Saturday’s win over #5 Kansas State was extremely exciting, as is most every upset victory. But, given the context, it was also somewhat aggravating. As I soaked it in, I couldn’t help but wonder why it took this talented team 31 games to finally put together a quality, 40-minute performance. And, in the bigger picture, why did it take four full seasons to finally nab that signature win? On its own, it was certainly a great performance. But, as Paul Clark of Cyclonereport.com pointed out, so was Jim Walden’s 1992 win over the #7 Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Given this season’s shortcomings, what this win currently lacks is a broader meaning. It wasn’t as if this was a cherry-on-top victory that solidified our NCAA tournament resume. It wasn’t even a win that will put us in consideration for the NIT. So what does it mean going forward? Clearly, there isn’t much time to make it count for anything yet this season. This squad has exactly two days to parlay this into a Big 12 tournament win, otherwise the season ends for good on Wednesday, and the joy of a victory over a top-5 team will be short-lived.
So what about next season? Is there any way that this stunning victory can propel the program to another level? If we were looking at a youthful team that will be returning its top talent, I could absolutely buy into that. (At least the optimist in me would try.) Fans always talk about “getting over the hump” when teams are struggling, and a big upset can often serve as a catalyst. But time isn’t on our side this season, and it’s unlikely that talent will be on our side next season. Chances are this team will lose its top two scorers and rebounders in Brackins and Gilstrap. And if past trends hold true, we’ll likely lose one or two additional players for any number of reasons.
Unfortunately, I simply do not see any foothold for this win to dig into in order to push momentum upward. The program has been groping for such a foothold for four years now, but I think the cruel irony of this win is in its timing. If it comes earlier in the season, maybe it gives this team the confidence it needed to win some of those close games that eventually landed in the loss column. One could argue that this win – one of the most surprising upsets in the history of Iowa State basketball – is simply another example of the bad luck that has plagued the McDermott era. It’s as if lady luck decided to take a break from being downright cruel, and instead chose to mock the man.
Some have insisted that this win justifies the unwavering support that McDermott has received from some fans, as if the failure of the past four seasons was somehow erased in 40 minutes. I would counter that this win more adequately justifies the frustration that continued to build over the course of the season. Most people believed we had a talented team on our hands heading into this season. Unfortunately, that talent wasn’t displayed in a quality win until the final game of the regular season, after every other opportunity to do so had passed by.
Time will tell, but my gut tells me that what we witnessed was indeed the basketball version of the 1992 football victory over Nebraska. It was that head-turning, head-scratching upset of a ranked team that happens quite often during the college basketball season when a determined David catches Goliath on an off day. Our Cyclones deserve a lot of credit for playing the role of that determined and opportunistic foe, but that doesn’t change the circumstances surrounding this unexpected victory. I really hope the future proves me wrong.