Big Ten Tournament: Iowa’s Freefall ContinuesPosted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014
Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Northwestern and Iowa in Indianapolis.
On February 15, Iowa earned a 12-point victory at Penn State to get to 19-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten standings. It was around that time that the prevailing opinion became that the Big Ten was going to come down to a three-team race between Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, Michigan, and Michigan State. Sure, Iowa’s defense had given up a lot of points all season, but Hawkeyes guard Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White had emerged as one of the best scoring duos in the country. The Hawkeyes also had rightfully earned a reputation as one of the deepest teams in the country, as they were playing 10 or 11 players every night and experiencing a great deal of success with that robust rotation.
Fast forward nearly a month and Iowa’s current position represents a nearly complete reversal of fortunes. The Hawkeyes closed out their regular season Big Ten slate by dropping five of six. They went from a ranking of #15 in the AP poll to receiving just four votes in the final regular season poll. An already shaky defense became an even more significant problem, as in those five losses, the opposition averaged 83.8 points per game. Losses at Minnesota and at Indiana highlighted just how poorly the Hawkeyes were playing on the defensive end of the court, as they allowed Minnesota to score 95 points and shoot 61.2 percent from the field, and Indiana to score 93 points and shoot 51.7 percent from the field.
Iowa’s fortunes did not change Thursday evening when it was upended by Northwestern, 67-62, in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. The sixth-seeded Hawkeyes struggled offensively all evening long, as they shot just 32.3 percent from the field and 25 percent from behind the three-point line. Adding to Iowa’s woes was the continuation of its defensive struggles. Northwestern entered the game averaging just 59.5 points per game and shooting just 39.2 percent from the field for the season, but Iowa’s defense allowed for a different story. They scored 67 points for only the third time since December 16 and shot 52.3 percent from the field, which was the team’s highest shooting clip since a victory over Mississippi Valley State three months ago. The Wildcats also made 11 three-pointers, which was their highest output from behind the arc since they made 12 in a late November loss to UCLA.
Iowa sits at 20-12 overall with a final 9-10 record against Big Ten competition as it awaits next week’s NCAA Tournament. Prior to Thursday evening’s stunning defeat, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi listed the Hawkeyes as an #8 seed in his latest bracket projection. One would think that a loss to a Northwestern team that has an RPI of #132 will cause the team to drop at least another seed line or two before the final bracket is revealed. Iowa, though, cannot afford to worry too much about its seeding, as it must spend the next week making significant adjustments on both ends of the court if it wants to stick around the NCAA Tournament for more than just one game. If the Hawkeyes continue along the trajectory of their recent trend, they will only be around for a short time no matter what number is to the left of their name.