Howe: Hawks' Rise More Convincing This Time

Iowa finds itself in a similar position as it did a year ago after Sunday's big home win against Maryland. It's natural to wonder if this week's strong play is real or a repeat of last year's rise and fall. HI Publisher Rob Howe sees a more complete team this time around.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - History warns us to temper the enthusiasm. It's hard with how the Iowa men's basketball team is playing.

After a brutally tough schedule to start Big Ten play left them at 4-4, the Hawkeyes handled, with relative ease, two teams that began the week ahead of them in the standings. Sunday's 71-55 demolition of No. 17 Maryland at a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena followed Thursday's embarrassment of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

With two games apiece against first-place Wisconsin and a talented Ohio State squad, along with a road game at Purdue behind it, Iowa and its fans can dream on a memorable finish. They also may recall last year when a post-January collapse left a bad taste in everyone's mouths for months.

A year ago Sunday, the Hawkeyes knocked off Michigan, 85-67, at home to move to 7-4 in the league, a half game better than now. They lost seven of their final nine games after being ranked among the nation's Top 10 teams in January.

Another free fall certainly is possible. Even though this year's remaining schedule, on paper, appears more manageable than last year, conference basketball can return wacky results. And outside of Wisconsin, the Big Ten is filled with parity.

Perhaps time heals bad memories. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the moment. But this year feels different than 2014 and it goes beyond the games remaining.

As Iowa showed the Terrapins on Sunday, they're developing into a well-rounded team. More people are contributing to the cause than last year when Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White dominated the offense.

White scored a team-high 17 points and pulled down a game-best eight rebounds Sunday. He's remained a focal point of the attack. But Marble's duties have been split up between Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, Mike Gesell, Peter Jok and Gabe Olaseni. The five shot 22 of 28 from the floor in contributing 54 points against Maryland.

The emergence of consistent play from Woodbury, Gesell and Jok is the most encouraging aspect of this team. Uthoff and Olaseni have performed pretty well throughout the season.

Sunday's game remained scoreless through two minutes before Jok woke up the crowd with a three pointer. He's not going to earn a spot on the league's all-defensive team but his ability to make defenses respect Iowa from the outside is crystal clear. He connected on 3 of 4 triples against Maryland in matching a career-high with 15 points.

Gesell is finding his comfort zone. He penetrates with a purpose and under control. He stops before getting into trouble and takes shots when available all the while looking first to set up teammates. That's evidenced by his nine assists to three turnovers Sunday to go with eight points on 4 of 5 shooting from the floor.

A consistent backcourt really is what the Hawkeyes have needed all season. It's just taken time to grow. The positive returns are opening things up for Woodbury.

Following Jok's ice-breaking three-pointer, the Maryland defense stretched out. The sophomore guard recognized it and didn't force shots like he had last month. He racked up two assists in a row on Woodbury baskets to give Iowa a 7-0 lead at the first media timeout. It grew to 40-17 at halftime and the rout was on.

The Hawkeyes coaches have gone to the pick-and-roll game with Woodbury and Jok at the three-point line with great success. The defense must honor the deep ball and often get caught up there while the big man slides to the hoop.

So, you have Gesell running the show, Jok extending the defense and Woodbury operating effectively inside. Quite a few teams could match up with that. The trouble arrives when you consider we haven't mentioned White and Uthoff, the team's top two scorers.

Olaseni and Clemmons average more than 20 minutes each coming off the bench and the drop off from the starters is minor, at best. Senior Josh Oglesby, who missed Sunday's game with illness, is a versatile reserve.

All of the aforementioned strengths of this team look great when a two-game winning streak follows a three-contest skid. You're usually on the right side of the outcome when you play well.

It's reasonable to think the Hawkeyes can keep it up, however. Nothing that's happening now looks like an aberration or an extreme outliner. These guys are capable of sustaining what they're doing.

The whispers of another collapse are heard in the locker room. These Hawkeyes are doing a good job of not allowing it to infest their consciousness and they're armed with last year's experience to fuel them.

In two weeks, maybe this column becomes a comedy piece. Perhaps Lucy pulls the football out from us again.

Don't bet on it. This feels different. It looks different. It's a better team than a year ago.

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