Historically, basketball in Iowa City is something that the University of Iowa fans, as well as Hawkeyes fans, take great pride in.
From producing top-caliber NBA talent to winning Big Ten championships, and making deep March Madness runs, the Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball program is one that has always been respected. Over the years, the Hawkeyes have appeared in the NCAA March Madness tournament 28 times, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen eight times.
Of those eight, the Hawkeyes have appeared in the Elite Eight four times, the Final Four three times, and have made it to the National Championship game once. Aside from March Madness appearances, the Iowa Hawkeyes have been the Big Ten Conference regular season champions eight times and have won the Big Ten Conference tournament three times.
The team has seen coming through their ranks an incredible number of iconic players too. While there is certainly an abundance of teams to choose from when recognizing the best seasons in program history, the Hawkeyes do have a few achievements that are too significant not to highlight.
Following a subpar conference season, finishing 7-9 in the Big Ten, the Iowa Hawkeyes went into the conference tournament tied with Penn State for sixth place. After handling 11-seed Northwestern by a score of 74-55, the Hawkeyes went on to face the three-seed, Ohio State.
After beating the Buckeyes 75-66, the Hawkeyes would move on to face the seven-seed Penn State team, who they would blow out by 20 points, 94-74. Advancing to the Big Ten Championship game, Iowa found themselves up against the Indiana Hoosiers, who were coming off of a win against the number one seed and number four nationally ranked University of Illinois.
Iowa would bring the game down to the wire, eventually beating the conference four seed Indiana, 63-61, winning the school’s first-ever Big Ten conference tournament championship.
After their run in the Big Ten tournament, the Hawkeyes would earn a seven seed in the NCAA March Madness tournament. They would face off against the number ten-seeded Creighton team, who they would beat 69-56. Advancing to the Round of 32, the Iowa Hawkeyes would face off with the number two-seeded Kentucky Wildcats.
Unfortunately, this would be the end of the line for the Hawkeyes, as the Wildcats would defeat them by a score of 79-92 to move on to the Sweet Sixteen. Despite their departure from the NCAA tournament, this was still a historical season for the University of Iowa, winning the men’s basketball Big Ten conference tournament for the first time in school history.
Under the leadership of current Iowa men’s basketball coach, Fran McCaffery, the Hawkeyes posted a 25-9 record, as well as a 12-8 conference record. During the 2021-2022 season, the Hawkeyes only lost one non-conference game, which was to the number 17 ranked Iowa State Cyclones, on December 9, 2021.
As they moved into the Big Ten conference tournament, the number 16-ranked Hawkeyes would come in as the conference five seed, facing off against 12-seed Northwestern in the first round. Round one would not strain Iowa, as they handled Northwestern, beating them 112-76.
Iowa would move on to face the number four seed, Rutgers, defeating them 84-74. The semifinals would prove to be the biggest test of the tournament for the Hawkeyes, as they were able to narrowly edge out the nine-seed Hoosiers from Indiana, by a score of 80-77.
In the Big Ten championship game, Iowa would face off with the three seed, Purdue, the number ten ranked team in the country, who had beaten the Hawkeyes in both of their matchups during the season. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, the Hawkeyes would take the game that truly mattered, winning the Big Ten championship game, 75-66. This would be only the program’s third-ever conference tournament win.
Following their sweep of the Big Ten tournament, the Hawkeyes would receive a five-seed in the NCAA March Madness tournament. Despite the momentum they had created after a strong season and a conference tournament victory, the Iowa Hawkeyes’ season would end in the first round, as the 12-seed Richmond Spiders would win by a score of 63-67 to move on to the Round of 32.
Besides the early departure from the March Madness tournament, this season marked only the third time the Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball team had won the Big Ten conference tournament.
— Iowa Hawkeyes on SR (@SRHawkeyes) June 24, 2022
Posting a record of 25-9, 11-5 in the conference, the Iowa Hawkeyes entered the Big Ten tournament as the two seed. They would defeat the ten seed Minnesota by a score of 67-57 in their first round. Moving on to the semifinals, the Hawkeyes would face the six seeded Spartans, from Michigan State. Again, the Hawkeyes would advance, winning a tough battle and a very low scoring game by a score of 53-48, to advance to the conference championship game.
Here, the conference two seed and number 15 ranked team nationally, would face off against the conference one seed and number six ranked team nationally, in Ohio State. After leading by one point at halftime, the Hawkeyes would emerge victorious in the back and forth battle, defeating the Buckeyes, 67-60, winning the program’s second ever Big Ten conference tournament championship.
Their performance in the conference tournament would award the Hawkeyes with a three seed into the NCAA March Madness tournament, where they would square off with the 14 seed, Northwestern State. Unfortunately, this would be the end of the road for Iowa, as Northwestern State would stun them, upsetting the Hawkeyes by one point, 63-64.
Although Iowa’s season would end with one of the major upsets in the 2006 March Madness tournament, it does not take away from the fact that the team was able to win the Big Ten conference tournament for only the second time in the men’s basketball program history. While it wasn’t the end the team wanted, this still was one of their best seasons of all time.
In the first season of his 13-year stint as the Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball head coach, Tom Davis led the Hawkeyes to the team’s first, and only, 30 win season, posting a record of 30-5, 14-4 in conference.
This would be enough for a third place conference finish, as well as a two seed in the NCAA March Madness tournament. After easily handling 15 seed Santa Clara by a score of 99-76 in the first round, Iowa would be seriously tested in their next two matchups.
In the Round of 32, they would narrowly defeat seventh seed UTEP, 84-82 and would go to overtime in the Sweet Sixteen, defeating number six Oklahoma 93-91. Iowa would advance to the Elite Eight for only the fourth time in program history, where they would face off with number one seeded UNLV.
Unfortunately, this would be the end of the line, as the Runnin’ Rebels would defeat the Hawkeyes, 81-84. An Elite Eight finish to cap off the program’s only 30 win season is without a doubt one of the best seasons the Iowa Hawkeyes have put together on the hardwood.
The 1979-1980 season was a truly magical one for the Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball team. After putting together a solid 23-10 season, including a fourth place 10-8 conference record, no one expected a deep run in the NCAA March Madness tournament from the Hawkeyes. Iowa would square off with VCU in the opening round of the tournament, winning by a score of 86-72.
Moving on to the Round of 32, Iowa would meet the fourth seed, NC State, defeating them 77-64. After making some noise in the first two rounds of the March Madness tournament, the Hawkeyes would square off in the Sweet Sixteen with the mighty number one seed, Syracuse Orange.
Without losing a stride from their first two games, Iowa would end the number one seed’s season, defeating Syracuse by a score of 88-77. Their historical run would not end here, reaching the Elite Eight and facing the number three seed in Georgetown. This would be the toughest match yet for Iowa, as they would narrowly defeat Georgetown, 81-80, punching their ticket to the Final Four for the third time in program history, the first time since 1956.
This would end their National Championship run, as Iowa would lose to number two seed, Louisville in the Final Four, by a score of 72-80. While the Iowa Hawkeyes have put out some incredible talent over the years, very few seasons compare to the Final Four run they made in the 1980 March Madness tournament.
While we are looking at the best single seasons in Iowa basketball history, the Hawkeyes team from 1954-1956 deserves to be grouped together. This team was highlighted by their “Fabulous Five” starting lineup. From their sophomore to senior seasons, Sharm Scheuerman, Bill Seaberg, Carl Cain, Bill Schoof, and Bill Logan served as the starting five for the Hawkeyes.
As juniors, in the 1954-1955 season, this group led the Hawkeyes to a 19-7 season in which they were the Big Ten regular season conference champions and would eventually lose in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament to La Salle by a score of 73-76.
As if their accomplishments weren’t enough the year before, the “Fabulous Five” returned for their senior season in 1955-1956. Much like they did the year before, the group would lead the Hawkeyes to back-to-back Big Ten conference regular season championships.
The Fabulous Five
Finishing the season with a 20-6 record, the team would beat Temple in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament by a score of 83-76, but would be defeated in the National Championship game by the University of San Francisco by a score of 71-83.
Over the years, the University of Iowa Hawkeyes has put together some very impressive seasons. With that said, nothing compares to what they did in back-to-back seasons from 1954-1956. Not only did this team appear in the Final Four two of the three times the Hawkeyes have ever made such a run, but they were also the Hawkeyes only men’s basketball National Championship appearance.
The “Fabulous Five” from 1954-1946 not only produced two of the University of Iowa’s best single seasons ever, but they were also the best team the Hawkeyes have ever put out on the hardwood. Each member of the “Fabulous Five” group would have their numbers retired by the University of Iowa.
Deep Runs In March Madness
While there were teams that had better regular seasons than the ones on this list, deep runs in the March Madness tournament cannot be ignored.
Some Iowa Hawkeyes teams earned top three seeds in the March Madness tournament but failed to make it past the Round of 32. At the end of the day, teams aim for conference championships and deep runs in the tournament in March.
The combination of Big Ten tournament championships as well as strong showings in March Madness makes up the best Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball seasons of all time.