A Quality Performance Today in Indianapolis is a Must For Iowa

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

You could make a case for any number of Big Ten teams really needing to show out at the Big Ten Tournament if they hope to make a run in the bigger March tournament. Minnesota is situated squarely on the bubble after finishing with a conference record of 8-10. Nebraska was inhabiting the same patch of bubble real estate until their win over Wisconsin. They should be in the field of 68 now, but another win would be nice for their collective peace of mind. Michigan State wants to prove that they are worthy of the preseason hype they generated with their team all back from their different injuries. Indiana and Illinois need to win four games in four days to get there. But Iowa has the most to prove out of anybody in the field. They’ve plummeted from a potential #3 or #4 seed, to a team that with an early loss, could be looking at double-digit territory. So how do the Hawkeyes fix things to get back on track?

Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Ogelsby need big games for Iowa to advance in the Big Ten Tournament. (John Schultz/Quad City Times)

Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Ogelsby need big games for Iowa to advance in the Big Ten Tournament. (John Schultz/Quad City Times)

  • Fix the Defense Immediately: Here’s a quick breakdown of what the Hawkeyes have given up in their last six games in terms of points per possession: 1.22, 1.32.1.12, 1.06, 1.26, and 1.12. Even in their lone victory in the bunch over Purdue, they still allowed the Boilermakers to shoot 49.1% from the field. On their KenPom page under defensive footprint, it says inconclusive. Nothing sums up their lack of a defensive identity better than that. They do a decent job blocking shots and Roy Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell do a pretty good job getting into the passing lanes and getting steals. But in their recent rough patch they’ve given up far too many easy baskets in the paint. Whether it means extending their zone press and getting more aggressive with it (which they have the depth to do), or just hanging back and sticking to either a man-to-man or a zone, Iowa needs to pick a style and go with it. I don’t know if their is confusion about what their responsibilities are, or that they just don’t care because they think they can outscore people. Either way, what they’re doing right now isn’t working, and hasn’t for a number of games. Read the rest of this entry »
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Can Iowa Shore Up Its Shoddy Defense in Time?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 4th, 2014

After three seasons at the helm, Fran McCaffery will finally take Iowa back to the NCAA Tournament. That’s the good part about the Hawkeyes’ season. The next logical question is whether they can win more than one game there. With a 20-9 record and an RPI in the 30s, it is likely that the Hawkeyes will be on one of the top six seed lines, which could put them in a dreaded #5/#12 match-up against a decent team. Even if they get past that round, they’ll have to beat a Top 25 quality team that is likely to be offensively talented. At this late point in the season, it is still unclear if the Hawkeyes can defend well enough to beat a team that can run in a track meet with them. Over their last four games they have given up 1.21, 1.31, 1.12 and 1.06 points per possession, respectively, against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue. Those numbers do not bode well for a team looking to make some noise as we head into March.

McCaffery's Hawkeyes will need to get some stops if they hopse to get to the Sweet 16. (AP/C. Neibergall)

McCaffery’s Hawkeyes will need to get some stops if they hopse to get to the Sweet 16. (AP/C. Neibergall)

Defense has been an issue for Iowa all season long, and a lack of it is the main reason they have been unable to close out many games.  Their record is a bit deceiving because they have won all of the games that they were supposed to, but they really only have two quality wins on the year: at Ohio State and vs. Michigan in Iowa City — even in both of those games, the Hawkeyes gave up more than a point per possession to the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. A win against Xavier, another NCAA Tournament team, is impressive, but an argument can be made that the absence of Musketeers’ star Semaj Christan during the second half helped the Hawkeyes. These observations are not intended to take anything away from Iowa’s resume this season, but merely to point out that its stay in March Madness could be a short one unless they find some answers on defense, and soon.

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Four Quick Thoughts on Indiana’s Win Over Iowa

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 28th, 2014

Iowa continued its late season freefall after dropping a shootout in Bloomington Thursday night, 93-86. The Hawkeyes have now tumbled to a 19-9 overall record and will lose what would have been a healthy seed in the NCAA Tournament if they don’t get things turned around rather quickly. Indiana once again proved that, despite their inconsistencies, they are dangerous at home. They’ve now knocked off Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa in their own gym this season.

Here are four observations from last night’s fast-paced affair.

Will Sheehey scored a career-high 30 points Thursday as Indiana knocked off Iowa. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Will Sheehey scored a career-high 30 points Thursday as Indiana knocked off Iowa. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

  1. Where has this Will Sheehey been all season? Sheehey was a legitimate force on offense for the Hoosiers all night long. He proved to be equally adept at knocking down shots from the perimeter and also getting by the Iowa defense to finisih on the fast break. He went 11-of 13 on twos, and put up 19 points in the first half alone. If Sheehey had played even half this well over the course of the entire season, the Hoosiers might have a considerably better record than 16-12. He’s been missing in action on numerous occasions and seemingly has been without the mojo that came from playing on a much more talented team last season. If he can ride the momentum from this outstanding performance into the last three games and the Big Ten Tournament, Indiana can clearly play the spoiler role in early March.
  2. Iowa needs Mike Gesell at his best: Gesell was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball all night, which led to a statistical line that produced only six points and five turnovers. He had a team-high seven assists, but much of that was due to the uptempo nature of the game. Fran McCaffery doesn’t need 20 points per game from his sophomore point guard, but he needs to consistently knock down open looks and he can’t give the ball away so much if the Hawkeyes are going to look to push it. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big Ten Weekend in Review: A Slight Return to Normalcy

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 11th, 2014

After the finish of the Penn State-Illinois game on Sunday afternoon, a look at the standings showed that the upside-down nature of the first six weeks of the Big Ten season has self-corrected a little bit. The five teams that the media and our microsite predicted to finish in the top 5 are situated that way with just three games separating first through fifth place. Illinois climbed out of the basement with a win at Penn State, Nebraska got a road win, and Indiana continued to be as inconsistent as any team in the league/country. Here’s the rest of the highlights from the weekend:

Mike Gesell tallied 8 assists with only 1 turnover in Iowa's win over Michigan Saturday. (Matthew Holst, Getty)

Mike Gesell tallied 8 assists with only 1 turnover in Iowa’s win over Michigan Saturday. (Matthew Holst, Getty)

Player of the Weekend: Mike Gesell. Iowa got solid efforts from pretty much everyone in their rotation in their vital home win over Michigan. Roy Devyn Marble hit six three-pointers in the first half and carried them offensively. Their starting frontcourt of Melsaan Basabe, Aaron White, and Adam Woodbury combined for 11 offensive rebounds. Although he didn’t put up a ton of points, Gesell played the biggest role. Part of the problems he has had at times this season has been forcing things on the offensive end. His assist-to-turnover numbers coming into the game in Big Ten play was 2.38/1. So for him to deliver 8 assists to 1 turnover in the game shows what the Hawkeyes can do when he is playing well. He had an offensive rating of 170 and he also had 3 steals. Although he didn’t take many shots, he was efficient in knocking down both threes he attempted, going 3-for-5 from the field for the game. Gesell has gone from a bit of a timeshare with Anthony Clemmons, to playing more minutes. If he can continue to distribute and cause problems on the defensive end like this, Iowa can make a run late in the season at winning the league.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VIII

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2014

RTC national columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) gives his weekly observations on the game in his column, Otskey’s Observations. 

A Cause for Concern or Just a Speed Bump for Wisconsin?

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don't expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Dekker struggled on Tuesday but don’t expect that to continue. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)

Wisconsin’s 75-72 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night was surprising in many ways. For one, it marked the first time since the 1995-96 season that the Badgers have given up at least 70 points in three consecutive games (h/t @nickfasuloSBN). It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort from a historically good defensive team under the tutelage of Bo Ryan. Wisconsin could never seem to get a stop when it needed one and allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent from the floor for the game. Coming into the contest, Bo Ryan was 14-3 all-time in head-to-head matchups against Indiana head coach Tom Crean. Crean had never beaten Ryan while at Indiana and the Hoosiers had dropped 12 consecutive games to the Badgers dating back to 2007. In a strange twist of fates, perhaps Ryan’s best team ever fell to Crean’s least talented team in the last three seasons. While Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson did yeoman’s work for Wisconsin, Sam Dekker and Ben Brust had off nights. Dekker, Wisconsin’s leading scorer and rebounder, totaled only 10 points and three rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Brust was cold all night from the three-point line, but tried to adjust, attempting a season-high seven shots from inside the arc, most of those curling to the basket off screens. It was a strange night in Bloomington and something just didn’t feel right. I am inclined to think this is just a bump in the road for Wisconsin and I would expect a much more focused defensive performance at home against Michigan this coming Saturday.

Creighton Ascending in the Polls Despite Grant Gibbs’ Injury

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode VI

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on December 18th, 2013

Battle For Iowa Lived Up To Its Billing

For my money, the best game in recent days was Iowa State’s thrilling win over Iowa on Friday night at Hilton Coliseum. This game was the true essence of what college basketball is all about. It was a heated in-state rivalry between two quality teams in a crazy atmosphere, smack dab in the middle of a basketball-crazed state. It is simple: This was a fun game, period. Although Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones came away victorious, you may be somewhat surprised to find out that my biggest impression taken from this game was just how good Iowa is. I actually thought the Hawkeyes were the better team for most of this contest. Don’t get me wrong, Iowa State played really well. After all, it beat a team I thought was very impressive so that should tell you something about the Cyclones as well. I thought Iowa had a terrific game plan and evidence of top-notch coaching and scouting was present throughout the game.

Devyn Marble

Devyn Marble and his mates were outstanding. But Iowa State was just a little bit better. (AP)

One specific example of great scouting came late in the first half when Roy Devyn Marble got in the middle of a dribble hand-off by Georges Niang and broke it up, leading to two Iowa points on the other end. Marble read the play perfectly and it paid off for his team. Fran McCaffery’s squad excelled in transition and got almost anything it wanted offensively on the low block with Aaron White leading the charge. Iowa ran some beautiful half-court sets that resulted in plenty of clean looks, especially for White and Marble. The Hawkeyes dominated the glass (but did not take full advantage of it) and answered the bell nearly every time Iowa State put together a charge, except for the final minute where it wound up costing them the game. Iowa simply didn’t make the plays it needed to win late, highlighted by Mike Gesell’s two missed free throws. McCaffery and his team can learn a lot from this game but in the end it is on the players to step up and lead down the stretch. Whether that’s Marble (most likely), White, Gesell, or someone else, Iowa needs someone to be “the man” in order to take the next step and contend at the very highest level in the Big Ten.

Michigan Back On Track?

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Will the Iowa Hawkeyes Complete Their Comeback Story?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 8th, 2013

It’s been almost a decade since the Hawkeyes have had any preseason expectations. In those 10 years, Iowa chased away Steve Alford, a coach who enjoyed moderate success while at Iowa City, only to see him move on and have a successful run at New Mexico and subsequently take the head job at UCLA. Afterwards, they had to endure Todd Lickliter, who ushered in an era of hopelessness. Lickliter compiled the worst three-year record in Iowa history at 38-58. Aside from the losses, Iowa’s brand took a hit from dwindling attendance and rumors of player dissatisfaction with the coach. In 2010, they fired Lickliter and hired Fran McCaffery from Siena. Since then, McCaffery has steadily returned the program back to relevance. In his first season he won 11 games and has improved his record by seven wins the past two seasons. Now, coming off a year where the Hawkeyes went 25-13 and were NIT runners-up, the media and fans expect this squad in the NCAA Tournament come March. Anything less will be considered a disappointment and will ruin this comeback story.

Roy Devyn Marble leads an Iowa team that has expectations for the first time in almost a decade.

Roy Devyn Marble leads an Iowa team that has expectations for the first time in almost a decade.

The Hawkeyes were extremely effective on defense, especially away from the basket. Last season, they held opponents to 91.2 points per 100 possessions (22nd in the country) and only allowed opponents to shoot 29.5 percent from both the three-point line and jumpers inside the arc. If there is an area in which they can improve, it would be their interior defense where opponents shot 62.2 percent at the rim. While the Hawkeyes gave up a high percentage of buckets from down low, they managed to prevent opponents from getting in the paint. Less than three out of every 10 of their opponents’ shots came at the rim. McCaffery has always been more of an offensive-minded coach, but with virtually every player coming back, there is no reason to think the defense will slip.

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Big Ten M5: 03.13.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on March 13th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Ohio State has had its struggles this season, particularly in finding a consistent offensive threat outside of Deshaun Thomas. However, the Buckeyes have gone on a hot streak as of late — ironically, they’ve done it in a stretch when Thomas has struggled — and surged to grab the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament. Late-season surges such as this are nothing new under coach Thad Matta. As the Columbus Dispatch points out, Matta’s teams have won 15 consecutive games in the final week of the regular season, a streak that dates back to 2005. This year — as we’ve seen before — OSU is peaking at the right time, right before the “win and advance” portion of the season.
  2. Finishing No. 8 in the country and getting a No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament is quite the accomplishment, especially for a team that lost its leader and best player from last season. However, it’s not enough for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. MSU was on top of the conference a few weeks ago, but it lost two close games to Michigan and Indiana down the stretch, which ultimately kept the Spartans from winning the Big Ten regular season title. Not getting that championship is an extra incentive for Izzo and his team this weekend, as they try to claim a Big Ten Tournament championship. Not only that, but a run in Chicago would necessarily include some pretty impressive wins, which would give MSU great confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament.
  3. One of the reasons John Groce got the job at Illinois this season is because of the success he enjoyed at Ohio, particularly in the postseason. His Bobcats won the MAC last season and upset Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, he’s heading into his first postseason as a Big Ten coach, but the competition is much tougher here than it was in the MAC Tournament. Still, Groce is excited for his first opportunity to coach in the Big Ten Tournament, and he’s equally excited for his team, which will get the chance to regain some momentum after a bit of a slide to end the regular season.
  4. Sunday’s Michigan-Indiana game was one for the ages, coming down to the final seconds with a tough roll ending up as the difference between a win and a loss for the Wolverines. However, that game just about defined the season for John Beilein’s team, which has shown its incredible potential at times but has also struggled with consistency. The Wolverines have the talent to be the best team in the country, but Bill Simonson of MLive questions whether they have the toughness to make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. Can UM shake its most recent loss to IU? The talent is there, but it might be tough to get over it.
  5. Iowa has played its last four games without freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but with do-or-die time looming in the Big Ten Tournament, Gesell expects to play on Thursday when the Hawkeyes suit up against Northwestern. Gesell has a stress reaction in his foot, but since it isn’t fractured, he’s been cleared to play despite the pain that limits his abilities. He said he should be able to go. Head coach Fran McCaffery said he will support whatever decision Gesell comes to, noting that the Hawkeyes could certainly use him this week if he’s able to play.
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Evaluating Big Ten Freshmen After the Non-Conference Season: Part One

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 31st, 2012

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.

Historically, Big Ten coaches have not relied on their freshmen to contribute significantly because most of their players tend to stick around for at least two seasons in the conference. But this season is different because there are three schools that expect their freshmen to be a big part of their offense – Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. All three of these programs signed a top 30 recruiting class and in addition, Michigan State and Wisconsin also signed top 50 freshmen for this season. Let’s evaluate the top freshmen in the B1G as the schools have now wrapped up the non-conference part of their schedule.

Nik Stauskas(left) may be the most important freshman for the Wolverines.

Nik Stauskas(left) may be the most important freshman for the Wolverines.

Michigan: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas 

McGary and Robinson were expected to contribute immediately which justified Michigan’s top five ranking in the preseason. McGary was supposed to add depth to the frontcourt and help Jordan Morgan but he hasn’t been able to find his rhythm in Ann Arbor after 13 games. The forward has had a tough time staying out of foul trouble and will need to improve his footwork in order to become more effective for John Beilein. He is extremely efficient on the boards – 5.6 RPG in just 14.6 MPG – but does not look for his shot much (5.7 PPG) because the offense primarily runs through the wings and guards. Speaking of the wings, Robinson has not disappointed at all by averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG so far this season. He has great range on his jumper and has shown that he is willing to crash the boards as well. More important than his statistics is his ability to play alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. Both have similar skill sets but Robinson already has a great understanding of the John Beilein’s offense and is very efficient with this shot selection (62.1% eFG). While Robinson has met preseason expectations, his teammate Stauskas has exceeded them and has been the most important freshman of all for the Wolverines. Coming out of high school, the scouts knew that he had a good jumper but his long-range shooting this year has been off the charts – 57% from distance. Trey Burke and Hardaway carry the bulk on the offense but neither of them shoot exceptionally well from beyond the arc – at 38% and 35%, respectively. Stauskas allows John Beilein to spread the floor and gets open looks from the perimeter due to the dribble-drive kick out passes by Burke. It will be tough for him to continue shooting at such a blistering rate but as long as he moves around to open spots in the offense, Stauskas will play an important role in what could be a special season for the Wolverines.

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Big Ten M5: 12.18.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on December 18th, 2012

morning5_bigten

  1. Iowa freshman shooting guard Mike Gesell recognized that he needed to be more aggressive in coming games and, after a 23-point career-best performance this weekend against in-state rival Northern Iowa, it paid off when he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week. “I knew I had to be aggressive,” Gesell said. “I didn’t shoot as well the last few games, and I knew this whole week I had to stay positive about it and just keep attacking. Personally I know I’m a good shooter. I have confidence in my own game. I just had to stay aggressive.” Gesell is one of three freshman starters for the Hawkeyes, and the trio have proven thus far that they can adjust to the rigors of the college game. Now, the Big Ten season looms. But if Fran McCaffery gets this kind of production out of Gesell on a regular basis, Iowa may be able to surprise some people.
  2. The Big Ten certainly has its fair share of talented, seasoned coaches but this columnist from the Albany Herald says Minnesota‘s Tubby Smith‘s “demeanor and coaching style, along with an intense work ethic, have brought him success everywhere he has landed.” Loran Smith goes on to say that Tubby Smith was underappreciated at Kentucky despite not leading the team back to a Final Four after winning a national title with mostly Rick Pitino’s players. The Gophers are one of the hottest teams in the country in the early part of the season and a Big Ten title contender. Does that solidify their coach’s greatness?
  3. There’s no question about it: Jabari Parker is a game-changer. On the floor, he’s a once-in-a-generation type of recruit who can turn a team from a good squad into a great one. Off the floor, he’s been billed as the type of kid every coach and fan wants to have for their program, and his signing at any of the prospective universities could pay dividends for future recruiting and more. Michigan State is one of those schools, considered by some to be a finalist alongside Duke, with plenty riding on Parker’s upcoming announcement. But Tom Izzo says he “feels great about everything” with Parker potentially making or breaking the Spartans’ recruiting class this year. “It’s a big week, but in recruiting, sometimes you have regrets,” Izzo said Monday, according to MLive.com. “I have no regrets about what we’ve done in recruiting this year. I decided to do it a certain way, and we’ve done it that way. We didn’t sign anybody early. So I actually feel great about everything.”
  4. It’s hard to imagine things going much better for Illinois at this point. Under new coach John Groce, the Illini are undefeated and won the prestigious Maui Invitational earlier this year to move into a Top 10 ranking for the first time since 2006. Ethan Asofsky writes that from the moment Groce stepped onto campus, he’s done things “his way” and it’s paying off in spades. He’s bringing in a talented recruiting class next year even after getting a late start and missing out on Jabari Parker. And he’s implemented a new system that highlights Brandon Paul, who has long been a All-Big Ten caliber player mired in inconsistency. Things are going to get tougher on Illinois from here on out, but at this point, Groce has delivered everything fans could have wanted — and maybe even more.
  5. After dealing with soreness from playing 1,227 minutes during his freshman season, Michigan’s Trey Burke‘s feeling much better this year. This all comes despite the fact that he’s actually played more to this point than he did last year — 371 minutes this year versus 360 last year — but he credits his offseason regimen for getting into better condition. “Last year I thought I was just sore after every game and that was the norm,” Burke said. “Once it got to March, it got serious. My body started feeling it even more. But this year, I’ve definitely noticed a difference.” With a stronger Burke leading the Wolverines this season, the only people who will be sore are fans of opposing Big Ten schools after Michigan’s point guard carves up his defender.
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Observations from Iowa’s Cancun Challenge Loss to Wichita State

Posted by KTrahan on November 22nd, 2012

Iowa suffered its first loss of the season on Wednesday, falling 75-63 to Wichita State in the finale of the Cancun Challenge. The Hawkeyes shot just 26.1 percent in the loss. Here are a few observations from the game.

Iowa Had Serious Struggles Shooting in Cancun Wednesday

Frontcourt play. Iowa made just four of 31 shots from inside the arc and could get absolutely nothing going inside. Even crazier, the Hawkeyes made seven threes and just one two-pointer in the first half, but still led 35-33 at halftime. However, Wichita State’s dominance in the frontcourt was too much for Iowa to overcome in the second half and the Hawkeyes didn’t have the physicality to keep up. Iowa has a lot of height, but it doesn’t have a seasoned big man to outmuscle other teams inside. Wichita State big man Ehimen Orukpe had five blocks and kept the Hawkeyes out of the paint. Iowa also didn’t get much out of center Adam Woodbury, who was clearly over-matched by Orukpe. The Hawkeyes must find a way to get points in the paint this year in the Big Ten.

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Iowa Uses a Different Formula to Beat Gardner-Webb

Posted by KTrahan on November 19th, 2012

A nine-point win over Gardner-Webb is hardly something to be proud of, but the way Iowa took down the Runnin’ Bulldogs sure is cause for celebration in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes trailed 38-18 at halftime and were down by as many as 23 points at one point in the first half, before storming back to outscore Gardner-Webb 47-18 in the second half to escape with a 65-56 win on Saturday. Last year, this is a game Iowa surely would have lost. The Hawkeyes had a brutal non-conference season, which included a 16-point loss to Campbell. Iowa struggled with its defense last year, which hurt its resume and kept it off the NCAA Tournament bubble, but the Hawkeyes figure to be an NCAA Tournament contender this year, so this was the kind of game they couldn’t lose. They knew that, and they didn’t.

Fran McCaffery’s Group Appears to be Buying Into Defense This Year (credit: AP)

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Iowa’s win was how the Hawkeyes came back. We always knew they could score, but the question was whether they could stop anyone after last year’s abysmal defensive display. We got our answer over the weekend, as defense and the subsequent transition offense led Iowa’s comeback. “I think we buy into the defensive end a little bit more,” Iowa sophomore Aaron White said. “When you give up 18 points in the second half, that’s the difference. Last year we would have just tried to put 60 on them in the second half.”

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