What Does Iowa Need to do in the Big Ten Tournament?Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 13th, 2013
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
Nowadays, everybody is a bracketologist and the potential list of 68 teams changes every five minutes even if there aren’t any games going on. Just because predictions are everywhere doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be because that is one of the best aspects of conference tournament weekend. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s bracket as of mid-day on March 13 has seven Big Ten teams as locks in the NCAA Tournament and the eighth team is Iowa. The Hawkeyes are in the final eight left out of the field but they control their own destiny in Chicago this weekend because if they win two games in the Big Ten Tournament including a victory over Michigan State, their stock should clearly be on the rise by Selection Sunday.
At the risk of looking ahead to the second day of the tournament, Iowa first needs to beat Northwestern on Thursday. The Wildcats have had trouble scoring against the Hawkeyes, as they scored just 50 and 51 points respectively in their games during the season. Without Drew Crawford and Jarod Swopshire in the lineup, the Wildcats don’t pose any real threat offensively, so unless Devyn Marble and his teammates come out sluggish, they should be able to win the game. It is unlikely that Fran McCaffery will tolerate a slow start in the first game of the event considering the stakes. Assuming that his team can get past Northwestern, Iowa is somewhat lucky because they play in the bottom half of the bracket because the bye teams — Ohio State and Michigan State — can be beaten with a tendency by each to sometimes slump offensively.
The Spartans’ Keith Appling has been off over the last couple of weeks – averaging 10.6 PPG over the last five games – which could continue into their first game on Friday. The Hawkeyes defended him fairly well in their only game as they held him to 12 points and 3-of-13 from the field. While Michigan State’s primary scoring option has struggled lately, Marble on the other hand has been very effective from the field by averaging 17.6 PPG since mid-February. The junior wing seems to be very comfortable in the offense after struggling over a two-week span when his team lost to the Gophers and the Badgers in overtime on the road. He scored just two points during that week, but his bench’s production kept them in the games.
Speaking of the bench, it is a wild card for McCaffery and could have a big impact in the tournament. Sharp-shooter Josh Oglesby has had great looks at the basket lately but hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm, shooting just 26% from beyond the arc. In a tournament setting, a player with such great form could catch fire at the right time and help his team to an upset win. Another player off the bench that will need to be a factor is junior forward Melsahn Basabe. Basabe has taken a back seat to freshman center Adam Woodbury for most of the season, but has been effective on the glass by pulling down 4.7 RPG in just 18.3 MPG. If McCaffery turns to his upperclassmen in the tourney, they could deliver by not turning the ball over, playing effective defense, and letting Marble take over the offense during the second half.
The Hawkeyes almost had the Spartans in early January, losing by three points, but the team has grown since then. At 20-11 overall, they played very well to finish .500 in an extremely competitive conference, but the draw may be on their side to make a run if they can string together two good games and the Spartans get off to a slow start on Friday. Even a win over Tom Izzo’s squad won’t guarantee Iowa a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but they will definitely be in the conversation for a bid on Selection Sunday. Freshmen guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons were probably not old enough to remember that the Hawkeyes made an unbelievable run through the 2001 Big Tournament, so history may also be on their side. Steve Alford’s team finished 7-9 during the Big Ten season but Luke Recker caught fire over four consecutive days and they were able to secure an automatic bid to the postseason. Guess what seed they were back then? That’s right, they were in the #6 position.