In the court of takes, you the people are the judge, jury, and... well you don’t get to execute anyone. We will bring to you an argument with one question and two sides. In the absence of March, we look back at a couple of Marches possibly worse than one with no basketball. March of 2001 and March of 2015.
We’ll be looking at the regular season, roster, the game itself and what COULD have been. With this in mind, let’s begin.
Hampton v. UAB
UAB: As the case states we’re looking at four factors here. Starting with the regular season and the roster. This was peak HoiBall, and to suffer true heartbreak, you gotta fall in love.
The year started with the Cyclones going 10-1 including Niang’s ‘blow a kiss game’ at Carver Hawkeye where the Cyclones boat raced the Hoks. This game apparently made a lasting impression on Jordan Bohannon. Ever since, he has desperately done everything he can to emulate the owner of the Cy-Hawk rivalry, but I digress. (ThX fOr ThE mEmZ)
Iowa State would finish 12-6 in a BRUTAL Big 12 conference powerhouse. Kansas had Perry Ellis who was a ripe 37 years old, along with future All-American point guard and NPOY Frank Mason. Iowa State would go 2-1 against Kansas including wins on College Gameday in Hilton, and the Big 12 championship in Kansas City.
The Big 12 was absolutely riddled with talent in 2014-2015. Perry Ellis was a ripe age of 37, not to mention two future Naismith players of the year in Frank Mason and Buddy Hield. Juwan Staten, Rico Gathers, Jonathan Motley, Myles Turner, the list goes on. This team was undoubtably battle tested, 70% of the conference made it to the tournament.
Iowa State admittedly struggled down the stretch of the regular season. They ended conference play going 5-4, losing a very winnable game at Kansas State that basically gifted Kansas the Big 12 regular season title.
BUT WHAT A WEEK IN KANSAS CITY.
The conference tourney STARTED with a buzzer beater by Monte Morris who nailed a tough 15 foot fade jumper where he descended into the bench huddled by a celebratory huddle of cardinal and gold. It was followed by Ryan ‘bonehead’ Spangler who missed the bunniest of bunny shots of a buzzer beater to force the game into OT.
AND THE CYCLONES WEREN’T DONE YET.
Iowa State would end this legendary weekend by the aforementioned win against Kansas in the title game. The Cyclones found themselves down 17 in this game, and would comeback to take the lead in the final minute. The Cyclones were down double digits in each of their games in Kansas City, just another week in Hilton South.
This roster was coming off of a different type of March heartbreak. They made the Sweet 16, but a long run was derailed after Georges Niang broke his foot. But the team came back loaded. With a starting 5 of Monte Morris, Naz Long, Dustin Hogue, Georges Niang, and Jameel McKay. Oh and don’t forget three future NBA players coming off the bench in Bryce Dejean-Jones, Abdel Nader, and Matt Thomas.
This team could run, shoot, lob, dunk, cut, and pop. An absolute powerhouse of an offense. Dustin Hogue and DPOY in the Big 12 Jameel McKay anchored down the defense on the other side. This team was loads of fun, but I’m sure that 2001 team had some dudes too.
But at the end of the day a game has to be played. Iowa State came into the tournament riding high on momentum, and the coat tails of frosted tips. Iowa State’s pick n’ roll dynamo duo, Morris and McKay, sported a fresh cut for a long run in the NCAA tournament. The first game against the UAB Blazers? WHO?
Now let me paint you a picture. I’m a sophomore in high school, and CBS knows this one is going to be a snoozer so they put it in the early afternoon slot. I’m in 7th hour Biology taking a quiz, and you better believe I have the March Madness app pulled up on my phone sitting right there on my desk
Iowa State got out to a blazing start 12-2 and it appeared Alabama-Birmingham was going to be beaten into obscurity... not quite. The ‘Clones would go cold, and UAB would take a lead with 9 minutes to go in the first half. From then on the game would never be further apart than four points.
Now, Hoiberg teams were famous for their three point barrage, and the green light beyond the arc. Iowa State shot 23% from three in this game. Ok, so how is UAB still in this thing?They have to be hot from 3. Getting every bounce. Nope they shot a measly 3-18 beyond the arc.
Fine, this team must have guys who played together for five years. Or... they were the youngest team in the tournament, and no one on this team had ever played in a NCAA tournament game.
Rebounds man. The most under appreciated stat in basketball. UAB racked up NINETEEN offensive rebounds. They slowed the game down to do a B1G Ten football game pace, and made this game uglier than UAB’s Chinese restaurant looking logo.
Also, I’d like to point out that UAB’s two highest scorers in this game were named Robert Brown and William Lee which sound more like Civil War generals than collegiate basketball players in the year 2015.
You’d have to think Iowa State pulled away late. This team had a history of miraculous wins in the closing seconds this season. This would be another chapter of an unforgettable two minutes, in a game we should be winning by 30. Iowa State was up 4 with two minutes left. Just get some stops, make some free throws, survive, and advance.
Meanwhile, a 15 year old Dylan is trying to very politely tell his biology teacher to mind her damn business, I’m not cheating, I’m just watching the Cyclones instead of taking your biology quiz. Please and thank you.
I look back at my phone to see that UAB has gone ahead 56-55 with a minute left. Crunch time. Monte Morris nails a jumper to put Iowa State back ahead 57-56. Then UAB’s William “Stonewall” Lee would put the Blazers back up by 1. 57-58.
This team legit had three guys I’d feel comfortable with taking the last shot. Monte was having the best game, but Niang was ‘The Guy’. Plus, you had Naz Mitrou-Long who had made a living on the buzzer beater, albeit he was a cold 2-8 from three at the drawing of this play.
The ball would ultimately end up in Niang’s hands, and was blocked by former Civil War veteran William Lee. Rebound UAB. Lee would go to the line to shoot two free throws in the biggest game of his life.
Onions. 2-2 to put the Blazers up by 3 with 12 seconds left.
Hoiberg, inbound play savant, had to have some secret master play, and to be fair, he did. UAB had a foul to give so they fouled with 8 seconds left. Iowa State inbounded it again, and I can see it my mind still. Naz was looping around the top of the key off a screen coming towards the ball. Shoulders squared, smooth release, follow through.
Monte would tip it in, but a point short, and only a second left. Ball game. The unthinkable had happened. Iowa State was done. That’s it, go home. And that’s what I did. I left school with 45 minutes left in my day, went straight to my bedroom, turned my phone off, and called it a night at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
Iowa State would’ve faced 11 seed UCLA in the second round, and Gonzaga in the sweet 16. Although the Elite 8 wasn’t a sure deal, Iowa State was being slotted as a sneaky Final Four pick. This is the ultimate disappointment of the Hoiberg era. Well, sort of.
This was Fred’s last game as head coach. He would take the Chicago Bulls job in the off season, and end his run as the Magic Mayor of Ames, Iowa. Because apparently losing that game wasn’t enough of a kick to the pants. I’m going to gladly go back to studying for finals now.
HAMPTON: Let me educate you real quick, young blood. While you may think UAB was the worst of your life time, do you even realize the implications of what happened with that Hampton loss?
Larry Legend had just rattled off back to back Big 12 runs and reached an unattainable height of greatness as a coach with two Cyclone Legends. The year before Larry could only be taken down in the Elite Eight to eventual National Champions Michigan State.
Fast forward to that ‘00-’01 season. Through fourteen games Iowa State would check off thirteen wins and only one loss (the singular hiccup coming at Carver Hawkeye in a 12 point loss to Iowa). The next two drops would come in a pair of over time (in the case of the one game, quadruple) losses on the road to Oklahoma State and Missouri respectively.
Larry then would rally the squad to ten wins straight before closing out the season with a loss at Texas and wins against Texas Tech and Nebraska, en route to a regular season Big 12 title, the last one the Clones have won in the modern era.
The Clones would finish at 25-6 on the year with Big 12 Player of the year Jamaal TInsley leading the charge for them. They also finished with an average point per game of 79.1 which ranked them 32nd in the nation.
This team was just as filled with “nails” as the season before though. Tinsley may have been the star of the show, but guys like Horton, Shirley and a young freshman guard by the name of Jake Sullivan also helped blend into the mold of a team that reflected the year before. A bunch of grinders with chips on the shoulder and a point to prove.
Regular season done and sewed up and another regular season title under his belt, Larry and Co. turned their eyes toward The Dance where as a #2 seed they would be taking on 25-6 Hampton.
Now that the context has been set, the table prepared and everything that could possibly preface the argument of Hampton being the worse loss, time to dig into the nitty gritty of the WORST loss in Iowa State basketball history.
First of all, start with the score, a 57-58 final. Holy moly. This Iowa State team had the 32nd best offense in the nation for the season and managed to only put up a similar amount of points that a high school boys squad eeks out in three quarters. Big time mark in the column of “embarrassing efforts.”
Secondly, it needs to be addressed, Jamaal’s performance in this game. Tinsley who had averaged 14/6/3 on the year during the regular season and who a year prior during the NCAA Tournament managed to average 17.5 points during the ‘00 run but then suddenly in the Hampton game, Mr. All Big Twelve AKA Mr. Big 12 POTY suddenly only manages to serve up a measly 9.
And look, to hinge the entire argument on just Tinsley’s performance would be entirely unfair, as would putting it solely on Eustachy for running this team into the ground weeks before hand in the effort to go back to back as Big 12 Champs.
The reason this is the biggest loss in Iowa State history simply holds its weight on the fact of expectations. With what had happened a year before and the heart ripping against Michigan State, the belief was that a freshly angered Eustachy, mixed with a team looking to truly prove the greatest of points would be a recipe for some success.
Honestly, a national title probably was not in the scope, but “back-to-back Elite Eight? Potential Final Four? Why the hell not us!” was the battle cry most of Cyclone Nation was holding on to beforehand in this match-up.
For comparison, while the UAB loss was heartbreaking one and a loss that left a lot of people scratching heads, this one was far worse. It was the first. This was only the fourth time in history a two seed lost to a fifteen, and not just a two seed, but one with expectations to contend for a Final Four spot.
For years upon years after the fact, when the NCAA would roll highlights, without question the Hampton win would always be featured in the opening credits before March Madness began. Hampton knocking off a Sweet Sixteen/definite Elite Eight/maybe Final Four team was the essence of March Madness was all about, the ultimate nut kick.
So yes, UAB was bad and yes it hurt — But it didn’t have nearly the same kind of context or windfall afterwards that Hampton would give the program after the fact. Hell for the most part, this game is what may have officially broke Eustachy. (Pure speculation there.)
Dylan makes some great points, but for what it is worth, there is NO singular loss in Iowa State history more soul-crushing than Hampton. End of case. Now someone get me a drink.