Illinois at Iowa: There was a bit of something old and something new in Iowa City on Saturday. I don't know if anything was borrowed, but both teams are black and blue following the physical and intense Big Ten struggle.
Iowa won the game 60-53 and will finish in a tie for 4th place in the Big Ten. Before the season began, not many people, save perhaps the players, coaches and their families thought that Iowa would finish in fourth place this year. Yet that's what Iowa accomplished one year after losing so much production.
Just to remind you what was lost from last year; Greg Brunner, the school's all time leading rebounder and one of its Top 10 scorers. Jeff Horner, the all time leader in assists and three point baskets and just outside of the all time Top 10 scoring list. Erek Hansen, the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year from last year and Doug Thomas, the Big Ten's 6th Man Award winner.
That's a lot of points, a lot of rebounds, a lot of blocks and a lot of leadership to replace from one year to the next.
Yet this team finished 4th place in the Big Ten. No, this year's Big Ten is not one its strongest fields. Still, Iowa split with traditional conference powers Michigan State and Illinois and beat a much more talented Michigan team on the road. That led to a 9-7 conference finish, tying for the second best league mark in Steve Alford's eight years in Iowa City.
Though the loss at Penn State on Wednesday night might have taken away some of the luster from this season, the coaching staff still did a very solid job with so many new and or inexperienced faces to deal with.
Back to the Illinois game for a few moments. First, with The Old.
Adam Haluska led Iowa with 21 points. Wisconsin's Alando Tucker scored 26 points in the Badgers win against Wisconsin, meaning that Haluska outscored Tucker by 26 points in the Big Ten season to become this year's Big Ten scoring champion. Haluska is a two-time Academic All American for Iowa, and this year, he was ‘MVP' of the Academic All American team, as Coach Steve Alford put it during the post-game senior ceremonies.
Mike Henderson, Iowa's other scholarship senior, didn't have the kind of season he would have liked. He was inconsistent from the get go, getting onto the court six weeks late due to a finger injury. But on Saturday, Henderson was huge for the Hawkeyes, hitting an old-school three-point play late in the game after Illinois had pulled to within two points, then going to the line and knocking down two free throws, putting the lead at seven and out of reach. He scored 11 points on the day.
Tony Freeman is a sophomore, and he is really coming into his own this season. His play, though erratic at times, gives Iowa fans hope that they might have an answer at point guard going into next season, one of the biggest questions the program will face in the offseason.
Freeman hit back to back three-point shots late in the game when the score was very close, giving Iowa a six point lead with 1:30 to play. Freeman finished with 13 points, five assists and just one turnover in a game that was all about intense Illinois defense, and few teams play as good on that end of the court as the Illini.
Kurt Looby is new, even if he is a junior. This was his first year on the floor for Iowa, after redshirting last year and coming to Iowa from Tyler Community College. He is still very new in the game of basketball. He pulled down seven boards and had five blocks on the day.
Big Ten Tourney Talk: Indiana hosts Penn State later on Saturday, and they should win that contest. They will be 10-6 and finish in third place. Iowa and Illinois are both 9-7 and tied for fourth. Ohio State will likely beat Michigan, pushing the Wolverines to 8-8, tied with Michigan State. Purdue hosts Northwestern and will likely win that game, and they will join Iowa and Illinois.
Iowa's record against those two teams would be 2-1. Illinois would be 1-2, while Purdue would be 1-1. Illinois then would get the 6th seed. Iowa would beat Purdue in the tie-breaker and would be the 4th seed, with Purdue the 5th seed, meaning those two teams would play on Friday of the Big Ten tournament. If would also mean that they probably don't avoid meeting Ohio State on Saturday.
Cy-Hawk Smack: In the post game senior day ceremony, Coach Alford said of his two seniors, Haluska and Henderson, that both of those players did a good job with their second chances, getting things right the second time, as they both came to Iowa from Iowa State. Haluska transferred and Henderson decommitted from ISU to come to Iowa. Alford then said that Haluska was a two-time academic All American, and added, ‘Go figure.'