Iowa may hear its name called when the NCAA tournament bracket is announced on Sunday, but the Hawkeyes aren’t entering the event playing good basketball. Thursday night Iowa fell 67-62 to Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, their sixth loss in the last seven games.
Looking solely at the score it wouldn’t seem as if the defensive issues that have plagued Iowa throughout conference play were present on Thursday night, but they were. Northwestern shot 52.3% from the field and made 11 of its 23 attempts from beyond the arc, with guard Tre Demps scoring a team-high 20 points. Drew Crawford (15 points) and Dave Sobolewski (ten points) also scored in double figures for Northwestern, who will face Michigan State on Friday.
Iowa’s allowed at least 1.04 points per possession in every game they’ve played since beating Northwestern on January 25 (0.64 points allowed/possession), and on Thursday the Wildcats managed to score 1.15 points per possession. The defense has been an issue for quite some time for Fran McCaffery’s team, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to find a solution.
But even with that being the case it was assumed that Iowa would have enough offensive firepower to survive. Things didn’t work out that way against Northwestern.
Roy Devyn Marble scored 25 points and Jarrod Uthoff added 17 off the bench, but the other Hawkeyes combined to shoot 7-for-38 from the field. Starting guard Mike Gesell missed all ten of his shot attempts and Aaron White attempted just two shots (making both). Iowa can’t win in the Big Ten tournament, much less the NCAA tournament, when this level of offensive production occurs and sure enough the Hawkeyes are headed home after one game in Indianapolis.
Chris Collins’ team picked up a big win on Thursday, and the Wildcats certainly deserve credit for their performance. But Iowa has struggled mightily down the stretch, and the tumble will certainly impact their seeding in the NCAA tournament. The talent’s still there, but without the ability to string together stops the Hawkeyes may not be around very long.
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.