(n) In Professional wrestling, a "bad" guy.
This past weekend, my adopted city held one of the WWE's marquee events, the Royal Rumble. Thirty lathered up wrestlers staggered into the ring in the middle of the Amway Center with the chance to win the World Heavyweight Championship belt from the ultimate baby face, Roman Reigns. In a shocking turn (due to a heap load of injuries), Triple H -- yes, The Game is still wrestling -- retook his mantle as the franchises top heel and World Heavyweight Champion.
I swear this will all tie in.
Earlier that same day, Iowa annihilated Purdue in the second half and grabbed their seventh conference win in as many tries. During the blow out, I was transfixed on Adam Woodbury, last year's Big Ten heel (remember, he was running around like Captain Insano's love child) mucking it up down low against the likes of A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. He battled and battled and battled some more during his time on the court; denying every possible post pass -- be it the lob, the two man game slip and clear out post-ups.
And the team took notice. They have taken notice all season long. We, as fans, just haven't caught up.
For the uninitiated, this type of post defense from Woodbury isn't something new. Woodbury has been the emotional and physical leader of this Iowa D all season long. He has excelled in doing the little things that don't make it into box scores or post-game write ups. Hell, we're a handful of weeks away from Selection Sunday and it's the first time I have truly sat down to re-watch a game just to appreciate the work Woodbury has put in.
Just look at this willingness to make sure he remains on the defensive front against Hammons:
That's all mental. That's all guts.
What's weird is that this Purdue game is the first time it's clicked for us.
No seriously! With about two minutes left in the game on Sunday, a buddy of mine -- who is a Badger, true and true -- sent me this text during our conversation about Big Ten hoops, in particular Iowa's run:
A pal of mine was watching the Iowa game the other day and texted me that it's weird that he doesn't find Woodbury as annoying as last year - I surmised it was because he hadn't poked any eyeballs yet...the test will come when they play Wisconsin, he cannot resist Nigels peepers.
Madison's Enemy No. 1 is losing his "bad guy" luster. Could it be that the Big Ten's favorite heel is now becoming a heralded baby face?
There are a lot of games left to play and of course there is still some time for him to throw his spandex back on, but how could any Big Ten/BTPowerhouse fan not appreciate the constant hustle?
The seven foot senior is Iowa's version of Matt Costello against Maryland. The aggressive, impassioned, thrilling captain of the All Dirty Work team. Not only has he outworked the offensive opposition through Iowa's 19 games, but he continues to put on a clinic in how to play great post defense -- while also keeping those guys off the glass. He may not grab every rebound, but he puts himself into position to tap them up to his smaller running mates, hovering inside the arch.
See what I mean? That is twenty seconds of hard nosed denial with a perfect box out on a future NBA center.
These are the type of plays that are standard right now with Woody.
Offensively, Fran McCaffery is (wisely) using the center as a sledgehammer to free up the likes of Jarrod Uthoff, Peter Jok and either of the two point guards. He's constantly moving and constantly throwing hard screens. sometimes five or six times in one given set:
Even as the enforcer, he's dumping in 8.9 points and grabbing 6.7 rebounds per game (with four double-doubles, two of which have come against Purdue and Rutgers). He has shown the propensity to knock down open shots at the elbow, keeping the likes of Costello, Hammons and Haas (among the other big men in the Big Ten) honest.
There's also tiny aspects of his game that you can tell were a major focus during his off season workouts. Last year, Woodbury was putrid from the charity stripe, shooting 57.6% on 2.5 attempts per game. This year, he's converting 81.8% on 2.9 attempts. This allows McCaffery to keep him on the floor late in tight games (not that there have been too many of those during this run). Woody has also limited his fouling (2.3 per game, his lowest average in his four year career) and has been pretty spry on his feet.
When you put together all of those pieces, all of this attributes, you get a Big Ten, big man darling. A kid that is putting his best foot forward for every NBA scout -- both future and present -- to see. A senior that has taken his time on campus to take the small, necessary steps to get better. He found his niche and performed that role better than anyone could've anticipated. He's outworked, out hustled and out played his counterparts, leaving them in his dust, both in the loss column and on tape. He's gone from a frustrating prospect to what should be the most heralded piece to this years success not named Jarrod Uthoff.
And it's time to take full notice. It's time to fully recognize. It's time to come to loving terms with last years biggest heel.