Four Takeaways From Iowa’s Run to the NIT Championship GamePosted by jnowak on April 5th, 2013
Iowa lost the NIT championship game to Baylor by 20 points last night, but Fran McCaffery had to be pleased with the way his team played in the two weeks following the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. Here are four takeaways from the Hawkeyes’ second-place finish in the nation’s second most prestigious postseason tournament.
- Roy Devyn Marble looks like an All-Big Ten player. With the exception of the championship game on Thursday (he didn’t score his first points of the second half until about the nine-minute mark), Marble looked like a player who is poised for a real breakout year in 2013-14. After averaging 15.2 PPG and 3.0 APG through the regular season, he averaged 24.3 PPG through his first four NIT contests. In those same games, he had 4.8 APG and RPG, while tallying at least one steal in two of them. Does that qualify the championship — six points, four assists, two steals, and two rebounds — as an anomaly? It’s hard to say exactly, but his steadiness over those first four games (and against strong competition, too) was unmatched during the regular season. Entering the NIT, Marble had dropped seven 20-plus point games, and never more than two in a row. If he can perform like that in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, there will be room for him on next year’s All-Big Ten team.
- Iowa came up against a frontcourt it could not handle. After being prepped for the postseason against frontcourts like Michigan State and Indiana’s — and beating Alex Len and Maryland in the NIT semifinals — Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson were just too much for the Hawkeyes to handle. Adam Woodbury was outmatched down low, though Aaron White still managed to score in double figures. Prior to Thursday night’s game, Iowa’s bigs weren’t really tested in the NIT. Len led the Terrapins with 16 points, but Maryland got little else in the way of post scoring. And Virginia plays pretty small. So perhaps those four combined losses to Michigan State (with Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne) and Indiana (with Cody Zeller) should have been an indicator of what could come on Thursday. After all, two of Iowa’s best wins in the conference came against Illinois and Minnesota, neither of which has a great frontcourt.
- The Hawkeyes are poised for an excellent 2013-14. This is a team that should make the jump from the outside looking in to making the Big Dance next season. Of the 14 players who saw game action this season, 12 of the top 13 in terms of minutes will return, leaving Eric May (21.7 MPG) and Christopher Rickert (1.7 MPG) as the only two expected departures. That means the top five scorers will return a year stronger and wiser and a year more accustomed to Fran McCaffery’s style. The Big Ten figures to be a little bit more wide open next year, but that could be more problematic for a team like Iowa trying to break through as squads like Northwestern, Purdue, Nebraska and Penn State will surely be better. This group still has far too much to prove yet before it can be considered a favorite, but no team in the conference will return such a large percentage of its scoring force as the Hawkeyes.
- Does this help validate the Big Ten? Does a fringe Big Ten team in the NIT championship game help the perception of the league? I’m not so sure. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have the conference’s top bubble team advance to the finals of the sport’s second-tier tournament, but a title certainly would have helped. It leaves Michigan as the only conference team standing heading into the NCAA’s final weekend. That gives us a Big 12 NIT champion, two Big East Final Four teams and one team from the Missouri Valley (in addition to Michigan) in the Final Four. Of the seven Big Ten NCAA Tournament teams, six won a game. Four advanced to the Sweet Sixteen (Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State) and two more to the Elite Eight. A good showing certainly, but Ohio State and Indiana in particular are probably kicking themselves right now.