IOWA CITY, Iowa - If you immerse yourself in the negativity on social media, perhaps you come away feeling the Iowa Basketball season cannot be saved. Welcome to 2021, where emotions are fragile and the worse is often expected.
Hawkeye fans' scars run deep after watching Top 10 teams in January limp to the finish line during the last decade. The failure to win a Big Ten regular-season title since 1979 or advance to a Sweet 16 since '99 creates an inferiority complex rife with nightmarish flashbacks of disappointing moments.
I won't rip off the scab completely. Thoughts about losing as a three-seed to No. 14 Northwestern State in the first round of the '06 Big Dance kicks in PTSD for much of the faithful.
That and other bad memories will continue causing trauma until this program exorcises its demons. They'll never fully go away, but they can be suppressed with success on a national stage that elicits pride.
I've lived it. I started covering this outfit in '97. I sat court side at The Palace (may it rest in peace) of Auburn Hills, Michigan when Northwestern State completed an improbable comeback. That scene and the one after Iowa lost the '15 Big Ten football championship have brought about the most emotional postgame locker rooms.
Current Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his players can't truly understand the disappointment you guys have felt during the last 22 years and beyond. They're also not to blame for it.
These Hawkeyes are the only ones in position to help, however, and that's a lot of weight to carry. It's a responsibility they can't avoid and one they are embracing. There's still time to achieve.
Barring a miracle, ending the Big Ten regular-season title drought likely is out of reach after Sunday's 67-65 loss at Indiana. And for some fans, falling short of that goal is unforgivable. Expectations, like music choices, are subjective and personal.
For those folks still engaged, this season can be fulfilling even if Iowa dropping four of its last five games makes that tough to see right now. Every year, we witness teams across the country get hot and make postseason runs.
Believe it or not, these Hawkeyes are very capable of pulling that off. National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza and the veteran pieces around him very well could take off once free of the in-depth scouting reports and restricted movement in the Big Ten.
No doubt this team needs to performer better. It's underachieving even though the absence of starting shooting guard C.J. Fredrick is crippling. He's a talented two-way guard who sinks half of this trey attempts. His return is vital.
It's not a coincidence that the recent struggles coincided with Fredrick being sidelined. It lost 4 of 7 games a year ago when he was either limited or out making its record 4-8 in those situations during the last two campaigns.
So, what is a reasonable gauge of success for this team? Again, that's personal for all of you. For me, it's Sweet 16 or bust.
Fair or not, teams ultimately are judged by March. If Iowa won the regular-season Big Ten title and lost in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament, the feeling would resemble the gut punch of Northwestern State.
The Hawkeyes entered the '79 Dance coming off a fourth-place, Big-Ten finish with a 10-8 record. They dropped three of four games from Feb. 14-23, including setbacks against unranked Indiana and Wisconsin. They reached the Final Four.
It's sport. Just when we think we have it figured out, it surprises and, often, thrills us. And history doesn't always repeat itself, good or bad, despite that being a natural default emotion.
Hope is not lost unless we choose to give up. The Hawkeyes are still chasing goals.