It could've been worse for the Cornhuskers. It should've been worse. Way, way, way worse. But good ol' Nebrasketball hung around just enough to be a thorn in the side of Fran McCaffery and all of Hawkeye Nation right down to the final buzzer (including Tim Miles doing Tim Miles things by choosing to foul the Hawkeyes each and every possession the last couple of minutes while down double digits). While the game was never truly in question outside of the first five minutes of the first half -- where Nebraska started the game quick, going on a 10-0 run by attacking the rim and putting pressure on the interior of the Iowa defense -- there was at least some good things that Miles can build off of.
For starters, Shavon Shiels had a pretty solid game (not including his night from the free throw line where he was 0-4), finishing the contest with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists. Same can be said of Tai Webster, who came off the bench and finished with 22 points, five rebounds and a steal. But other than those two players, possibly their rebound margins -- with Iowa just outdoing Nebraska 37-34 -- and their ability to keep this a contest throughout the second half (but never shortening the lead by more than eight), there weren't too many more bright spots.
As an overall basketball game, this was pretty unwatchable if you didn't have skin in the game (especially coming off of the previous nights Kansas/Oklahoma game). But in terms of the Hawkeyes individual performances, two of McCaffery's usual suspects came back out to play (as if we should be surprised at this point).
Your favorite point guard's favorite point guard had yet another spectacular game against Nebraska, finishing with his first ever double-double with 22 points, four rebounds and 10 assists. Gesell is just so much fun to watch night in and night out.
He's holding his own in the "Best Point Guard" in the Big Ten conversation against Yogi Ferrell and Melo Trimble. Of course, all three of those guys are totally different types of players with Ferrell being the more gifted and natural scorer who can take over a game at any moment (last nights Indiana/Wisconsin game for example), Trimble being the most primed for the NBA with a fantastic pick and roll game and Gesell is easily the more talented passer and protector of the rock whom is just now figuring out the scoring prowess he may have.
But it's that willingness to make the right pass (even when it doesn't count as an assist) and propensity to protect the ball from slipping into the defenses hands that continues to impress me each and every game. You just don't see that type of old school, John Stockton type point guard in college basketball anymore. He analyzes, recognizes and reacts on offense while outperforming and out willing his opponents.
He's the ultimate "Try Hard Bunch" captain. Don't sleep on Mike Gesell. Don't do it.
Then there is Jarrod Uthoff, who is reaching this local, untouchable, semi-phenomenon status among Iowa fans, with his name being mentioned alongside Keith VanHorn, Dirk Nowitzki (which I am more guilty than Steven Ridley of doing) and recently even Larry Bird. Preposterous I know. Borderline crazy. But when you look at the overall style of play and the ability to do EVERYTHING well in the game of basketball... it's kind of fair, isn't it?
Just look at what he's doing right now: the senior is averaging 18.1 points (second in the Big Ten), six rebounds (17th in the Big Ten) and 3.3 blocks per game (first in the Big Ten). Before Tuesday's game, he was KenPom's No. 3 player in his Player of the Year standings. He is the most legit contender to Denzel Valentine right now for Big Ten Player of the Year and is a lock to be slotted in as a Big Ten First Teamer.
It still baffles me that the senior super hero guard/forward wasn't on many major pundits radars coming into the season (I still see you Gary Parrish).
He's the definition of consistency, having played one bad game this season; which ironically was against Michigan State, where he still scored ten points, grabbed five boards and blocked six Spartan shots. He's borderline unguardable when he's firing on all cylinders. He can (and will) break defenses on the wing, on the block, in transition or from the mid-range. If he see's that he's got a mouse in the house, he goes to work with some crafty foot work and a decisive post game -- which includes his Dirk-lite step back fade. If you match him up with a slow, burly big man, he can knock down the outside jumper with absolute ease (45.2% this season from three point land) leaving the lane wide open for the likes of Gesell and Peter Jok as his defender starts to cheat out to run him off the arch.
Defensively? He's a stall-worth. He already has 50 blocks on the season, which is second IN THE COUNTRY. Not A.J. Hammons, not Deyonta Davis, not Tacko Fall, but Jarrod Uthoff. And for those that watch Iowa games, this surely isn't shocking. What's shocking is that it's only 50. He's just so damn good at being in the right place, at the right time while also timing his jump and swat at exactly the perfect time. It's an absolute basketball art form. He'll guard any position and stand his own while also playing some of the best help side defense you'll see in college basketball.
Can we just fast forward nine days so we can get the Valentine v. Uthoff match-up we all so desperately crave?
There is little doubt that Iowa fans have something extremely special with these two seniors (as well as the rest of the roster). There is a lot more to do in the season, but as long as Mike Gesell and Jarrod Uthoff stay healthy, the Iowa Hawkeyes will continue to shock the country. Together.