' Cinema Romantico: A Digression: Why The State of Iowa Is the Chicago Cubs Of College Basketball

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Digression: Why The State of Iowa Is the Chicago Cubs Of College Basketball

Before my diatribe, allow me to say that I am proud to the utmost of the Drake Bulldogs basketball team and their regular season conference title, conference tournament championship and berth in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the fact they were defeated (they did not lose, keep in mind, but were defeated) by Western Kentucky in the first round of the Big Dance I hope the Drake team, its alums and students, and all natives of both the city of Des Moines and state of Iowa have nothing but good things to say about their remarkably wonderful and wholly unexepected success in 2007-2008. (In fact, Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis had this to say about the Bulldogs, "They were all class....Obviously, they were stunned but someone hit an incredible shot, a historical shot and they all just seemed to accept that." Still gotta' love the Drake.) However, I must write this as a form of catharsis....

Everyone knows the Chicago Cubs don't just lose, they break your heart. In fact, they don't even break your heart - they take your heart, grab hold of it with both hands and rip it from your chest. In fact, they don't just rip it from your chest - they tear it from your chest with their teeth, throw it on the floor, spit on it, dance around on it, spit on it again, and put it to rest in the garbage disposal. This is identical to what all collegiate basketball teams from the state of Iowa offer up each and every March.

If you were unaware or did not see, Drake lost yesterday in their first game of the NCAA Tournament on a last second shot in overtime - final score, Western Kentucky: 101 Drake: 99. Drake could have simply lost. They were down by 16 points late in the second half and they had every right to just mope, stumble and bumble their way to a blowout defeat that would have left all Drake supporters sad but not devastated. Instead they made an incredible rally, missed a shot to win at the end of regulation time and went up by one precious point with 5.7 seconds left only to see Western Kentucky successfully convert a three point shot best described as a "heave" to complete in an improbable victory. This is apropos because this is how any promising basketball team from the state of Iowa loses. Don't believe me?

The University of Iowa was defeated in its last tournament appearance in 2006 by Northwestern State....on a last second shot. The University of Iowa State was defeated in its second-to-last tournament appearance in 2001 by Hampton....on a last second shot. Drake was a #5 seed, Iowa was a #3 seed (still the last #3 seed to lose in the tournament) and Iowa State was a #2 seed (still the last and only the fourth #2 seed to lose in the tournament). But that's not all.

Arguably the best University of Iowa basketball team of all time was 20 minutes away from the Final 4 in 1987 only to watch UNLV rally from a seemingly insurmountable 18 deficit to win in the last second.

Arguably the best University of Iowa State basketball team of all time, and probably the best team the entire state has ever offered, was less than 4 minutes away from the Final 4 in 2000 only to watch a controversial call lead to its head coach being called for two technical fouls and ejected as a one point lead evaporated into an eleven point loss. This is the same team whose star player was later revealed to be a moron, its other star player later revealed to be a jackass and the same coach who was tossed from the program's most important game was later revealed to be both an alcoholic and wooer of unsuspecting co-eds of rival universities.

There, in a nutshell, is the state of Iowa's collegiate basketball legacy.

Cubs fans will point to the fact they haven't won a World Series since 1908. Oh, boo-hoo. Cry me a frickin' river. When was the last time a team from the state of Iowa won an NCAA title? Oh, that's right....NEVER.

Cubs fans will point to the Curse of the Billy Goat. I'll point to the University of Iowa's appearance in the 1980 Final 4 in which their star player Ronnie Lester was injured only a few minutes into said Final 4 game, destroying both Iowa's opportunity to win it all and Mr. Lester's future career.

Cubs fans will point to the ball going between Leon Durham's legs. I'll point to Megan Taylor's shot at the buzzer with her Iowa State squad down by one point to Penn State in 2000 Sweet Sixteen literally going around the rim, down into the rim and then....back out.

Cubs fans will point to Steve Bartman. I'll point to 2000 Iowa State reserve Paul Shirley giving all Iowans a reason to be proud of its state's fortitude by crying on national TV.

Sure, Drake made the Final 4 back in 1969 and probably had the goods to win the whole deal except they ran into UCLA and Lew Alcindor (i.e. Kareem Abdul Jabbar), the greatest college basketball player of all time and fell (thanks, selection committee!).

Yes, Northern Iowa pulled off an improbable last second upset of Missouri in 1989 but do you know they lost to in the second round? None other than those you-betcha' spoutin' arch enemy Minnesotans to the north (thanks again, selection committee!).

I understand other state's college basketball programs have been just as bad, worse even, in so much as they have never come within even a whisper of doing anything in the NCAA Tournament, or maybe have not even had a chance to participate. Completely true, and that's why those states are the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers of college basketball. They simply lose and go about their day. They don't taste the heartbreak and pain.

There's a reason, see, the baseball gods chose the Cubs to be the eternal sufferers. They know that Chicago fans are the only ones with the stomachs to go through the grind again and again. The collapses of '69 and '84 and '03 would have killed other fans, or sent most of them jumping from the bandwagon. Likewise the college basketball gods know that only Iowans have the mental stamina to take these early round losses in particular painful fashion.

UCLA fans chased out Steve Lavin for simply making the Sweet 16 every year and not the Final 4 (the same Steve Lavin, by the way, who led his UCLA team to a 12 point comeback to dismiss - yes, that's right! - the Iowa State Cyclones from the NCAA Tournament back in 1997 by one point....on a last second shot) but if I ran into Drake coach Keno Davis tomorrow I'd buy him a beer.

Chicagoans are tough and Iowans are tough, too. Quite literally in the moment before Western Kentucky went the length of the court to stick the salad fork in Drake's heart I turned to my friend and fellow Iowan Dave and said, "Even if they lose at least they gave me a chance to have my heart broken." And you know what? I mean that. Seeing Drake play on the second day of the NCAA Tournament was cool beyond belief and I'm so proud they did not simply pack it in when they were way down and came back and were the catalyst of what will probably be remembered as the most memorable game of the entire 2008 Big Dance.

And I, and every other Iowan, will be ready and willing to have our hearts broken again next year. What do you think? Northern Iowa loses in the first round on a hook shot from half court at the buzzer? That's what I'm betting.

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