The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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March 15, 2013

LEVINE: March madness heats up

CLINTON — Historical columnist Gary Herrity’s look back today at the ’92 Crew will create a bit of nostalgia for many area residents.

Although I wasn’t a Clintonian at the time, I’ve heard many stories of the team, and how they captivated the entire town during their one-loss state championship campaign.

It’s recent history, but every now and then, it’s good to reminisce about some moments that may have been forgotten, while also reliving the buzzer-beaters, like the infamous desperation shot against Cedar Rapids Jefferson in the state tournament’s first round.

I can imagine that the town’s love affair with the ’92 team was reminiscent of the River Kings’ undefeated football regular season in 2009.

Fans had to show up extra early to find a seat during the 2009 season to watch Clinton’s march through the MAC. The run eventually ended in a loss during the quarterfinals of the playoffs, but it didn’t deter the amount of support garnered.

The buzz around town was undeniable, and lifted the spirits of citizens during a rough time economically. And that’s what sports are all about, and although the high schools are finished with winter sports, March madness is heating up with conference tournaments in college.

And for the first time since 2005, both of Iowa’s major basketball teams are in the running for an NCAA tournament berth.

Whether both will get in is still a mystery, but having Iowa and Iowa State at least in the conversation is what’s best to keep basketball in Iowa relevant.

Iowa State hit a rough patch in the 2000s after Larry Eustachy’s exit. Eustachy is now resurrecting his career at Colorado State, just as Fred Hoiberg is ready to take Iowa State to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since Eustachy’s squads nabbed No. 2 seeds in 2000 and 2001.

This year’s Clones can beat any team in the country...and they can get beat by any team, too. Going on the road and winning 39 minutes, and 59 seconds, of the game against Kansas shows that Iowa State is capable of competing with the best teams, especially since it doesn’t appear any squad is head-and-shoulders above everyone else. In order to go toe-to-toe with the best teams, they have to make the tournament, and then get by the first round, which could be a challenge.

Iowa State will be a popular underdog pick by the experts, and is a scary team in any bracket.

Iowa, on the other hand, doesn’t appear headed to the tournament without a strong Big 10 conference showing. The Hawks competed at a high level in the Big 10, which is this year’s strongest conference, but their non-conference schedule was awful.

A win against Iowa State hardly overshadows not registering a non-conference victory against any big-time opponents. While Iowa State didn’t have many notable non-conference wins, they did take care of business against highly ranked teams in the conference.

Wins against Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota are good, but not enough to gain entry into the tournament. To the Hawks credit, they appear ahead of schedule on rebuilding, and going .500 in the Big 10 is noteworthy, thus keeping them in the discussion for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.

Since I’m an Iowa State fan, I care much more about the Cyclones’ potential in the tournament than the Hawks.

But during the 2000s when neither team was relevant for much of the decade, I relish the opportunity to see both teams doing well on a national stage.

It creates a renewal in the rivalry and makes this time of year even more exciting.

Scott Levine is the associate editor of the Clinton Herald.

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