The Big Picture Implications of Iowa State’s LossPosted by dnspewak on March 24th, 2013
Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is a Big 12 Microsite writer.
One shot does not define a program. Aaron Craft’s dramatic, I-can’t-believe-that-just-went-in three-pointer in the final milliseconds of regulation on Sunday will become an iconic moment of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but as much as it will pain Iowa State fans for all eternity, it will not ruin Cyclones basketball. It will not overshadow Fred Hoiberg’s rebuilding job and two straight NCAA Tournaments, nor should it overshadow the fact that ISU will return the Big 12’s leading rebounder in Melvin Ejim next season. Hoiberg’s program is in fine shape, and Craft’s pull-up three won’t change that.
But boy, does this one hurt. And it’s hard not to think about what might have happened had Craft’s shot not fallen. Say he misses, and the 10th-seeded Cyclones upset Ohio State in overtime. Say Chris Babb does not get injured, or the officials make a different call on that charge in the final minutes and it changes the outcome of this game. If Iowa State could have found a way to knock off the Buckeyes and advance to the Sweet Sixteen, it would have made its first trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2000. That’s a full 13 years ago, when Larry Eustachy roamed the sideline and Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley wore the Cyclones jersey. It was the end of a strong era for Iowa State basketball, as Eustachy’s success built upon the work of Tim Floyd and Johnny Orr in the ’80s and ’90s. When Iowa State earned a two-seed in the 2001 NCAA Tournament, this program couldn’t have soared any higher.Then Hampton happened. Out in the first round to a 15-seed. A short while later, the infamous party pictures of Eustachy forced his departure after the 2002-03 season. His replacement, Wayne Morgan, won one game in the NCAA Tournament a few years after that but nothing more. When Greg McDermott took over in 2006-07, four seasons of mediocre, tournament-less basketball followed.
That’s where Fred Hoiberg stood when he took the job three years ago. His first season was difficult.In Year Two, he used Royce White to propel his team to an NCAA Tournament berth. And on Sunday, 12 years after Hampton’s miracle victory, the Cyclones had a chance to erase everything. If only they could have gotten a stop on the final possession, they would have had a chance to erase the upset loss in 2001, erase Eustachy’s drinking problem, erase the McDermott Era and erase more than a decade of frustration. Had Iowa State won, it would have faced a beatable Arizona team in the Sweet Sixteen. Top-seeded Gonzaga is already out of the region, as are the four and five seeds. There was a small but absolutely realistic possibility Iowa State could have somehow reached Atlanta.
So that’s what Aaron Craft’s shot meant to Cyclone Nation on Sunday. You could see it in Anthony Booker’s tear-filled eyes with 0.5 seconds the clock, as he sat on the bench helplessly. That shot ruined so much for this senior class, but it ruined so much for this program, too.
They’ll remember the 2012-13 season fondly in Ames. It wasn’t majestic, but Iowa State run-and-gunned its way to a fun season and an NCAA Tournament berth after losing White, Scott Christopherson and Chris Allen from last year’s roster. They were highly entertaining, filled with shooters and scorers and guys who could light up the scoreboard. The future is bright, but that “what if” will always linger in the aftermath of this season. Funny thing is, the fans might remember the charge call just as well as they remember The Shot. After the blown no-call in Ames at the end of regulation against Kansas in February, it’s almost as if somebody’s playing a cruel joke on Iowa State this year.
But it’s no joke. It’s just sports. Things happen, people collide (literally, in Iowa State’s case of the charge/block controversies) and heartbreak happens. If there’s anyone who can lead Iowa State out of this despair, though, it’s The Mayor. He may not have yet made a Sweet Sixteen, but if he came this close in only his third season, you can guarantee he’ll have a shot at it again soon.