Around the Conference: Iowa, Penn State Come Up Short

Ethan Miller

Iowa and Penn State both had impressive weeks flame out on Saturday in tough defeats.

While Minnesota and Purdue both had tough weeks, Iowa and Penn State had strong starts to the week before flaming out in the end.

The Iowa Hawkeyes started off the season undefeated versus a medley of different cupcakes and finally faced some actual competition, making their games this week relatively more interesting. Iowa has been making progress under Fran McCaffery and there's a lot of talk that this will be the first year they return back to the NCAA Tournament since the Alford era. There's been some questions coming in and some have wondered how they'll fare in conference play, but if it's anything like this week then the Hawkeyes should be fine.

Kicking off their week in the Battle 4 Atlantis was an opening matchup against Xavier, with Iowa giving the Musketeers their first loss of the season. It wasn't always pretty, with both teams shorting below 40% from the field, but Roy Devyn Marble led the team with 30 points on their way to a narrow overtime victory. Iowa followed up the close win with a laugher versus UTEP before taking on Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship. Holding a lead for a good amount of the game, Iowa gave up the lead late and ended up falling by five in overtime. Once again led by Marble, Iowa simply couldn't get enough consistent production elsewhere, was out rebounded and committed too many turnovers. While it was a disappointing end to an impressive week, Iowa fans shouldn't feel too down on themselves.

The Hawkeyes still have a few areas that could improve, but if the team plays as is, they'll be playing in the NCAA Tournament instead of the NIT. Roy Devyn Marble has been beyond impressive for Iowa, while the teams depth should prove to be beneficial for what should be a grueling, physical Big Ten season. The team has been a bit sloppy with the ball at times, but their outside game has been steadily improving and should be the main area of improvement that gets Iowa over the hump. Now Iowa will face off against Notre Dame on Tuesday, providing a perfect opportunity for a nice win to add to the resume. Either way, worst case scenario for Iowa would have them start the season off at 11-3 and by then they'd likely be in pretty good position for the NCAA Tournament.

Another team with a strong start this week before fading at the end was Penn State. Penn State kicked off the week against Monmouth in the Barclays Center Classic, coasting to an impressive 84-52 win. Their next outing was an even more impressive performance, beating St. Johns in overtime thanks to a combined 54 points from Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. Heading into the title game against Ole Miss, there was definitely momentum on Penn States side.

The title game kicked off quickly, with both teams scoring in bunches and Ole Miss almost automatic from beyond the arc. Regardless, Penn State kept pace with Ole Miss and eventually worked themselves into the lead in the second half before Ole Miss pulled off a narrow win thanks to several clutch shots late by Jarvis Summers and Marshall Henderson. The defeat, while disappointing, was still an impressive performance from a Penn State team many pinned to finish near the bottom of the conference. We all know that Frazier and Newbill are the real deal, but Penn State's frontcourt has been off to an extremely strong start. If the teams frontcourt can keep it up then Penn State will definitely be a tough out for any team in the Big Ten. If the team can develop some depth and get some production from the bench? Well then Penn State's season could be set for a major improvement.

Also playing in several close games this week were the Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini. Heading down to Mexico was Wisconsin, showcasing the slower, more plodding style of play we've come to expect from Bo Ryan and his pesky Badgers. Under a barrage of stingy defense and balanced production, Wisconsin added two nice non-conference wins against Saint Louis and West Virginia, winning the games by 6 and 7 points respectively.

Upping the ante was Illinois, deciding that the best way to take care of their competition was to pull off thrilling two point victories over UNLV and IPFW. Against UNLV Illinois had to rely on a late layup from Rayvonte Rice. On a day where Illinois shot 35.8% from the field out in Vegas, Rice carried the Illini with 25 points and 10 rebounds. He then followed up the impressive performance with another strong 17 point outing, leading the team in scoring as Illinois held off the Mastodons. The real key to victory might have been the defense, though, forcing several key turnovers in quick succession in the closing minutes. Either way, Illinois remains undefeated and will now head into a winnable game against Georgia Tech on Tuesday.

In slightly more disappointing news, Northwestern fell to 4-4 this week. The Wildcats saw four different players score in double figures on Monday to beat Garnder-Webb by double digits, but then would fall to Missouri and UCLA. Losing to Mizzou and UCLA isn't a major surprise for Northwestern, but the losses will not benefit the team as wins will be difficult in conference and the Wildcats need as many early season wins as they can get. Even more problematic is Crawford was limited versus Missouri and missed the UCLA game due to back spasms, creating a huge hole in offensive production. While the week wasn't exactly thrilling for Northwestern fans, the production of JerShon Cobb (22 PPG L/2) has been a nice plus, but Northwestern needs to find some consistency on offense or else it's going to be a long season in Evanston.

It's been an exciting week here in the Big Ten and it's only going to get better as we head into the Big Ten / ACC challenge. Time to go showcase our superiority over the nation's second best conference.

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