Saturday's 84-82 double-overtime victory over Indiana was a HUUUGE win for Coach Steve Alford…and not just because it was his first "W" in Bloomington in 17 seasons.
The victory may have actually propelled Iowa into serious contention for a spot in "March Madness" for the second time in Alford's five seasons in Iowa City. Seriously. Even with seven scholarship players, there is real reason for hope. A victory over Wisconsin this week would put the Hawkeyes one giant step closer to making that goal a reality.
Let's take a look at the big picture for the rest of the season. Here are the remaining games on Iowa's regular-season schedule and how I think those games could turn out…
Feb. 11 Wisconsin: The Badgers were embarrassed on Saturday in Evanston. They will be breathing fire by Wednesday night. Loss
Feb. 14 Michigan: The Wolverines aren't that good. The Hawks will knock them off in Iowa City. It's payback time. WIN.
Feb. 18 at Ohio State: The Buckeyes are bad. WIN
Feb. 25 Illinois: Another "revenge" game for the Hawks. I definitely think Iowa will split between Wisconsin and Illinois. WIN
Feb. 28 Minnesota: Gee…the Gophers are 0-9 in the league right now. WIN.
Mar. 3 at Northwestern: This could be the game that decides Iowa's postseason fate. WIN
Mar. 6 at Purdue: Gene Keady will be wearing his "throwback" hairstyle…and nobody will notice. Loss
Maybe I'm just the eternal optimist, but that 5-2 finish down the stretch would give the Hawkeyes a 10-6 mark in the Big Ten. Now, I KNOW the Big Ten is "down" this season…in fact, I don't think I've ever seen the conference any weaker. But, I don't believe there is ANY WAY the Selection Committee will turn away a 10-6 Big Ten team. Especially one that has a victory over top-10-rated Louisville.
So, I think a 10-6 Big Ten mark puts Iowa in "The Dance." And I'm telling you right now that I think this team can do it. After Wednesday night, I hope we're all saying, "They WILL do it."
How much margin for error do the Hawkeyes have? None.
As much as I think a 10-6 Big Ten record would make Iowa a "lock" for the NCAA Tournament, I think that a 9-7 Big Ten team will be left out of the picture. So, the only way that a 9-7 Big Ten team will make it is to win the Big Ten Tournament. And I don't think Iowa has enough horses to win three games in three days, so I think a 10-6 mark will be necessary.
No matter how "down" the Big Ten might be this season, I think it would be a tremendous accomplishment for this group of modern day "Ironmen" to get invited to the Tourney in March. Wouldn't that be something? To lose four of the players from December's nine-man rotation and STILL make it to The Dance?
That would be incredible. And quite a testament to the five Hawkeyes who were on the floor for at least 45 minutes in the victory at Indiana. But, also a tribute to the Hawkeye players who come off the bench (or don't come off the bench), who contribute almost anonymously every day in practice, helping this team try to continue to improve and stay focused on the goal of making "March Madness" a reality this spring.
It would be quite a string of events. And it's definitely possible.
You've got to love college basketball.
"Homer" Hightower at it again
Everyone's favorite college basketball official—Ed Hightower—was working the game in Bloomington on Saturday, in case you didn't notice him adding drama to every call he could.
And as per usual, the home team benefited from his efforts. I just hope he's scheduled to work in Iowa City quite a bit in February as the Hawks are at home for four of the next five games.
Three of the calls that I felt were laughable…
- Giving Kline a time out when he was falling to the ground on an offensive rebound. The official closest to the play made the right call…traveling. But NOOOOOOOO…here comes Big Ed with some more "high drama" on a Saturday afternoon. And didn't you just love his little re-enactment of what he saw. I thought I was going to puke.
- It's still a rule in basketball that a free-throw shooter can't cross the foul line until his shot makes contact with the basket. With Hightower standing a few feet away, Bracey Wright almost beat his free throw to the rim before either he or Pat Ewing Jr. tipped it in to send the game into overtime. Uhh…do you think Hightower would have miraculously missed that call if Wright had pulled the same maneuver in Iowa City? Not a chance.
- What was with the mysterious "do over" call after Iowa threw the ball downcourt with 0.2 seconds remaining in regulation? If it was because Indiana's bench players had spilled onto the court, I believe that's a technical foul, isn't it? I can understand why Horner's basket didn't count as there was only enough time for a "tip" at that point, but that wasn't the call because Iowa was allowed to try again. Rarely do you see a "do over" in major college sports, but when you do, it's likely that Hightower is in the mix somehow…and the home team is the squad that benefits.
Luke K.: Hello, I live in Davenport, and grew up in Wisconsin and thus I am a badger fan. Since I live in Davenport I have had the pleasure of watching quite a few hawkeye games. I guess in my opinion I think Jeff Horner is one of the most overrated players in the league. Here is a couple of reasons why. First, defensively he is a liability. He isn't very strong nor is he very quick. I think when point guards like Devin Harris, Dion Harris, and Deron Williams see him their eyes light up. Secondly, for all your talk about reliability with the basketball he also ranks 11th in the league in turnovers. Lastly, he may average 13 points a game but he doesn't have the quickness ever to create his own shot. The way he looks to me is he gets most of his points from people like Pierce, Worley, and Reiner creating open looks for other people. Yet those people get critized harshly whenever they have a turnover. The problem is nobody else on that team ever can create their own shot. Just my humble opinion. Thank you
I stand corrected. Saturday was all the proof I needed. Horner is definitely over-rated. His 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists were not all that important or impressive. When you look more closely at the box score, you can see that he missed two shots and had two turnovers in 49 minutes…but nobody seems to want to mention those things.
Kevin P.: Marty, you are wrong about Horner. He is the last guy I want with the ball in his hands at the end of a game.
I guess you're right.
(Please excuse me while a wipe the sarcasm off my keyboard.)
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)