Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
We are approaching that time of the year when almost every conversation about college hoops will involve the word “bubble.” Every game means that much more for teams that are not a lock for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Iowa Hawkeyes are squarely on the bubble at this point and badly need quality wins against ranked opponents. Losers of two out of their last three games heading into last Sunday’s match-up against the Minnesota Gophers, the Hawkeyes let one slip away in Minneapolis. The Gophers’ Austin Hollins drilled a shot from beyond the arc as he came off a screen with 11 seconds left to put his team up by one, and then followed his shot with clutch defense on the other end as he forced Mike Gesell to turn the ball over. Except for home wins over Wisconsin and perhaps rival Iowa State, Iowa doesn’t have many other quality wins. They had their chances against Michigan State and the Gophers, and either win would have been a huge boost to their resume. We knew that they were a young team starting three freshmen but the key to an NCAA Tournament bid this year will be held by junior Devyn Marble. The seasoned wing has been out of rhythm offensively over the past two weeks, unable to deliver against formidable completion when his team has most needed a spark.
The 6’6″ wing has averaged just 7.0 PPG during the last four games (down from 13.6 PPG on the season), which is not enough if the Hawkeyes want to keep their bubble hopes alive. He wasn’t comfortable at all against the Gophers’ full-court press on Sunday, as he was held scoreless in addition to committing three turnovers. McCaffery kept him on the bench for most of the second half as his teammates Gesell (11 points) and Aaron White (10 points) built a small lead heading into the final minutes. But one of Marble’s miscues came at the worst possible time — during the last minute of play, he threw the ball over Gesell’s head because Hollins stopped him from going left into the paint. That single play is very indicative of Marble’s recent struggles because opposing defenders have been able to scout his tendencies and know his comfort zones. A gifted athlete nevertheless, Marble is comfortable breaking his man down in isolation but defenders have learned to cheat back so as to force him to pull up for a jumper off the dribble. For a right-handed player, going to the left after crossing the ball over and pulling up for an off-balance shot is a shot that most professionals, much less a player like Marble, don’t make consistently.