Howe: Roller Coaster Goes Up

The Iowa basketball team has seen its share of ups and downs this season. Saturday proved to be an up with a dominant win against No. 13 Michigan. Hi Publisher Rob Howe appreciates the grit with which these sometimes over-matched Hawkeyes play.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Perhaps the good chair slam did the trick. More likely, this Iowa men's basketball team possesses that resiliency quality cherished in the sports world.

Following embarrassing losses in the last week against Ohio State and Michigan State, which came after unlikely road wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota, Iowa evened its conference record at 3-3 Saturday with a 75-59 beat-down of No. 13 Michigan here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa's Dr. Jekyll showed up after Mr. Hyde ran the show against the Buckeyes and Spartans. The Hawkeyes looked lost in those contests. So much so, that Coach Fran McCaffery slammed a chair at Michigan State. The video of the incident went viral and the head Hawk made no apologies.

Coincidence? Maybe. But Iowa played with more passion and intensity than did ranked Michigan. McCaffery kicked the scorer's table once and threw a few air punches in disgust, but his team was self motivated on Saturday.

"I knew were were going to get great effort today," McCaffery said. "But again, it's attention to detail. Last two games…21 turnovers each game. You can't win. We had eight turnovers today."

McCaffery saw signs earlier this week of his players flushing the bad losses.

"I thought our focus and concentration in practice was fabulous and now we have to go out and do it against one of the best teams in the country," McCaffery said.

Somehow, someway, a team that has been the underdog in every conference game stands at 3-3 in the Big Ten, including 2-1 on the road. If you had the Hawkeyes doing this well at this point, you're lying.

There were too many times during the last two coaching regimes that when the losing snowball began rolling down the hill, it didn't stop. This year's Iowa team has shown it can grow from its losses.

"We remembered (the one-sided losses)," Iowa Captain Matt Gatens said. "We even talked about it in the pre-game, no more of that. We're done with that. We have a different mentality and we're going to come out and be more aggressive. We did that."

The Hawkeyes (11-8 overall) really have been defined by inconsistency. They have experienced three winning streaks of two or more games and three losing skids of at least two contests.

The roller coaster of emotions weighs heavily on the coaches, players and fans. Is this thing turning around or we still in the midst of basketball purgatory experienced in the last decade plus?

It's pretty clear that this program is headed in the right direction. There's no way of telling how long the recovery process will take, but it's underway.

Mighty Michigan road into town with a six-game winning streak against the Hawkeyes, who also had dropped nine of the previous 10 contests against Big Blue. The Wolverines boasted one of the league's most dynamic backcourts in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke. Iowa countered with the under-appreciated duo of Gatens and Devyn Marble.

Though Burke scored some garbage points late in the blowout, Gatens and Marble won the match-up by TKO. Gatens notched 19 points, which included 4 of 7 from the three-point arc, to go with three steals. Marble scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out four assists. Their defense on their counterparts proved to be even more impressive than the offensive numbers.

"This was important for our confidence and to make sure that we believe we can beat any team in this league," Marble said.

McCaffery switched defenses on the Wolverines and all were effective. Michigan finished 8 of 31 behind the three-point arc (25.8 percent). The Hawkeyes performed much better in shutting down the paint and closing out on long-range shooters than they had in the previous two games.

"Sometimes they induced us into ill-advised shots because (the defense) was different," Michigan Coach John Beilein said. "When the other team is changing defenses, like they do, you really have to be on target with how you're executing. We didn't do that enough today."

Iowa shared the ball on offense. Despite some quick shooting with a big second-half lead, the home team dished out 18 assists to go with the eight turnovers. Michigan finished with nine and 10.

The goal this season for McCaffery and the gang was to show progress. Unless things completely fall apart from here, which doesn't seem likely, the mission has been accomplished.

There probably will be more valleys for Iowa. They could even look like the Ohio State and Michigan State abominations. This team has too much heart, and talent, to go completely in the tank, however. There will be more wins like Saturday's eye-opener against Michigan.

"We're trying to get better every day, not worrying about the win-loss column," Marble said. "We just need to go out there and compete and play our hardest."

Remember, the Iowa schedule works in its favor moving forward. The Hawkeyes are done with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. However, nothing is a lay-up in this league.

Minnesota won at one-loss Indiana this week. Purdue won at Iowa, the Haweyes claimed victory at Wisconsin and the Badgers downed the Boilermakers. Penn State throttled Purdue.

A .500 record in the league is not out of the question for Iowa. Unfortunately, neither is a six-win league mark.

One thing is for sure, with a third of the conference season behind them, the Hawkeyes are making things interesting. That will have to do for now.

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