Mike Gesell

Iowa out-toughs No. 12 North Carolina, picks up important win

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Mike Gesell had 16 points, including a game-winning and-one with 1:16 left in the second half, to lead Iowa to a much-needed 60-55 win over No. 12 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Wednesday night.

The Hawkeyes missed on a couple of chances to beat potential tournament teams when they went 0-2 at the 2K Sports Classic in New York last month, and with a visit from No. 20 Iowa State being their only other opportunity to notch a marquee non-conference win, the value gets magnified.

And the way that Iowa won this game matters, as well. The Hawkeyes, who had a well-deserved reputation for not being able to defend anyone last season, held the Tar Heels to 27.9 percent shooting from the floor and a 4-for-23 performance from beyond the arc. Granted, they also gave up 24 offensive rebounds, but they limited UNC’s second-chance points and, frankly, made sure that the only good offense that the Tar Heels could run would be gathering a missed shot.

Simply put: Iowa was tougher.

It’s also important to note that this game came on a night where Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff combined to go 2-for-19 from the floor. That’s not going to happen to often, so if Iowa can find a way to bring this kind of defensive effort while cleaning up their issues on the glass, they should be able to put together enough good wins to earn an at-large bid.

That does come with a caveat, however: I’m not quite sure how much of this loss was simply a result of North Carolina not being all that good and/or not playing all that well.

For starters, Marcus Paige has to be better. He’s a preseason all-american. He can’t for 4-for-16 on a night like this, and he can’t pick up a charge with North Carolina down by three in the final minute. And he certainly can’t have nights where he has no assists and three turnovers, not with the issues that this team has scoring the ball.

That’s actually the bigger problem. Who is UNC’s second option offensively? Is it Kennedy Meeks? He’s putting up some big numbers this season, but he’s also doing quite a bit of his damage off of offensive rebounds. When he gets the ball in the post, he gets surrounded by defenders because the Tar Heels don’t have enough shooters to keep defenses honest. You can double off of Brice Johnson. You can double off of J.P. Tokoto. You can double off of Nate Britt and Theo Pinson.

The guy that North Carolina needs to be a secondary perimeter option is Justin Jackson. He’s averaging 11.0 points, but he’s just 4-for-16 from three in seven games and does not appear to be all that confident in that shot right now.

Until Jackson — or someone — steps up consistently, the Tar Heels are going to have to win some games that are this ugly.

Do they have the roster to do it?

Top 25 Countdown: No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 21 Iowa.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

source: Getty Images
Fran McCaffery (Getty Images)

Last Season: 20-13, 9-9 Big Ten (t-5th), lost to Tennessee in the play-in game

Head Coach: Fran McCaffery

Key Losses: Roy Devyn Marble, Melsahn Besabe

Newcomers: Dominique Uhl, Trey Dickerson, Brady Ellingson

Projected Lineup

G: Mike Gesell, Jr.
G: Josh Oglesby, Sr.
F: Jarrod Uthoff, Jr.
F: Aaron White, Sr.
C: Adam Woodbury, Jr.
Bench: Gabriel Olaseni, Sr.; Peter Jok, So.; Anthony Clemons, Jr.; Trey Dickerson, So.; Dominique Uhl, Fr.; Brady Ellingson, Fr.

They’ll be good because … : Once again, Iowa is going to be one of the deepest, most experienced teams in the country this season. Despite losing two starters from last year’s team, Fran McCaffery will still be starting five upperclassmen with a bench that will go at least six players deep.

The star of this year’s team will be Aaron White, a 6-foot-8 forward that has been a modicum of consistency throughout his career. In three seasons at Iowa, he’s never averaged more than 12.8 points or less than 11.1 points. He’s perennially one of the more underrated players in the Big Ten, but he’s going to have to take a step forward and embrace being the star of this group if the Hawkeyes are going to be a factor atop the conference. White will be joined on the front line by a trio of talented veterans. Jarrod Uthoff is the floor-spacing shooting, Adam Woodbury is the low-post scoring threat and Gabe Olaseni is the energy guy, one of the nation’s best offensive rebounders.

There are a few more question marks on Iowa’s perimeter. Losing Roy Devyn Marble will hurt, but McCaffery has options to replace his scoring pop. Josh Oglesby was arguably Iowa’s best shooter last season, while sophomore Peter Jok had promising moments in his first year in the program. Mike Gesell, a former top 50 recruit, will resume point guard duties, but if he struggles, Anthony Clemons and Trey Dickerson will both be looking to take over his role.

Aaron White (AP Photo)

But they might disappoint because … : Having depth is a good thing in college basketball. If protects a team against a season-ending injury, it creates competition for playing time and it makes practice a battle as players go head-to-head trying to earn their spot in the rotation. But it’s overrated in the sense that having 11 good players is not as valuable as having two great players and five really good players in a sport where only five guys can take the floor at one time.

That’s where Iowa’s issue may end up being this season. Without Marble in the lineup, Iowa doesn’t really have anyone that will make opposing defenses fret. White is a really good basketball player, but Tom Izzo isn’t going to lose sleep at night trying to scheme a way to slow him down. There’s no star power on this roster, and outside of White, there isn’t anyone on Iowa that could be called a top five player at their position in the conference. There’s even an argument to make that White isn’t a top five player at his position.

Think about it like this: Iowa’s down by one with 20 seconds left on the road at Nebraska. Who does McCaffery draw a play up for?

Outlook: At one point last season, Iowa was thought to be a top ten team, a serious threat to win the Big Ten and a legitimate Final Four contender, which is crazy when you think about the fact that they finished the season 20-13 and in 6th in the Big Ten. There were two things that eventually did Iowa’s season in:

– They couldn’t close out any games. The Hawkeyes lost three big games in the first half of the season — Villanova, at Iowa State, at Wisconsin — in which they held double-digit leads. They were 4-12 in games that were decided by single digits or that went to overtime. The only one of their 13 losses that didn’t end in overtime or come by single digits was a 10 point loss at Michigan State where Iowa led at the half.

– They completely lost the ability to defend, finishing the season as the nation’s 120th most efficient team defensively, according to KenPom.com.

Finding away to replace Marble’s offensive production will be key, but it’s important to note that Marble was also a ball-stopper on that end of the floor. The offense stopped when the ball got into his hands. Iowa’s sets should be more free-flowing this season, which is a good thing given the fact that they don’t have a true go-to- guy.

But that’s not what is going to change the outlook on the season for Iowa. Win close games and avoid defensive meltdowns, and the Hawkeyes should be able to exceed expectations this season.

Iowa State comes back, wins intrastate rival vs. Iowa

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Tonight in Ames, IA was college basketball at its finest.

A Friday night game in prime time between two intrastate rivals: Iowa and Iowa State.

It has been quite some time since both teams played each other while ranked in the Top 25. In fact, you’d have to go back to 1987 the last time they met both as Top 25 teams. High-level basketball is back in the state of Iowa, and that’s a good thing. Fran McCaffery and Fred Hoiberg have their respective programs trending upward in a big way.

Tonight was the Cyclones night as they knocked of Iowa, 85-82. Iowa ostensibly played their best half of basketball this season in the first half as they jumped out to a 45-38 lead, but coming away with a win in Hilton Coliseum tonight was going to be a difficult task. Georges Niang made sure of that.

Niang had a career-high 24 points, including the game-winner in the final minute. He shot 8-15 FG and 8-10 FT, along with dishing out five assists. There aren’t many 6-foot-7 forwards who have as dynamic of a game as Niang possesses.

Hilton Magic was sure to have an effect on the game tonight in favor of the Cyclones in some form, and that happened late in regulation. With the Cyclones clinging to an 83-82 lead following a baseline drive by Niang, Iowa guard Mike Gesell drove the lane and was fouled. Whether the sophomore guard was rattled by the crowd while standing at the free throw line will never be known, but Hilton was rocking. For his career, Gesell entered the game as an 80% FT shooter — he missed both.

After Iowa State got to within two points at 51-49 early in the second half on a DeAndre Kane layup, Iowa responded by extending their lead back to seven on an Anthony Clemmons jumper, which made it 58-51. This game had the feeling from the beginning, however, that it would go down into the final minute. And it did, but it looked like it was Iowa’s game to win.

The Hawkeyes led 82-77 with 1:29 remaining, but Iowa State ended the game on an 8-0 run. Four missed free throws during this final stretch — the two misses by Gesell, in particular — ultimately did Iowa in. Despite the loss, the effort of Iowa’s Aaron White cannot go unnoticed as the junior forward had 25 points and 17 rebounds — two off of tying his career high in points, and setting a career high in rebounds.

Both Iowa and Iowa State haven’t made the NCAA Tournament in the same season since 2004-05. Based on the play of both teams in the early going, along with tonight, it’s safe to say both will be dancing come March.