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Schwartz: Oh Good, It’s the Spartans

December 29, 2015

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

Tonight is about Eleanor.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go watch the movie “Gone in Sixty Seconds.” There are versions from 1974 and 2000. Pick one. They both have an Eleanor.

The plot involves car thieves trying to steal many cars in one night to fulfill a contract. They’re able to steal Ferraris, Mercedes – you name it. For each one they have a code name.

Both movies contain a car code named Eleanor. In the first film, it was a 1971 Mustang Sportsroof. In the second, it was a 1967 Shelby Mustang GT. In both films, Eleanor is the only one in the contract that is all but unattainable. Sometimes the police are there, or the car breaks – something always; goes wrong.

I bring this up because Iowa’s men’s basketball teams hosts Michigan State tonight. The Spartans are Iowa’s Eleanor. Nearly unbeatable. Invincible whether the Hawkeyes are 0-12 or 12-0.

Pull Iowa’s best eight players from 1999-present, which covers the coaching tenures of Steve Alford, Todd Lickliter and Fran McCaffery, and pit them against any eight players randomly selected from the Tom Izzo-era at Michigan State, and there’s at best a 50/50 chance the Hawkeyes win.

Talent isn’t the issue.

Since the start of the 2007 season, Michigan State is 14-2 against the Hawkeyes. One of Iowa’s wins – and this is not a misprint – was a 43-36 Lickliter-induced atrocity. Iowa attempted only 40 shots. The teams shot a combined 27-for-92. James Naismith would have done something else with his life if he knew his game would someday be played like this. After the game Izzo said, “This is one of the poorest games we’ve played maybe in my entire time as head coach. … This will be a tape that gets burned.”

The Hawkeyes are 9-3. I suppose one could ineloquently describe their season thus far as “pretty good, not great.” Jarrod Uthoff has shown moments of excellence. Peter Jok looks confident. Nick Baer is Iowa’s best walk-on since Darryl Moore.

Michigan State? Well, the Spartans are ranked No. 1. Because of course they are. I’m so jealous.

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Thing is, it doesn’t matter what ranking Michigan State holds. The Spartans own Iowa.

It’s a psychological advantage. Or cosmic. I don’t know.

What we do know is that Iowa is a competent – sometimes excellent – college basketball program. Sometimes the Hawkeyes beat Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland, and so forth. Sometimes they lose.

That’s fine. That’s how sports is supposed to work.

But Michigan State?

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Eleanor.

There’s a scene in the “Sixty Seconds” remake between the master car thief and a detective that is apropos to tonight’s game.

Thief: Without disappointment you cannot appreciate victory.

Detective: Did Eleanor tell you that?

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Thief: Now that’s hittin’ below the belt.

An Iowa win tonight would shock the college basketball world because it would be an unranked team upsetting the No. 1 team in the country. It would shock Hawkeye Nation because it’s the Spartans.

In all honesty and candidness, this is the only game Iowa goes into each year (sometimes twice a year) in which I am drained of hope before tipoff. But I’m just a dopey fan.

To lose 14 out of 16 games to a team – as Iowa has – and to not beat a team in nearly five years has to be utterly demoralizing. What must it do to their confidence? Do they feel like they’re in a hole before the game even begins?

Doubtful. They’re D-1 athletes. They always think they’ve got a shot.

Whether that’s true is anyone’s best guess.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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