Miller: Signature Win for Iowa Hoops

More than a few basketball fans from around the Big Ten conference were convinced that Iowa's upset of then #6 Michigan State back in January was nothing but a fluke. On Saturday in Iowa City, the Hawks proved they have some bite in their bark. Jon Miller writes about that, and more

For a while this year, I was worried that an old saying was going to come to fruition, the one about good guys finishing last.

For a while this year, I didn't feel confident that Iowa was going to win a Big Ten basketball game.

For a while this year, I felt that this was the most undermanned group of Iowa basketball players that I had ever seen take the court for Iowa.

And I don't know that I was too far off base on any of those things after Iowa's 79-48 loss at Ohio State back on Wednesday night, January 9th.

That was as bad a beatdown as I had ever seen an Iowa team take against a non-rated opponent. It might be an all time Iowa record.

That loss dropped Iowa to 7-9 on the season, 0-3 in the Big Ten and #6 Michigan State was on deck in just three days.

The day after that loss, my friend Steve Deace asked me what Iowa's worst ever Big Ten record was, as we prepared to tape our weekly television show. Few Iowa teams had ever won just three Big Ten games, but this team appeared destined to rewrite the dubious aspects of the record books.

But a funny thing has happened since then…this Iowa team has gotten better at something in every game since that 31-point loss in Columbus.

A great number of Iowa players have gotten better at something since that nightmare that might have caused a team with less heart to fold up its tent and feel sorry for itself.

The team showed resilience in beating Michigan State back on January 12th by a Naismithian final score of 43-36. It was the fewest points ever for a Tom Izzo coached Spartans team, but some folks wanted to write that off as Iowa just being so darned ugly that Michigan State played down to their level.

Iowa then lost a hard fought home game against Purdue, the current Big Ten leaders, but they showed improvement.

The Hawks then went to Ann Arbor and beat a less than stellar Michigan team, but Crisler Arena has been the second most inhospitable road venue for an Iowa team in the laset 27 years.

Iowa then stubbed its toe at Indiana as they allowed 31 Hoosier points off of 20 turnovers. The Hawks rebounded the following game against a depleted Penn State team at home.

I had Hawkeyenation.com Senior Writer Rob Howe on my radio show on Tuesday, and he predicted that Iowa would get a win against either Purdue in West Lafayette, or Ohio State at home.

For some reason, I believed him. This team had given me hope that they could do something like that, after looking hideous at times in their first 16 games of the year.

They committed 22 turnovers against Purdue and still lost just 51-50 in the final seconds. Iowa dictated the tempo of that game despite its giveaways, holding Purdue to its lowest point total of the year.

Then on Saturday in Iowa City, the same Ohio State team that had beaten Iowa by 31 points just 24 days earlier came calling.

Once again, this collection of Hawkeyes who are not long on high school accolades and credentials dictated the tempo to a team that is full of high school All Americans and they beat the Buckeyes 55-49 in front of 15,235 very happy and enthusiastic Hawkeye fans.

That is the kind of win that brings people back. That is the kind of win that forces every fan to schedule his or her weeknights around Iowa basketball games again. That is the kind of win that adds to an already growing feeling of hope amongst a fan base that has been craving it for far too long.

That is the kind of win that backs up the earlier upset of Michigan State as being something more than just a fluke, more than just a Flutie to Phelan, more than just a Hartlieb to Cook.

That is a signature win.

Ohio State, while still unranked, had a record of 15-6 coming into this game against the 8th toughest schedule in the nation. Their RPI was 20, which is commensurate with a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Ohio State is a very talented team with at least three NBA players on its roster, and possibly two first round picks in the upcoming June draft.

Iowa is a team void of any NBA draftees, and they are playing a very important man down in Jarryd Cole.

Still, the Hawks found a way to win. Justin Johnson hit eight three-point shots in this game, the second time he has hit eight in a game this year. His 24 points came on those eight treys.

Seth Gorney continues a metamorphosis into a player that fans now wish was coming back for at least one or two more years. Something tells me that Gorney, though happy with the way he is playing, as to cringe just before bed every night playing the ‘what if' game. As in, ‘what if I had played for Todd Lickliter and in this system for four years?'

We feel you, Seth. We feel you.

One of the questions that was raised about Coach Lickliter after he arrived on campus would be his ability to recruit and develop big men. Butler and the Horizon league are not long on traditional post players. But then again, Gorney is not a traditional post. He's night quite a Euro-post, either. He is something of a hybrid. He has great shooting skills and is showing some prowess as a passer. Cyrus Tate is developing and Iowa puts Kurt Looby in a position to do what he can do best.

That is coaching, that is development and boy howdy, that is refreshing.

I question why Thad Matta chose to play a 1-2-2 half court zone against Iowa for nearly the entire game. Iowa is a team that has been hampered by perimeter pressure defense, but hey, we'll take it.

And Iowa is the team that made more adjustments from the first meeting to this meeting. Iowa employed Gorney at the top of the key more in this game, where he was lost along the baseline in the first game.

Iowa didn't have much trouble attacking Ohio State's full court pressure in this game, so much so that the Buckeyes abandoned the press with about 10 minutes to go in the game.

Purdue Coach Matt Painter is your likely Big Ten Coach of the Year, as he is doing things a year or two earlier than the experts had predicted.

But no one predicted Iowa would be 4-6 in Big Ten play at this point, with wins over Michigan State and Ohio State; Iowa is the only team in the league to have beaten those two teams.

Purdue is a team that has had two pretty darn good recruiting classes the last two years, both of them under Painter. Lickliter inherited a team that was loaded with heart, but not long on credentials, as I said before. Iowa has lost twice to Purdue by a total of six points.

Lickliter will not win Coach of the Year honors, but there isn't a coach that has gotten more out of his team in the Big Ten than Coach Lick.

And not all of the progress are moral victories; tonight's goes in the win column.

One final thought; do you think any of the top five seeds wants to see a potential match up against Iowa in the second round of the Big Ten tournament?


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