It probably doesn’t feel like it to the team in the dog days of February, but we’re in a bit of a lull in the Iowa men’s basketball team’s schedule.
It’s probably a good thing for the Hawkeyes they aren’t playing between Sunday’s hard-to-believe 80-79 comeback win over Northwestern and their game at Rutgers Saturday. Emotionally, it would be difficult to get back to business right away after rallying from 11 points behind with 2:09 left Sunday to win on Jordan Bohannon’s last-second 3-pointer.
It looked like it was hard enough bouncing back after their 77-72 win at Indiana last Thursday night.
Anyway, here are some random observations about the 19-5 Hawkeyes:
1. You may want to give Fran McCaffery a bit of credit. His players do.
The Hawkeyes won 77-72 at Indiana last Thursday in no small part because Iowa was able to get the ball to Bohannon three straight times on inbound situations, and the sharpshooter sank 5 of 6 free throws to keep the Hoosiers at bay. Connor McCaffery made the passes. His father called the plays. His players credited their coach afterward.
Then, the set Iowa used on its inbounds pass with three seconds left against Northwestern wasn’t improvised. Fran McCaffery gave his players options and Connor McCaffery chose the best one when Bohannon sprang open. The players freely said it was the coach’s handiwork that set it all up.
Of course, if Bohannon misses that shot we’re probably talking about something else here today.
2. You’ll see wild scoring sprees from time to time in basketball, especially if you watch James Harden or Stephen Curry. But two in a row from a collegian?
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Last February, Iowa’s Isaiah Moss scored 19 points in the final 1:36 of the Hawkeyes’ 86-82 loss at Minnesota. That was so freakish, people checked and rechecked their math to make sure it wasn’t a mistake. I’m still not sure it actually happened. But it did.
Less than 12 months later, something has topped it for Iowa. Bohannon getting 11 points in the final 91 seconds at Indiana followed by 13 in the last 3:20 against Northwestern is not your every-winter occurrence for a program.
3. OK, let’s stop reminiscing about the last week and focus on the next month. Iowa has seven Big Ten games left, one-third of its conference season. As the Northwestern game reminded us, nothing is given.
The Hawkeyes are at Rutgers, at home against Maryland and Indiana, at Ohio State, at home against Rutgers, and at Wisconsin and Nebraska. Right now, you shouldn’t bet your snowblower that they’ll win or lose any of those games.
Rutgers is 4-9 in the Big Ten, but has beaten Ohio State, Nebraska and Indiana at home. It’s a program that finally appears to be pointed out of the rubble. A win in Piscataway Saturday would be a good win for Iowa, no matter how little it would move the needle in some minds.
4. It’s way early to dwell on the Big Ten tournament, but March looks better than February on my Midwest calendar (and June looks a lot better than March).
The Hawkeyes have won their way out of the league’s pit of despair, which is the Wednesday play-in games for the 11th-through-14th seeds. To skip Thursday and advance straight to Friday, you must finish the regular season in the top four. Maryland and Wisconsin were 9-4 and tied for fourth entering Tuesday night’s games against Purdue and Michigan State, respectively. Iowa is in sixth at 8-5.
Michigan won four games to capture last year’s Big Ten tourney, but avoiding Thursday altogether remains a far better path to the title.
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Incidentally, Iowa hasn’t made it to Friday of that event since 2013. For those who have forgotten, the tourney doesn’t really get going until Friday, and is even better on Saturday and Sunday.
5. I don’t know how many games Iowa or Iowa States would have to win to get sent to Des Moines for the NCAA tourney, but it’s quite a few. I do know this:
If either the Hawkeyes or Cyclones are assigned to Des Moines, it will be a sellers’ market. Like maybe none this state has ever seen, for anything.
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