So, there was a some pain during the non-conference slate for the ol' Hawkeyes, but when you look back, it was nothing that wasn't expected. Sure, that Iowa State game still irks me more than getting underwear in my stocking (JUST USE YOUR TIMEOUTS, GUYS!) and I'll admit the Advocare Invitational was quite the annoyance with the five point loss to Dayton and six point loss to Notre Dame. But at the end of the day, touting a 9-3 schedule with a blow out win at Marquette (89-61), another masterpiece against Wichita State in Orlando (84-61), an overtime Big Ten/ACC Challenge lock-up win against Florida State (78-75) and against Drake (70-64) -- aka THE BAER GAME -- is a very solid start before the conference schedule.
I know there are fans out there that have invested most of their allotted sports time into college football and the miraculous 12-0 Hawkeyes, so here's a quick primer before the Hawkeyes start Big Ten play and tip off against Michigan State on December 29th:
- Jarrod Uthoff is everything. Seriously, everything. CBS was way, way, waaaaaay off.
- The team scoring woes remain and it's just as obnoxiously annoying as it has been since 2010.
- Fran McCaffery hasn't changed his mind about using timeouts late in the game (see: Iowa State).
- There is a preferred walk-on/redshirt freshman named Nicholas Baer that is one part Rocky and one part Field of Dreams -- having an unbeatable will and an Iowa destiny.
- Mike Gesell has been extremely fun to watch and he's 22nd in the country when it comes to assist rate (KenPom), averaging seven dimes a game.
- Gone is the asthmatic, Hillcrest pizza loving, non-conditioning Peter Jok. In his stead is the guy that was a Top-10 recruit who was an absolute scoring nightmare.
- Adam Woodbury is still on the team and still doing un-athletic things like this:
- McCaffery has used some interesting lineups, both big and small such as Gesell/Clemmons/Uhl/Uthoff/Woodbury (big) and Gesell/Clemmons/Baer/Uhl/Uthoff (my personal small ball favorite).
- They are ranked 17th in KenPom's rankings (two spots AHEAD of Iowa State), the fourth best Big Ten team, 18th in the country in adjusted offense (113.9) and 36th in adjusted defense. Iowa is 6-0 at Carver Hawkeye Arena and 1-1 on the road (2-2 in neutral court games).
Now with all of that said, let's look ahead and use what we discussed above to predict what will happen in conference play:
If Iowa continues to play as well as they have at home -- something that passes both the eye test and the stats test-- they should be able to finish the season with a very solid overall home record.
Coming to Iowa City the next couples months (in order): Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Iowa hasn't beaten Michigan State since the 2010-11 season and if Denzel Valentine was playing in their first matchup, I'd mark that as a loss. BUT, Valentine is not playing, making this the Hawkeyes best opportunity to grab a HUGE win to start the Big Ten season. Note: I realize Michigan State -- who I love watching when I have my Big Ten hat on -- isn't just "Valentine or Bust", but I'm hoping Uthoff and Jok will be as big of a problem as Kay Felder was the other night for Oakland and that Gesell/Baer/Clemmons can make some big plays in front of a ruckus crowd when the Spartans bend their defense.
Iowa will surely be the rightful favorite against Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and Minnesota and I'd be somewhat shocked if they don't win all four of those games. Michigan is a tricky one to look at, as I still don't know who they are at this point in the season. The same can be said of Wisconsin and Indiana (although I feel weirdly confident against the latter two teams). Purdue is probably too much down low for Iowa, forcing Uthoff and Woodbury into quick foul trouble (look what Drake was able to do) and clogging the lanes when they are successful at stalling Iowa's fast break game.
Can Iowa win any one of these games? Of course. It's college basketball. They are all at Carver Hawkeye Arena. This team has proven they can run anyone out of the gym and come back when facing a deficit. Do they need to develop a stronger finishing game? Does a bear poop in the woods? But since taking over, McCaffery's seasons are like fine wines... they just get better with time. So as we get close to February and March, the better the Hawkeyes seem to get.
It should be much of the same at home this season:
Sane Prediction: 7-2
Come Sail Away
This looks like it's going to be a little rough...
In order: at Purdue, at Michigan State (with nine days off to prepare), at Rutgers, at Maryland (four days after playing Purdue at home), at Illinois, at Indiana, at Penn State, at Ohio State, at Michigan (to end the regular season).
Oh thank you basketball God's for the Michigan State scheduling as Iowa goes to East Lansing on January 14th which could (or could not) be Valentine's first game back. There could be some rust there, and that's a tough team to come back for, especially if he's matched up against Uthoff for a good chunk of that game. But then again, it's Iowa, on the road, playing one of the best teams in the nation... so expect a big lead to be squandered (I'm only half kidding).
If Iowa loses to Rutgers this season there will be a 2,000 word piece about every single thing that went wrong during that game -- so fair warning.
Having to go to Maryland four days after playing Purdue at home hurts. That's like taking 12 rounds of body blows at night and still having to wake up the next morning and work for 12 hours at a construction job; it's just hard on the body. Playing at Illinois (shoulder shrug) and then at Indiana a few days later looked worse heading into the season than it does right now. We all know that Indiana can look like one of the best offenses college basketball has ever seen one moment, only to be completely inept and incompetent the next and Illinois has one of the worst injury curses the Big Ten has ever seen -- but two road games in a row is never easy.
And then there is Penn State (win), Iowa's only game against Ohio State (which is at the end of February, so McCaffery's seniors are going to score somewhere between 50 and 300 points in that game) and at Michigan to end the regular season.
It seems right now that away schedule is somewhat front heavy, with some traps sprinkled in. But I fully expect Iowa to be on the right side of that schedule, to be an above .500 road team:
Sane Away Prediction: 5-4
Sane Big Ten Prediction: 12-6
That's an NCAA Tournament team if I've ever seen one. Now if only the seniors could slip on their glass slippers in March and make this thing interesting, I'd surely be pleased.