The more I keep looking at Iowa's draw, the more I keep convincing myself that maybe I was right. Maybe all of the hardships and heartaches happened for a reason. That this two month fall from grace will be worth it in the end. That the Hawkeyes still have six horses ready and able to "make some noise" or to be that giant resting "sleeper" or whatever other March Madness cliche you want to use.
That in terms of birds of prey, the Hawkeyes could resemble more of a spring Phoenix than the actual eye of a hawk.
What has me in such a chipper mood is a sudden realization that occurred to me during my morning run on Wednesday when I started thinking back on the Michigan State Spartans road to the Final Four from last year.
Before I even go any further and send some of you into a tizzy -- and yes, I know comparing Tom Izzo in March to this years Hawkeyes is an initial stretch -- I just simply ask that you stay with me.
Now, I want you all to look at this:
The left column is Michigan State's 2015 KenPom stats. The right column is Iowa's 2016 KenPom stats.
For those with memories like mine, a refresher: After losing the 2015 Big Ten Championship game to Wisconsin, the selection committee decided to slate Michigan State in the 7/10 hole in the East region against Georgia, a Top-50 KenPom team with a pretty solid offense.
As fate would have it, Sparty took out the more formidable and complete -- when comparing them to Temple -- Georgia Bulldogs to push them to a head to head, second round heavyweight fight against the then No. 2 seeded Virginia Cavaliers (KenPom's No. 5 ranked team), where they surprised everyone with their six point, 60-54 victory to advance to the Sweet-16.
And the rest of that run is history. Literally.
Now, assuming Iowa sneaks by Temple (more on this later, I promise) in a murky, potentially bloody slugfest, we'd then see the Hawkeyes (potentially) squaring off against none other than KenPom's current No. 5 ranked team in the country: No. 2 seeded Villanova.
I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
Now, I know the arguments against all of this and I've already tempered my expectations by going through them over and over and over again. But in this parody (drink) filled college basketball season, would it be that shocking if Iowa rediscovered themselves and blitzed their way to the Sweet-16 or Elite Eight with the likes of Villanova/Miami/Wichita State/Arizona as potential roadblocks?
I suppose that's for you, kind reader, to decide.
But, even with the potential to get my heartbroken again, I honestly don't think it would be.
But before I get way ahead of myself, let's get back to the game at hand. Like I wrote on Tuesday, Temple is the type of man-to-man defensive team that could give this team fits. They're like the collegiate version of the Broad Street Bullies. At any point you could probably garner a restraining order for how close they play on ball. They want to body you up, beat you down and drain you out.
They are relentless. Always coming at you.
Now, if the officials swallow their whistles and let Temple play as physical as they wish, this thing is going to be a nail biter. But if they call it close and Iowa can somehow make their free throws, the odds swing heavily in the Hawkeyes favor. In fact, Temple was 10-10 on the season (with two overtime wins) in games they committed 16+ fouls (what they average per game).
In terms of offense, Iowa has a strong upper hand. The Hawkeyes have averaged 78.1 points per game compared to the Owls 68.6. If Peter Jok can duplicate his Big Ten Tournament game against Illinois and Jarrod Uthoff can shed his recent brickpaver uniform in favor of his schmedium sized Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks jersey, there is little to no reason Iowa can't keep the pressure on Temple to make a majority of their shot attempts (which could be hard for a purely jump shooting team). It's also going to be imperative for Fran McCaffery to continuously push this squad to liven up the pace to keep Temple's defense on their heels.
With the time off and the tempered expectations, Iowa has a great opportunity to get hot now. An opportunity they need to take seriously. After all, if they plan on being the darling at the dance, getting into a rhythm is only going to help as the defenses get efficiently better (yet, less punchy) as they work their way towards the middle of the bracket.