This one is going to sting for the Hawkeyes, because they had a golden opportunity to put themselves into a great spot for an NCAA tournament bid.
With the rest of the bubble teams around the country losing today, the Hawkeyes — who Dave Ommen had as the fifth team out heading into today’s action — took a 10 point lead over Michigan State into halftime and pushed that lead to 12 with just over ten minutes left in the game. Close out the win, and Iowa just may have done enough to inch their way onto the right side of the bubble.
But that’s not what happened.
Instead, Keith Appling and Gary Harris sparked a 22-2 run that turned that 12 point deficit into a 57-49 lead with just under two minutes left in the game. Iowa still had a chance, missing three threes in the final minute that would have tied the game, but none of the three went down and Fran McCaffery and his talented group of youngsters look like they’re headed to the NIT.
Would the win over Michigan State have been enough to change their fortunes?
Maybe. Maybe not. It would have depended on how a lot of other things played out around the country, and likely would have required at least a win over Ohio State in the semifinals to feel safe. Hopefully, that will take some of the sting out of the loss, knowing that all Iowa cost themselves was a chance to play their way into the tournament, not a spot in the Big Dance.
For the Spartans, the good news is that Appling and Harris, who had struggled throughout the game, took over down the stretch. Appling, in particular, has had an up-and-down season, but the Spartans are undoubtedly a better basketball team when he is playing well. Will he carry the momentum from this win into Saturday’s semifinal against the Buckeyes?
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.