Something Special is Happening in Iowa City
Thanksgiving weekend, the Iowa men's basketball team appeared to be one that would struggle to finish games and that their youth off the bench might make for a mediocre season. My how things have changed.
The Iowa men are now ranked 16th, are 4-0 in the Big Ten, and 13-3 overall after their DOMINATING performance over #4 Michigan State last night on the road. Sure, it marked the first time Iowa has won in East Lansing since 1993 but that's just the beginning of the superlatives. Iowa's 76-59 victory was their biggest victory margin at Michigan State since an 18 point win in March of 1983. The Hawks have won 10 straight regular season Big 10 games dating back to last season. They haven't had such a lengthy conference winning streak since Iowa's unbeaten conference season of 1969-70. That team featured "Downtown Freddie" Brown, John Johnson, and the "Six Pack." Iowa led the conference in scoring at nearly 103 points per game. They were 14-0 in conference play.
So what's changed the fortunes of this year's team? Confidence, for sure. When was the last time you saw an Iowa team walk into a hostile environment like they did last night and totally control the game from start to finish? It was IMPRESSIVE. Especially when you consider Mike Gesell had to sit nearly the entire first half due to foul trouble. The senior point guard being out had no negative impact at all. Iowa poured in the three-pointers (nine in the first half) and just kept adding to the lead. The Hawks led by 22 at the intermission but this wouldn't be a repeat of their early December collapse in Ames. No, these Hawkeyes kept Michigan State at bay throughout the second half.
Iowa had a total of nine turnovers in the game. That's tough to beat. Another thing that struck me was the fact that Nicholas Baer only played 17 minutes. Michigan State undoubtedly prepared to see a lot of him as the walk-on had played and succeeded a lot in recent games. Instead, the Spartans saw four Iowa players play more than 30 minutes... Jarrod Uthoff (15 points & 10 rebounds), Adam Woodbury (eight rebounds), Anthony Clemmons (13 points), and Peter Jok (23 points). Dom Uhl was also fantastic off the bench with 10 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes.
One other thing struck me when I saw a video of the postgame celebration on the court. Jarrod Uthoff is obviously an incredible player who gives great effort with terrific results but just look how JACKED he was after the final buzzer. Two shoves to assistant coaches are met with grins. I love that emotion from the former Cedar Rapids Jefferson prep. Every passing game, I'm sure every Iowa fan loves him even more. I know I do.
The key now for the Hawks is not to let down against a very capable Michigan team that handed preseason conference favorite Maryland its first loss of the Big 10 earlier this week. Tip-off is 3:30 Sunday afternoon on Big Ten Network. Until then, the standings look awfully good: