It seems like it's been a long winter, but the real Christmas is upon us. It's finally March, and along with the improving weather, comes some of the best couple of weeks for any sports fan, March Madness aka Christmas. The major conference tournaments all begin next week, followed by Selection Sunday, all leading up to March Madness. Spring training is in full swing for baseball fans, hell I'll even give a NASCAR shoutout as their season just recently started.
In honor of the calendar finally turning to March, I wanted to take a look back at some of the more memorable moments in recent Cyclone hoops history. I unofficially polled friends, and had them ask others, which moments stood out above the rest along with the ones that popped into my head. The results, whether glorious or gut wrenching, were not all overwhelming one way or the other, but a few definitely stood out.
Time to walk down memory lane. In no particular order, here are my top choices.
The Royce Dunk - March 15, 2012
I don't know what else to call this play, but the video below says it all. I remember watching this game in an overly crowded bar, and on the opening possession, Royce White dribbles the ball the length of the floor and slams it in the face of seemingly every UCONN defender. The place exploded like it had just won the game, even though it was the opening basket. It was the "welcome back" moment for Iowa State basketball. It was Hoiberg's second year at the helm, and his first tourney appearance.
That dunk not only ignited the team that night on its way to a 77-64 victory over defending national champ UCONN, it ignited a program, one who had seen plenty of down years and who was ready to take the next step back into relevance. With that dunk, Royce White and Hoiberg announced to the country that they were for real, and would be for years to come.
The Hampton Game - March 15, 2001
This game is a heartbreaker for the ages, and needs no introduction. I can still remember thinking, how does a 2 seed lose to a 15 seed? This can't be right, what happened?!!? There are few things in life you can bank on, and a 2 seed losing in the first round of the NCCA tournament is not one of them. Kudos to Duke and Missouri for bailing ISU out of the perpetual 15 vs. 2 upset highlight reel that played every year until both those teams fell in the first round of the 2012 tournament. Even though recent history suggests it can happen, it's still very rare.
This game still hurts, as this team was nearly as good as the previous year's team that made it to the Elite Eight. The loss capped a stretch which saw them lose 3 of their last 5, after starting the season 23-3. Ironically enough, this game took place exactly 11 years prior to the game mentioned above. Some would say this game marked the end of a very strong run by the ISU program, as Larry Eustachy was fired just two mediocre seasons later. The next 11 years that followed were rough, to say the least.
Run to the Big 12 Tournament Title - March 2014
This one stands out for obvious reasons. First off it happened just a year ago, and secondly, no one saw it coming. Everyone thought this team was good, and had the potential to do good things, but after losing 2 of the teams' last 3 regular season games, and needing OT to beat Oklahoma State at home, people were questioning if this team had the "it" factor to make a deep run into March. Those questions were quickly answered as ISU won its 3 tournament games, knocking off Kansas along the way, as well as exercising those demons.
Winning the Big 12 Tournament sparked the team going into the NCAA tourney, and while ultimately falling short and losing to eventual champion UCONN in the Sweet 16, this team showed everyone that they deserved to be mentioned as one of the top teams in the country. It was a feel good moment for ISU fans and the team, as DeAndre Kane took home MVP honors, and the legend of Hilton South continued to grow.
The Michigan State Game - March 25, 2000
What to say about this game...it's hard to talk about. Arguably Iowa State's best, strongest, biggest, baddest team in the history of the program came into the tournament scorching hot. With 30 wins already under the belt, it all came down to one game. One game stood between this team and the Final Four. One team stood in their way, and it was the loaded favorite Michigan State.
That team was led by a strong senior class that included Morris Peterson and Mateen Cleaves. Both names are hard to type. In what was considered the de facto National Championship by many national talking heads, Iowa State took eventual champion Michigan State down to the wire, and even though the score isn't any indication, this game was a battle.
The thing that makes this moment so much harder to endure is the screw job the officials gave Iowa State in that game, capped off by Larry Eustachy being ejected in the 2nd half. Iowa State again found itself squaring off with the eventual champion, and once again falling short. The season wasn't a complete loss though, as I'll point out below.
The Entire '99-'00 Season
I realize this is sort of a cop out, but you can't deny how great this team was, and how much fun it was too watch. Led by future NBA lottery pick Marcus Fizer and future first rounder Jamaal Tinsley, this team torched the Big 12. After starting the season 1-2, this team threw together win streaks of 13, 6, and 10 games at different points in the season on its way to a 32-5 overall record, winning both the Big 12 regular season title, and the conference tournament title.
The 99-00 team remains one of only three Big 12 teams to accomplish that feat in the same season. This team entered the NCAA tournament as a #2 seed riding a 7 game win streak. They won each of their first 3 NCAA tournament games in convincing fashion, before falling in the Elite 8 to eventual champion Michigan St. As I noted above, many people considered this the national championship game, as it was not only an incredible game to watch, but it featured arguably the top two teams in the country for most of the year. Not many outside of Florida fans would argue that had ISU beat Michigan State, they would've most likely worn the championship crown in 2000.
The team ended the season ranked #6 in the AP poll, although most would say even that was too low. Watching this team absolutely dominate the Big 12 was some of the most fun ISU fans have had. The clip below was one of the more memorable moments of a season filled with many of them.
The list above are the moments that stand out the most to me when I think of Iowa State basketball in March, and by no means intended to be official. Please comment below on your favorite March Moment, and here's to another March Moment in the making.