Mike Gesell

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No. 20 Iowa loses to Illinois, suffering fifth loss in its last six games

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Having lost four of their last five games of the regular season, No. 20 Iowa looked to establish some positive momentum at the Big Ten tournament this weekend. A team that some believed to be the best in the conference at the end of January has fallen on hard times of late, and that continued Thursday afternoon as they lost to Illinois 68-66 in Indianapolis.

Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes have now lost five of their last six games. And even with their efforts to fight back from double-digit deficits on multiple occasions Thursday, one has to wonder if this team has the confidence needed to turn things around ahead of the NCAA tournament.

Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok, who have led the way offensively all season long, combined to score 50 points for Iowa. But, as has been the case in multiple games during this streak of losses, they didn’t receive much help from the supporting cast. Remove the eight points scored by Nicholas Baer off the bench, and the other Hawkeyes combined to score a total of eight points. It’s incredibly tough to win games when that’s the case, whether it’s against another NCAA tournament-caliber team or one in Illinois that’s playing simply to keep its season alive.

Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell combined to dish out 14 assists, but they also combined to score just three points (all from Gesell) on 1-for-13 shooting from the field. And center Adam Woodbury shot 1-for-7 from the field, scoring two points and grabbing ten rebounds.

During their 2-6 run, with the wins coming over Minnesota and Michigan, the lack of production from the “supporting cast” has been a major issue for Iowa. And given how long this has been the case, does Iowa have what it takes to turn things around? It would be unfair to hold the last two seasons against Iowa because this is a different group, but given past setbacks that’s going to be a question that asked quite often between now and next week.

The NCAA tournament is about match-ups, but a team’s mindset is also an important factor. And in the case of Iowa, they’re mired in a slump at the worst possible time.

No. 8 Iowa loses at Ohio State, suffering fourth loss in five game

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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In early February the debate regarding No. 8 Iowa wasn’t only whether or not they were the best team in the Big Ten, thanks to their sweeps of both Michigan State and Purdue, but also whether or not Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes had a case as the best team in the country. Jarrod Uthoff was playing at a first-team All-America level, Peter Jok was much improved from his first two seasons, and the Hawkeyes were receiving contributions from other players as well.

Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes those discussions have come to a halt, as they’re limping to the finish line. Sunday, Ohio State handed Iowa its fourth loss in the last five games by the final score of 68-64.

This was a big win for Thad Matta’s Buckeyes, who despite having 11 conference wins still have work to do when it comes to getting into the NCAA tournament. Of those 11 wins just three have come against teams not in the bottom five of the Big Ten standings, with their win over Iowa qualifying as the best of the bunch. Marc Loving led the way with 25 points, Keita Bates-Diop added 19, six rebounds and four blocks and Kam Williams scored 11 second-half points as Ohio State picked up its best win of the season to date.

As for Iowa, a team that appeared to have turned the corner when compared to past editions under McCaffery that would struggle to stop negative momentum is right back in a familiar spot.

One issue during this stretch is that Iowa, beginning with Uthoff, hasn’t been as good offensively as they were earlier this season. In Iowa’s last four losses the All-America candidate has shot just 35 percent from the field (21-for-60) and 25.9 percent from three (7-for-27). Jok’s been better during that same period, shooting 41.7 percent from the field, but neither has been as efficient as they were when the Hawkeyes were rolling through their schedule.

In these situations the supplementary players are needed to step forward, and outside of Mike Gesell (16 points) that did not happen against Ohio State. As a team the Hawkeyes shot just 40.7 percent from the field, with Uthoff (16 points), Gesell and Jok (12 points) responsible for 44 of the team’s 64 points. Shooting better than 43 percent in just one of their last five games (46 percent in a loss at Indiana), Iowa’s obviously struggled to make shots. And the task of finding quality looks becomes more difficult when opponents are essentially able to focus their defensive efforts on two players.

The question now is whether or not Iowa has what it takes to turn things around heading into the Big Ten tournament. If they can, given how college basketball as a whole has been this season, they’re still a team that can play deep into the NCAA tournament. Uthoff’s still a force to be reckoned with, and with Jok as his sidekick Iowa has two players teams will have to work to slow down. But the crisp ball and player movement that Iowa rode to the top spot in the Big Ten has been absent in recent weeks, resulting in this current stretch of four losses in their last five games.

After appearing to have taken the step forward that past Iowa teams under McCaffery struggled to navigate, these Hawkeyes find themselves in a similar spot. The hope now is that experienced players such as Uthoff and Jok, who have experienced many peaks and valleys during their time in Iowa City, can use the lessons learned then to spark a turnaround in advance of the NCAA tournament.

No. 8 Maryland lands first marquee win over No. 3 Iowa

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COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — For a team with legitimate national title aspirations and a shot to win the Big Ten regular season title, it may surprise folks that haven’t been paying attention that Maryland was a No. 3 seed in the latest NBCSports.com bracket projection.

And prior to Thursday night, there were projections that slotted the Terps as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed.

That’s what happens when it’s January 28th and your best win is over … a disappointing UConn team? A Georgetown team that lost to Radford, UNC Asheville and Monmouth? The worst Wisconsin team in more than 15 years? Believe it or not, their best RPI win as No. 3 Iowa rolled into town was against Princeton, who was slotted in at 60th.

And that is what made this result so important, as the No. 8 Terps knocked off the Hawkeyes on Thursday night, 70-64, giving them their first marquee win of the season against what may be the last elite opponent they play before March. The Terps really don’t have that many more opportunities for quality wins left on their schedule. They get Purdue twice. They play at Indiana. There’s a game against Michigan and the Big Ten tournament. That’s about it.

So this win in and of itself is key for seeding if nothing else, regardless of whether or not head coach Mark Turgeon believes it.

“It’s the first [game against a ranked opponent] at home,” Turgeon said. “It’s hard on the road against ranked opponents. It kind of made me mad when people were talking that way.”

Turgeon will have less reason to be mad tonight, but the fact of the matter here is that the win itself matters far less than the manner in which the Terps landed this win.

They did it without Melo Trimble.

Not without him without him. He played. He was on the floor for his usual 35 minutes. He just was more or less a non-factor.

Trimble, in case you’ve been sleeping under a football-shaped log for the last two months, is Maryland’s star. He’s the guy that hit the game-winning three at Wisconsin, the guy that has found his name somewhere near the top of every National Player of the Year list that you should be paying attention. He’s been dubbed by your’s truly as the best Big Shot Maker in college basketball, and he is the biggest reason that the Terps are now 17-2 in games decided by six points or less in his two seasons in College Park.

And on Thursday night, Melo finished with 11 points and three assists, shooting just 2-for-7 from the floor and, perhaps most surprisingly, getting to the free throw line exactly zero times before there were 17.4 seconds left on the clock. Five of his 11 points came in those final 17.4 seconds when the game was essentially decided. He didn’t score in the second until those free throws and took just three shots in the final 20 minutes.

Head coach Mark Turgeon didn’t even put the rock in Trimble’s hand on the biggest possession of the game. He used him as a decoy, sliding him on the weak side of the floor to draw the help defender as Jake Layman floated a lob pass over a fronting post defender for a Diamond Stone layup that made it 64-60 with a little more than a minute left.

Didn’t matter.

Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter Jr. both finished with 17 points and the Terps left the Xfinity Center with the 70-64 win.

And therein lies the most confounding thing about this Maryland team.

On paper, they’re may be the most talented team in the country, and I don’t say that lightly. Trimble is an all-american, and when Sulaimon is playing well, he gives the Terps what may be the best back court in college basketball. Diamond Stone is a soon-to-be lottery pick, Jake Layman could end up getting drafted and Robert Carter Jr. may actually be the team’s most well-rounded player.

“It’s really impressive when you look at the talent level. The size, the versatility, I think that’s what makes Maryland so tough,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “Carter’s a handful, Stone is so good. Sulaimon and Trimble are so quick off the dribble, it’s hard to contain them.”

“We know what we have and we know what our potential could be,” Sulaimon said.

Why, then, is this team so inconsistent? Nine days earlier, in the same building that the Terps beat the hottest team in college basketball, the Terps were taken to overtime by Northwestern. They needed to come back from down 13 points with seven minutes left to beat Penn State right here in College Park. It’s been a consistent thing this year. They struggled with Rider early in the year. They struggled with Illinois State.

And the answer may actually be their savior.

Trimble is one of the five best point guards in college basketball. I’m not sure there is anyone in the country that would tell you otherwise. But the knock on Trimble is that he can be too ball-dominant at times. When the offense gets bogged, often times it turns into — or it is the direct result off — The Melo Show. The ball sticks in his hands. He dribbles out the clock, waiting for a chance to attack in isolation or a ball-screen action.

That was just fine last year, when Trimble’s supporting cast wasn’t as good as this year’s squad.

But now he may be sharing the court with four other NBA players.

When the ball moves, it gets other guys involved. Sulaimon got into a rhythm shooting the ball early and that opened up lanes for him to penetrate. “He does such a good job of finishing, especially going to his right, but he’s a tough guard because he can shoot it too,” Iowa point guard Mike Gesell said. “He’s very good for that team. He really got it going tonight.”

Iowa’s inability to guard Sulaimon and Trimble in man-to-man forced them into their 2-3 zone, which Carter feasted on. “He went to work in there,” McCaffery said.

The key was that they weren’t just finishing off plays. That duo finished with 22 shot attempts and nine assists. They weren’t just involved in the offense. They were creating it.

That’s what it’s going to take for Maryland to reach their ceiling.

And when they do, they have the pieces needed to beat anyone in the country, to win a national title. Tonight was evidence of that.

“We beat a really good basketball team tonight,” Turgeon said. “They are probably one of, if not the best team, right now, in college basketball. And we were able to beat them.”

And doing so with Trimble playing a minimal role down the stretch to boot.

“That’s a good sign for us.”

 

No. 16 Iowa beats Michigan 82-71

Associated Press
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Jarrod Uthoff scored 23 points and No. 16 Iowa beat Michigan 82-71 on Sunday for its first 5-0 start in the Big Ten in 19 years.

Peter Jok had 14 of his 16 points in the second half for the surging Hawkeyes (14-3, 5-0), who could make a big leap in Monday’s rankings after a tumultuous week for many of the nation’s top teams.

Iowa, which has won seven straight, broke open a tight game with a 16-3 run midway through the second half, and Jok buried a 3-pointer that made it 76-68 with 2:34 left.

Derrick Walton Jr. had 16 points for Michigan (13-5, 3-2). The Wolverines played their fourth straight game without star Caris LeVert, who was out with a left leg injury.

Iowa’s 76-59 blowout win at No. 4 Michigan State on Tuesday further cemented the Hawkeyes status as a legitimate Big Ten contender.

Iowa avoided a letdown against the Wolverines – who were coming off a 70-67 upset of No. 3 Maryland – and joined Indiana atop the league at 5-0.

Perhaps the most encouraging development for the Hawkeyes was that their crucial run came with the likes of Uthoff and point guard Mike Gesell on the bench.

Jok and Anthony Clemmons hit consecutive 3s, and Jok buried another one from the corner to make it 63-52 with 9 minutes left.

Reserves scored 22 points the Hawkeyes, who opened with an 11-0 run and looked set for another easy win.

But even without LeVert, Michigan showed that it’s still explosive by scoring 13 straight points to take a 21-20 lead. The Hawkeyes re-asserted themselves, most notably on a breakaway dunk from slow-footed 7-foot center Adam Woodbury, to go ahead 38-33 at halftime.

The Wolverines scored on six straight possessions early in the second half though, hopping back on top 49-47.

Aubrey Dawkins had 12 points for Michigan, which lost for just the second time in nine games.

TIP-INS

Michigan: The Wolverines’ win over Maryland was their first at home over a top-five team since 1997. … LeVert is Michigan’s leading scorer at 17.6 points per game. … Duncan Robinson hit a 30-footer at the first-half buzzer, but it was waved off.

Iowa: By beating Michigan State twice in just over two weeks, the Hawkeyes became the first team since Duke and Kentucky in 1965 to beat the same top-five opponent by at least 10 points in a given season. … Dating to last season, Iowa has won 11 straight regular-season conference games, its longest such streak since 1970..

UP NEXT

Michigan hosts Minnesota on Wednesday.

Iowa plays at Rutgers on Thursday.

Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/LukeMeredithAP

No. 16 Iowa makes another statement at No. 4 Michigan State’s expense

Associated Press
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For those who may have been quick to add an asterisk to No. 16 Iowa’s win over No. 4 Michigan State in the Big Ten opener for both December 29, citing the absence of senior guard Denzel Valentine, Thursday night’s rematch in East Lansing would provide the true answer to the question of whether or not Fran McCaffery’s team is a true conference title contender.

Neither the presence of Valentine nor the change of venue made any difference in the second meeting, as Iowa left no doubt in their 76-59 win in East Lansing.

Leading 12-11 just under four minutes into the game, Iowa broke the game open with a combination of highly efficient offense and solid defending, taking their lead from one to 22 (47-25) by the end of the first half. And this was done with Mike Gesell on the bench with two quick fouls and leading scorer Jarrod Uthoff scoring eight points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field.

Who stepped forward? None other than junior guard Peter Jok and sophomore forward Dom Uhl, who combined to score 29 of Iowa’s 47 first-half points.

Jok, who struggled with bouts of inconsistency in his first two seasons in Iowa City, has emerged as a more dependable offensive option this season. Jok entered the game shooting just over 39 percent from the field, which isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. But he’s averaging 13.1 points per game and has scored in double figures in five of Iowa’s last seven games. Jok was efficient against Michigan State, scoring a game-high 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field, rebounding from an eight-point outing in a win over Nebraska.

As for Uhl, he did nearly all of his damage in the first half, finishing the game with ten points and five rebounds (only one rebound after halftime) with all ten points coming during that period with Gesell on the bench. Like Jok, Uhl’s been a more productive player this season, averaging 18 minutes per game and raising both his scoring (7.3 from 2.1) and rebounding averages (4.3 from 1.8) from a season ago by solid margins.

Add in 13 points from guard Anthony Clemmons, and Iowa had more than enough offense to make up for slow starts from Uthoff and Gesell.

That’s one of the big differences between this Iowa team and those from the last couple of seasons. While those groups did not lack for talent, there were times when an off night from a primary option would prove to be too much to overcome. Thursday night the Hawkeyes received contributions across the lineup on both ends of the floor, using good ball movement to find quality shots against the Michigan State defense.

Add to that the fact that Michigan State couldn’t find its groove offensively (4-for-21 from three), and the end result was another quality win for Iowa. If they weren’t labeled a Big Ten title contender by now, this win should remove any doubt.

Down Goes Sparty: No. 1 Michigan State loses to Iowa

AP
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Down goes Sparty!

No. 1 and previously undefeated Michigan State went into Iowa City and got themselves court-stormed, losing to the Hawkeyes 83-70 in a game that Fran McCaffery’s club controlled from the beginning.

Before we get into the meat of this post, the disclaimer: the Spartans were without Denzel Valentine, the current favorite for National Player of the Year, as he continues to recover from an arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and if this loss tells us anything, it’s that Valentine arguably the most valuable player in the country. With him, Michigan State is undefeated and ranked No. 1. Without him, they struggle to knock off Oakland and get worked over pretty good by an Iowa team that doesn’t even get votes for the top 25.

The one real issue for Michigan State this year is their point guard play. I love Tum Tum Nairn, but he’s a guy that thrives in transition, not a pure point guard whose strength is facilitating half court offense or breaking down a set defense. When Valentine is healthy, he’s the guy the offense runs through, the one getting ball-screens and making plays for his teammates off the bounce while also doubling as the guy they run off of down-screens and call quick-hitters for.

Without him on the floor, their offense can get pretty ugly.

The good news? He’ll be back.

Which is great news for Iowa.

Because come Selection Sunday, there isn’t going to be an asterisk next to this win. The Selection Committee accounts for injuries when a team loses a game. They don’t account for the injuries of an opponent in a game that team wins. Michigan State is going to be a top five or ten team all season long. They might be the Big Ten champions. This is a marquee win for their résumé, the kind of thing that can be the difference between the NIT and avoiding the First Four.

The better news is that Iowa won this game despite the fact that Jarrod Uthoff, their star forward, did not play well. He finished with just 10 points, playing only six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Mike Gesell stepped up (25 points), as did Peter Jok (18 points), as the Hawkeyes landed the kind of confidence-boosting win that can help them forget the fact that they blew a 20 point lead at Iowa State.

Here’s the other part of it: this also means that Iowa can avoid a potentially devastating start to the Big Ten season. Four of their next seven games come against the top three teams in the Big Ten, with three of those games coming on the road. They likely won’t have the luxury of playing the Spartans without Valentine next time around, either.

In other words, if they had lost this game, a 3-5 start in the Big Ten was very possible. Given Iowa’s penchant for collapsing, that kind of start could have ended up being a season-killer.

So good for Iowa.

They took advantage of an opportunity provided them.

Now let’s see what they can do in West Lafayette on Saturday.