Iowa State renews its rivalry with Iowa this Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye arena, and anticipation for the basketball game is higher this year than it has been in a long time. And why shouldn't it be? Both the Cyclones and Hawkeyes enter the 2012-2013 fresh off post-season berths, and expectations for both programs have reached a fever pitch.
Because the 2011-2012 season saw both programs restored to their rightful place in the college basketball world. For Iowa State, that involved a third-place finish in the Big 12 and a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament. For the Hawkeyes, that involved something a bit more modest; a seventh-place finish in the Big 10 and a seven-seed in the NIT tournament.
It's a place the Hawkeyes are extremely comfortable with, having made six trips to the NIT in the past two decades. In fact, head coach Fran McCaffery has seemingly made the appeal of regular trips to the NIT part of his recruiting strategy. Instead of building his program with the most athletic, talented players he can find, McCaffery has filled his roster with undersized, slower players capable of realizing the unassuming dreams of NIT stardom.
Grandfathers, slightly-racist uncles and out-of-touch sportswriters all over the nation like Iowa because they're a humble, hard-working program that just does things the right way (The right way = play basketball like it's 1958. You know what that means).
And that's really what Hawkeye basketball represents in 2012. Modest dreams, predictably realized. There's no sense getting player's and fan's hopes up for a Big 10 title or a trip to the NCAA tournament. It's just not a reasonable goal. But Iowa fans can get excited about post-season play, just so long as that post-season is the NIT tournament. Maybe the CBI in off years.
It's a vision that Hawkeye fans have embraced whole-heartedly. Actually, it's not really like they have a choice. After the football team farted out a gigantic turd of a season, Iowa fans began flailing around for any other decent program in their chosen university to latch onto. The men's basketball team, with its extremely slight upward trajectory; was the nearest life raft. And Hawkeye fans are clinging to this program for dear life.
But Hawkeye basketball isn't just about the NIT. Players who sign up to play for the history-rich Hawkeye basketball program can set their sights on playing professionally after their college career is over. Not in the NBA, of course. That would be presumptuous. Currently the Hawkeyes have just one player in the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets own Reggie Evans. Fun fact about Reggie, an NBA poll recently voted him the league's dirtiest player. Probably pretty easy to hang around the league if you're willing to pick up five quick fouls by punching every opposing player in the crotch.
But in the NBA's development league has provided a safe haven for almost every former Hawkeye standout of the last 15 years, including Ricky Davis, Adam Haluska, Kurt Looby, Sean Sonderleiter, Doug Thomas and noted rapist Pierre Pierce. The D-League! It's not quite the NBA, but it's affiliated with the NBA. Close enough for Hawkeye basketball.
NIT wishes and D-League dreams: This is the what players hope for when they sign up to play Iowa Hawkeye basketball. Sure, it's not the most exciting dream. It's not a dream that takes an exceptional amount of talent or hard work to achieve. But it is a manageable dream, and Fran McCaffery is all about making these kind of manageable dreams come true. So fight on, Iowa basketball. All the way to a mid-place finish in the Big 10 and an NIT berth.