Iowa Men's Basketball

If you're skeptical about Iowa men's basketball, John Beilein laughs at you

Weekend warmed dramatically for Hawkeyes

Iowa basketball players Maishe Dailey (1), Connor McCaffery (30), Luka Garza (55) and Nicholas Baer (51) celebrate on the bench after teammate Ryan Kriener scored while being fouled during the Hawkeyes' 74-59 win over Michigan Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa basketball players Maishe Dailey (1), Connor McCaffery (30), Luka Garza (55) and Nicholas Baer (51) celebrate on the bench after teammate Ryan Kriener scored while being fouled during the Hawkeyes' 74-59 win over Michigan Friday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — It seems like the reaction to every Big Ten game the Iowa men’s basketball team plays is an overreaction.

Hawkeye junior Ryan Kriener laid it out pretty well after his team laid out No. 5 Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, 74-59.

“We just dropped two in a row,” Kriener said. “Michigan State, we thought we had ‘em. We had a really bad run (in the second half), everyone says ‘Oh, last year’s team, last year’s team.’

“We played Minnesota, we had a bad game defensively, everyone’s saying ‘Last year’s team.’

“When everyone was saying that, that’s when we locked in. We really committed to defense in the offseason, so we kind of got back to that.”

You couldn’t help but flash back to last season’s defensive woes after the Hawkeyes allowed 51 second-half points to Michigan State in the Spartans’ 82-67 win at Iowa on Jan. 24. Iowa had led by eight in the second half, then got shredded.

You couldn’t help but flash back to last season when the Hawkeyes looked stuck in quicksand defensively at Minnesota last Sunday and the Gophers drove at will in their 92-87 win.

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Enter Michigan, with a 20-1 record. The only loss was 64-54 at Wisconsin, but that was a three-point game with a minute left. No Big Ten team had scored 70 points against the Wolverines. The previous two, Indiana and Ohio State, were held under 50.

And the Hawkeyes performed a carving in Carver.

So they’re 17-5 overall, 6-5 in the Big Ten, and were up to 22nd in the NCAA’s NET rankings as of Saturday morning. Is feeling really good about them an overreaction after one game, one home game in which the Wolverines shot terribly (due in large part to Iowa’s defense) and vital cog/7-foot-1 center Jon Teske was rendered abnormally ineffectual because of early foul trouble?

No. This wasn’t some house of cards that came crashing down. Michigan had crushed Villanova 73-46 in Philadelphia, had beaten North Carolina by 17 points and Purdue by 19, had won seven Big Ten games by double-digits.

It’s an excellent team that was defanged by the Hawkeyes. It’s an excellent team going forward.

So last week’s reactions about Iowa should fade, and the current ones should be nearer to what Michigan Coach John Beilein said after Friday’s game.

“I saw it coming last year as well,” Beilein said, “but I can see why they’re 17-5 now. (I was) laughing at people when they were going into this year and they weren’t ranked as one of the top teams in our league. ... They had everybody back plus (Joe) Wieskamp. Iowa’s just a really good team. We got beat by a really good team.”

Last March 1 in New York, Michigan beat Iowa 77-71 in overtime in a game to advance to the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. The Hawkeyes had been bruised and battered in the regular season, yet battled the eventual Big Ten tourney champs and national runner-up for 45 minutes.

“I remember when they beat us in the conference tournament, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “(Beilein) said to me, ‘You’re going to have a lot of fun next year with this young team you have, which was a really classy thing to say.

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“I don’t think he said it to make me feel good. I think he really believed it.”

Twenty-two games in, Iowa doesn’t have a “bad loss.” Wisconsin and Michigan State at home. Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota on the road. Those teams are a combined 31-10 in the league.

Iowa has four wins over teams that were ranked at the time, plus a 14-point victory over Iowa State that will resonate with the NCAA Tournament’s selection people.

This Michigan thing, though, pries eyes open. And needs to be quickly forgotten by the Hawkeyes. Nine games remain with the next at Indiana Thursday, and they can’t coast past anyone.

“I’m a realist,” McCaffery said. “So you beat the fifth-ranked team, that’s really good. It’s good for our team. It’s good for our program. It’s good moving forward.

“But it just makes the next game bigger. And so we can enjoy this for a very short period of time, go back to work, get ready for the next one.”

Beilein, however, was free to look big-picture when it came to the team that just popped his.

“They can win a lot of games,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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