Two very memorable basketball games took place in the Hawkeye sports world on Sunday afternoon. The men’s team lost in overtime to Tennessee after an incredible 25-point comeback, while the women advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015.
Everything was laughably reminiscent of the seasons of both teams. We saw pure dominance from Megan Gustafson and the Hawkeye women, along with all forms (good, bad, and ugly) of the Iowa men.
Hawkeye men’s basketball (and its fans) has some things it could learn from the women’s team moving forward. The women know how to win in big moments, and the fans know how to help them.
The culture surrounding the women has all fingers pointed at a run at this year’s Final Four. Fans are confident in that, and it was apparent in the goosebumps-inducing loudness in Carver on Sunday.
It’s no secret that a lot of Iowa fans aren’t fond of Fran McCaffery. He’s an animated guy, and that sometimes gets the best of him — it certainly did when he had to sit out two games on suspension this year. The men had won five of the six games leading up to his antics against Ohio State on Feb. 26, but the team went on to lose six of its last eight games of the season. That suspension tamped down a hot streak and growing excitement in the fan base, likely costing Iowa a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.
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The women are incredibly easy to root for. Gustafson can literally be seen hours after a game still taking pictures with fans — still in her uniform and iconic headband — and Tania Davis is a clever force on social media.
On top of that, head coach Lisa Bluder is on the sideline for every game and is calm, cool, collected. Her team wins with class and loses — granted, they haven’t lost much this year — with grace and intent on improvement. Teams are a direct reflection of their coaches.
Iowa women’s fans almost had to be pried out of their seats following the Hawkeyes’ win over Missouri. Carver wasn’t full — 12,376 fans showed up — but a lot of people would agree with me in saying that it was as loud as I’ve ever heard it in there (not counting Old Dominion concerts). Fans ruthlessly defended an undefeated home record for Iowa on Sunday.
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Compare that with the Iowa men’s win over Northwestern on Feb. 10. The team was getting trounced in the second half before the hot hand of Jordan Bohannon took over, pushing down a last-second 3-pointer to shock the Wildcats. Most of the fans, though, were not watching it live — they had left Carver early to beat traffic only to receive notifications on their phones of a stunning Iowa comeback. Tyler Cook even called Hawkeye fans out on this.
Sure, an early February apparent blowout loss isn’t the same as a win at home in the tournament. But when fans are clearly so quick to give up on a team, it really doesn’t help with recruiting or the morale of the athletes.
It’s also true it’s the last season of Gustafson and the incredible senior class. But they’ve established a new culture in Iowa City, helping to create a passionate fan base and a solid recruiting trail. McKenna Warnock — this year’s Miss Basketball of Wisconsin — will don the Black and Gold next season. That can obviously be linked to the accomplishments of Port Wing, Wisconsin, native Gustafson.
The men’s team is young and the women’s team is full of veterans. That just means the men still have a chance to create the same kind of excitement seen at Carver on Sunday.