Thursday, March 17, 2016

Iowa Basketball and the NCAA Tournament

Recently, I've had a few posts about Iowa wrestling. It's always fun to talk about Iowa wrestling, as they are always one of the top five teams in the nation. Iowa basketball is far different. Although they spent some time as one of the five best teams in the nation, they have come back to Earth. Actually, they've crashed back to Earth. In fact, it seems that they've crashed through the Earth to a bottomless pit where they just keep falling and falling...and falling. But let's get excited and talk about Iowa basketball.

Iowa has basically been the same team for 2/3 of the season. The only weird part about that is they were the same team in the first third as they have been in the final third, but they mixed in 1/3 of the season where they destroyed everything in their path and looked like a legitimate national title contender. If they are that team for the tournament, they're going to set the world on fire. If they are the team that they have been at the beginning and end of the season, they might win one game, but let's face it, they'll probably find a way to lose their first game.

And oh, man, does this team LOVE to find ways to lose. A common theme in losses is getting cold for a while, digging themselves a massive hole, somehow catching fire and taking the lead, only to fall apart in the final few minutes. I saw this in person when they played Notre Dame in Orlando, and it is also how they got eliminated in the B1G Tournament. But don't worry, they can also lead an entire game, only to blow it at the very end. The most egregious example of this is their game against Iowa State. A prominent theme in nearly every loss they have had this season is a total lack of contributions from their bench. Fran McCaffery loses faith pretty early in anybody from the bench unit outside of Dom Uhl, and the starters get fatigued which leads to a very up-and-down performance that inevitably is down at the worst possible moment.

And that's really what the NCAA Tournament is going to come down to: Bench play. The only game where Iowa actually got good bench contributions and lost was their second game against Indiana. If the bench can give them solid minutes, they can give anybody a run for their money. Uhl is the star of the bench, but that's really not saying much. Ahmad Wagner is the only other guy that can compete inside, but he has limited upside because of his lack of size. Baer is the best bench scorer, but even that praise only really tells you that he's inconsistent but at least he's always willing to try to make something happen. Christian Williams had one nice game, and the backup shooting guards have looked lost all year, so maybe they're ready to break out? There's four seniors in the starting lineup, and I cannot imagine Iowa not being one of the worst B1G teams next year.

And about that starting lineup, it really has everything that you would want. Woodbury and Uthoff give them length, Uthoff and Jok give them shooting, Clemmons acts as a stopper for the opposing team's best perimeter player, and Gesell is the facilitator. That's a really strong mix of talent.

So, as long as the starting five performs with Uthoff and/or Jok catching fire, one of the other three stepping up to put in double digit points, and getting contributions from the bench, they will be a very dangerous team. That's what middle of the season Iowa did, when they won 10 of their first 11 Big Ten games, and the only game they lost was on the road at Maryland, and even then, it took Uthoff going ice cold and Jok leading the team in points with just 14.

But that's a very optimistic viewpoint. The negative, or realistic, viewpoint is that Iowa will continue to find a way to lose and get bounced from the tournament in their first game.

But I'll take the former. Iowa cruises to a national title in basketball, just a couple weeks after Iowa wrestling wins the title this weekend.

Hey, a boy can dream (even if he is a 31-year-old boy), can't he?

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