Inching Closer

March 10, 2005

There’s only one thing for certain at this time of year if you’re a college basketball junkie and that’s that something that you thought was for certain won’t be an hour from now.

Such is the life for Coach Steve Alford’s Iowa Hawkeyes. Given up for dead a few weeks ago by much of the college basketball world, all the Hawkeyes have done in the last two weeks is rattle off four straight victories and pushed open the door to the NCAA Tournament that so many were trying so hard to close.

Iowa’s 71-52 victory over Purdue in first round action of the 2005 Big Ten Tournament Thursday afternoon in Chicago was the Hawkeyes’ 20th of the season and put Alford’s squad squarely on the top of the bubble – not the side or the base — with a short list of other basketball teams across the country.

“They have a ton of experience. They are on a mission. They are loaded with seniors, loaded with experience. All those things can scare you a little bit. I know our guys will show up and we will go out and fight against a Top 10 team that, in my mind, has a chance to be a Final Four team.”
UI Coach Steve Alford on Michigan State

In fact, this tournament bracket, compliments of CBS Sportsline, at 11:01 p.m. Iowa time Thursday had Iowa as the No. 11 seed playing Pacific in the Syracuse bracket. At 8:40 a.m. on Friday, Iowa was still a No. 11 seed and was still playing Pacific, but the game was now in the Chicago bracket. Yep. Things do change quickly in men’s college basketball during the month of March!

ESPN isn’t as optimistic for fans of the Hawkeyes. But, remember, it’s early in the Madness that comes in March. A lot can and will change by Selection Sunday.

Sparked by the hot hands of guards Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner, the Hawkeyes did Thursday afternoon what they haven’t done since the Big Ten’s 2002 post-season party: Win their first game. Iowa historically has fared well in the league tournament when it gets the first one in its pocket.

Friday’s task is arguably a little more challenging than Gene Keady’s final squad. Iowa will square off with the Big Ten’s No. 2 seed, Michigan State, at 5:40 p.m. Iowa time.

“They are a great transition team and a phenomenal rebounding team. Michigan State has about seven guys that can get double digits on us. They are really difficult to guard and extremely balanced,” said Alford of Tom Izzo’s nationally ranked squad.

“They have a ton of experience. They are on a mission. They are loaded with seniors, loaded with experience. All those things can scare you a little bit. I know our guys will show up and we will go out and fight against a Top 10 team that, in my mind, has a chance to be a Final Four team.”

Horner thought the Hawkeyes had at least one edge on their opponents in green and white: Experience in the United Center.

“Hopefully, playing in this building twice already, and Michigan State not playing here before, we can use that to our advantage,” Iowa’s floor general said, referring to Iowa’s victory over Texas Tech in Chicago in December and today’s victory.

“They’re a very good team and very athletic and we are going to have to come out fighting.”