WILLIAMS: Putting a bow on the most improbable season in Cyclone history

Mar 25, 2022; Chicago, IL, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Aljaz Kunc (5) reacts as the Cyclones lose 70-56 to the Miami Hurricanes in the semifinals of the Midwest regional of the men’s college basketball NCAA Tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — I despise amusement parks. Having said that, the 2021-22 Iowa State men’s basketball season is one roller-coaster that I am glad that I got to ride. 

The excitement of the most surprising season in Iowa State history came to an end on Friday night in the Sweet 16, 70-56 at the hands of a toasty Miami squad. 

To be frank, these season-ending columns are generally the most difficult ones to write. Mainly because I don’t feel like I’m good enough at this to wrap up five months worth of basketball – in this case, 35 games – in 1,000 words. It’s impossible to capture, especially for a season as inspiring as this.

My emotions right now are quite odd.

After a historic, improbable and even impossible one-year turnaround, the Cyclones were no doubt playing with house money this weekend in Chicago. I wrote about this last week in Milwaukee. Making the Sweet 16 only seemed like a dream!

But despite being an 11-seed, limping into the Tournament and having glaring holes on the roster – right or wrong – losing to 10th-seeded Miami still feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. 

You know what? 

Both can be true. 

It is totally fine to be depressed by the loss yet enthusiastically appreciative of everything that this season possessed. That’s where I have landed.

Looking back, the whole thing really was the perfect setup for a fan. 

Zero expectations plus a smoldering hot start to get you on board. The ride got us through a long, Iowa winter and most importantly, re-raised the standard for Iowa State basketball in the future. 

We have seen much more talented Iowa State teams over the last decade, but I’m not sure that one embodied its fan base more than this group of junkyard dogs.

“Just want to be remembered as a group that gave their all out there, just found a way to beat the odds and overcome adversity the whole year,” Izaiah Brockington said. “I hope we made them proud back there, that they saw the effort that we put in and the run that we made. And I just hope they can look back in a couple of years, when this program is still doing well, and just see us as the guys that got the ball rolling, that kind of started it.”

No doubt.

The most important big picture takeaway I have from this tournament run is that after Iowa State’s last departure from the Sweet 16, it felt like the end of an era – or at least like we were tip-toeing towards it. Georges Niang was going pro and at the time, we did not know the future of other Cyclone legends (turns out many of them came back, only to fall short in the Round of 32 the next year).

This, however, feels like the start of something big.