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Young Hawkeyes Look to Extend their Season in the Big Apple

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Iowa’s road ahead in the Big Ten Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It was a bad year for Iowa.

Two years ago, the Hawkeyes managed to replace Aaron White. One year ago, they managed to replace Jared Uthoff. But this year, nobody could replace Peter Jok, and Iowa struggled to a four-win conference season, tied for their worst performance this century.

So, fire Fran?

Not so fast. The 2017-18 Hawkeyes were one of the 20 youngest teams in D-I. The roster doesn’t have a single senior, and the only junior who sees meaningful minutes is former walk-on Nicholas Baer.

All that is to say, the Hawkeyes don’t need to make a miracle run and win five games in five days. These guys will all be back next year. There’s no pressure this week in Madison Square Garden. Any win the Hawkeyes can get is gravy.

-Opening Round

The Hawkeyes kick off the very first game Wednesday night against the Illinois fighting Illini. These two teams only met once this season, but it was a memorable game—they Hawkeyes went into the State Farm Center on January 11 and snagged their first Big Ten win with an overtime victory over the Buckeyes. The 104 points the Hawkeyes scored were the most by any Big Ten team in a conference game this season. Iowa fans are hoping that facing the Illini can be lucky for them again.

I’ll say this for the Iowa-Illinois game, between the two Wednesday night games, this one should easily be the most entertaining. Iowa and Illinois are the two fastest-paced teams in the Big Ten this season. However, their speed comes from very two different styles of play. While the Hawkeyes’ high tempo is a product of short offensive possessions, the Illini play fast through short defensive possessions. Iowa wants to score fast; Illinois wants to turn you over. This game is likely to come down to whether Illinois’ defensive gambles pay off. If Iowa doesn’t turn the ball over, they should see plenty of easy buckets.

-If They Advance

Lurking in the next round are the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan sports a potent, if inconsistent, offense, but the defense is the story here. This is easily the best defensive team John Beilein has ever put on the floor. That defense helped the Wolverines sweep the Hawkeyes this year, winning 75-68 in Iowa City and 74-59 in Ann Arbor. The advanced stats say Michigan is the most underseeded team in the Big Ten Tournament this year, and if they win their first game they’ll be favored against No. 4 seed Nebraska.

If by some miracle or freak accident Fran’s young squad makes it through Michigan to Nebraska, it’s easy to say what their gameplan to beat the Huskers should be: crash the offensive glass. Iowa isn’t good at very much, but they are No. 33 in the country in offensive rebounding, whereas Nebraska is No. 333 in giving up offensive rebounds. Against a thin Nebraska front line, freshman Luka Garza should be able to get plenty of opportunities for second-chance points.

Overall

Iowa fans hoped that with the hiring of Fran McCaffery they had turned a corner, and for the longest time that looked to be true. But now with this year’s big step back, maybe Hawkeye fans should embrace their post-Dr. Tom Davis mediocrity. After all, during the early years of the Big Ten Tournament Iowa was known for consistently overachieving. Maybe they can manage something like that again. If not, oh well. Everybody’s back next year.