And sure, you will always enjoy J-Bo's banker.
But when the stage got bigger, we didn't. And it's going to be a long, soul-searchy kind of offseason.
Are we cursed? (Eh, no)
What makes us different? (I don't know)
Michigan did it as an 11-seed! (Not a question, but I know, right?)
Is this Fran's fault? (Ah, nah, I don't know -- I wish it was that easy)
Being an Iowa fan has made me better at appreciating the journey. If your thing is "titles or bust," you will have many, many miserable seasons.
I just can't shake the feeling this is not where either of our basketball teams were supposed to end, even though both outcomes definitively proved otherwise.
“Sometimes tragedies happen because each person is waiting for someone else to say “no!’”
3/17 - (12) Richmond 68, (5) Iowa 63: This one hit me in all sorts of different ways. Michigan had to come back from 15 against Colorado State earlier in the day, and that really emptied my emotional gas tank. When Iowa couldn't pull ahead (or, at times, lead at all), it wasn't setting me off like it usually should.
J-Bo, for his third straight NCAA tournament half, put up zero points in the first 20 minutes of the game. Even that didn't set me off like it usually would. Then it kinda looked like Keegan got hurt, and I just became worried for him, above all else.
On top of that, it just felt like it wasn't our day.
good times pic.twitter.com/TckIQxruxp— Bobby L. (@bobbystompy) March 17, 2022
I'm not a complain about the refs person, and I'm still not. But I am saying this was not fun. That's it. Also, given how the Illinois game went down, it is no given to assume Kris Murray was going to be hitting all three free throws. But uggggggggh, I so badly wish he had the chance (see column intro yet again).
When the clock finally hit zero, I almost felt past it. Such a disappointing ending to a surging squad that really seemed loaded with dark horse potential.
Follow a team like this, and its the little things you miss most, like the Murray brothers and their identical, robotic body language. Rough ending but a fun season. pic.twitter.com/DgwqOzcnY9— Bobby L. (@bobbystompy) March 17, 2022
...but then I made the mistake of looking at a few tweets before logging off for the rest of the day.
Congrats to Fran for winning one (1) total NCAA tournament game in two years with the two best players in program history— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) March 17, 2022
GODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD DAMN IT
Imaging trusting Iowa's sports programs to do anything besides send serviceable right guards to the NFL— America Is Musty (@DragonflyJonez) March 17, 2022
OK, that's just perfect.
1.76%. That's the amount of brackets that are still perfect— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 17, 2022
Apologies for the column jinx, my dude.
* * *
While doing his bracket, Tate Frazier said Keegan Murray was better suited for the tournament than Luka Garza, and, though I have always preferred Murray to our Naismith winner, yet this was clearly incorrect -- at least based on our insanely small sample size this year. While Oregon ran most of Iowa off the floor last year, Luka hung in; he put up 36 points in that game on 14/20 shooting. This season, Keegan finished with a very respectable 21 points, but a slow start in the first half dug a hole that ultimately was too big to climb out of.
* * *
Lastly, many of you feel I've been hard on J-Bo, and while I generally stand by what I've said, it was impossible to watch this and not Feel Some Things.
There is no this week.
Starting with a different Kate once again, so we can have one good thing, before the continued descent.
Love the way Kate Martin plays basketball. pic.twitter.com/rqxJ6wVvKI— Bobby L. (@bobbystompy) March 18, 2022
annnnnd we're free fallin'
sports are the worst— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) March 20, 2022
This hurt worse. Felt sick to my stomach for hours. Meditated, showered, resisted the urge to continue drinking, tried to do anything to take my mind off it. Fuck. Gustafson. Garza. Murray. Clark. What the fuck are we doing?
Random shout out to a good chunk of my Iowa alum friends, who didn't give Clark and this team the attention they deserved and probably feel validated now. To which I say: eat all of the shit. This team was special, and one game won't change that.
Also: one love to Creighton. They won that shit and defended Clark unlike any team I'd seen this year. Agitation without Davisonation; in her grill; not giving her space. I loved their game plan objectively while being crushed subjectively. Fuuuuuuck. Fuck.
We will end with the hope I do not have.
After a few tough days for our #Hawkeyes, my 8-yr old daughter says it best:— Kelsey Laverdiere (@KelseyLavy) March 21, 2022
It hurts when you dont win. These teams are family to us, and that means we love them no matter what.
Brad Davison Is Definitively A Senior.
A short story pic.twitter.com/fHU3CTe5b7— cyhoff (@WillisToThe412) March 21, 2022
Brad Davison's career ending with him defiantly demanding the refs review a ball that clearly went off of him is poetic.— Ivan Bologna Is All Elite (@PV_GIA) March 21, 2022
Big Ten men's basketball now that Jordan Bohannon and Brad Davison are out of the conference after a combined 11 years. pic.twitter.com/ESP5xWXgOG— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) March 21, 2022
Honestly, this happening after the women lost made me feel way, way less stoked than I felt when we thought it was his last game last year.
One silver lining -- and oh god damn, I'm fighting hard for them -- to his existence is remembering that for every* Brad Davison, there is always a cool player on the other side of the spectrum to balance the universe out.
Goodbye to the game, all the spoils the adrenaline rush.— Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) March 21, 2022
Thank you basketball, I owe you everything .. pic.twitter.com/PpKYjoqz9p
Crawford and Davison leaving the same weekend is not poetic. But it's definitely something.
(* - objectively not true; there are many, many more Brad Davisons for every actually skilled player out there; I should know... my game is much closer to Davison's than Crawford's, and it is of great shame)
Anyway, I will not end this classy for obvious reasons.
Dear Wisconsin:— Swanky Wolverine (@swankywolverine) March 21, 2022
Remember when you chanted "NIT" to Michigan? Karma goes hard, doesn't it?
Enjoy your offseason. pic.twitter.com/ydHhqNPMZR
A lot going on with old boy this week...
Dickinson then rattled off all the Big Ten schools that mocked Michigan this season MSU, OSU, Illinois and that red and white team up in Madison.— Brendan Quinn (@BFQuinn) March 23, 2022
We heard those NIT chants. That was hurtful. (Heavy sarcasm)
Said its interesting theyre now watching from their cribs.
Obligatory Michigan Section
Logging on today pic.twitter.com/WlcG0e1Ukg— Dan (hypocrite) (@ThiccStauskas) March 21, 2022
Michigan hits 5-straight sweet sixteen appearances. Id just like to see Iowa make one in my lifespan.— juhwoddy (@juhwoddy) March 20, 2022
God damn, if that isn't my energy this and last week.
This is Frankie. Frankie is my basketball teammate. Frankie lost my glasses that I lended to him. Frankie is now off the hook due to his sensational play today. Go blue. pic.twitter.com/jT9OD6rPrA— Jace Howard (@JaceHoward_) March 17, 2022
Lended?— Jenine Howard (@J9Howard) March 18, 2022
Davante Adams was like a brother to Aaron Rodgers, so this trade makes sense.— Mike Beauvais (@MikeBeauvais) March 17, 2022
* * *
Multiple sources told The Athletic that former Jaguars coach Urban Meyer was unfamiliar with star players around the NFL, including— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) March 21, 2022
"Whos this 99 guy on the Rams? Im hearing he might be a problem for us."https://t.co/Z7DDnLi8vT pic.twitter.com/oJgcA3c4DS
It's as if no one, ever, wants to hold back on this dude.
Urban at trivia night when the question is to name any active NFL player. pic.twitter.com/ntki3UghvT— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) March 21, 2022
Bill Walton's Western Civilization
Here's a supercut of all the times Bill Walton yelled "Fire on the Mountain" in his KNBR interview.— KNBR (@KNBR) May 9, 2020
It was...often pic.twitter.com/OXCzDTDvvi
No Context College Basketball
Per usual, all it takes is one woman to fix a mistake made by a group of men pic.twitter.com/KDETzzKwVe— Charlotte Wilder (@TheWilderThings) March 18, 2022
you didn't have to transfer if you wanted to lose in the first round, cj fredrick— Go Iowa Awesome (@IowaAwesome) March 18, 2022
Your annual reminder that college basketball players do not play harder - they just make it look harder, because they're not as good.— Mark Deeks (@MarkDeeksNBA) March 17, 2022
still the most wisconsin player of all time https://t.co/OGOGSIvG4a— ace (wrong) (@AceAnbender) March 21, 2022
can batman dunk— Corbin Smith (@corbinasmith) March 22, 2022
Wrapping It Up...
This answer from Keegan— Morgsss (@Morgsss21) March 17, 2022
Dont think too much into it, dont think too much into it Morgan. pic.twitter.com/zyvFzie6Gx
/eyes widen, widen, widen, and widen some more
Bobby Loesch is a weekly contributor to Go Iowa Awesome. Follow him on Twitter @bobbystompy or email to bobbyloesch [at] gmail.com.