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Iowa Basketball & Reason for Optimism: Take it from a first hand account

Posted by RichieZ23 on January 28, 2010

The Iowa Hawkeyes were this close from pulling off the upset Wednesday night against Ohio State, however ended up falling  65-57, in a game that was quite possibly the closest eight point loss in recent Hawkeye memory.

I took full advantage of the university’s decision to admit students free of charge, and checked out the game at Carver (as fan, and not a writer) for the first time this season.  It is no surprise that the Iowa basketball team is struggling a bit this season.  While Iowa beat Indiana on the Hoosier’s home court just three days prior, they could not string together a pair of Big Ten wins Wednesday night.

The last time I watched Iowa play at Carver, I distinctly remember Michigan State visiting last January.  There was no way a young Iowa team was going to hang with Michigan State, the National Title runner-up.  Kalin Lucas did his thing up and down the court, Darrell Summers busted J’s left and right, and Goran Suton defended the paint inside on lockdown.  Final score, Iowa: 56, Michigan State: 71.

One thing kept sticking out to me — Iowa had absolutely zero confidence while on offense to make a play.  When you get an open look in college basketball, you have to shoot the ball.  If you have a defender off-balance and you have a step on him, take the ball strong and look to finish or drive and dish.

Instead, the offense was initiated too far from the basket, and no one would put any pressure on the defense with a dribble drive.  Even worse, they would pass up open shots early, and even mid-way through the shot clock.  They would often not get any better looks the rest of the possession, and would end up being forced to take a contested shot from 26-feet away from the basket.

Nod if you know what I’m talking about.  It hurts the basketball eyes doesn’t it?

Perhaps they felt overpowered by the No. 9 ranked Spartans, but I left that game with the feeling that it is going to be hard to win many games when you’re that young and not playing with little confidence.

Head coach Todd Lickliter has been getting a lot of criticism for his inability to field a winning team.  I’m not so sure that he’s a bad coach, rather this team is simply really, really young.  It is really hard to judge a coach fairly under these circumstances.

Tonight those who watched Iowa take on Ohio State were presented with a “moral” victory, and a glimpse of what Iowa can really do.

They can take their defender off the dribble and get into the paint.

They can pull the trigger on a shot when they get a good look.

They can play strong team defense, with good rotation and help.

Do not get carried away though.  Iowa still desperately needs a big who can defend the rim and rebound the ball, as Iowa was outrebounded 38-34, and gave up 13 offensive boards to Ohio St.

However Iowa played with confidence for much of the game and nearly pulled off the upset.  They have also shown up for solid performances against Penn State and as previously mentioned Indiana.  However this game I actually saw in person.  It’s a completely different feel when you’re there in person.  I think you can get a better understanding live, rather than watching on TV.

Getting back to point though — this team can start to turn this thing around.  You still have to walk before you can run though, and I’m not suggesting a tournament birth or anything like that.  I am suggesting however that this team will string together a few decent winning streaks, and that this current team will start their rise from the cellar of the Big Ten.

Eric May may (pun intended) be one of the main reasons that I like what I saw from this Iowa team.  He dropped 18 points, including 5-10 from deep, and routinely pulled the trigger and looked for his shot when available.  His 18 points, and 12 attempted shots both tied career-highs.

He could have had an even better game, as Iowa missed a few opportunities for an open three in the corner, as they failed to swing the ball around the perimeter to all the way to the weak corner of the defense to the open man.  I’m not sure if it was May, or Matt Gatens, but a few opportunities were missed there.

May is just a freshmen, but if he can use this game as a platform to build on, he may have a very solid career ahead of him.  The guy can flat out shoot the rock when his feet get set.  He reminds me of Adam Haluska, with his size and his style of game.  I could see him turning in a career similar to Haluska’s when it is all said and done.

Yes, I said it.

And Adam was a second-round pick in the NBA.  I’m not sure if May will be drafted, but a similar career at Iowa is possible.

Also, Cully Payne showed flashes of a floor-general out there.  He created off the dribble, penetrated and dished, and best of all had an absolutely sick up-and-under reverse layup to avoid contact.  That’s straight talent, and they have the ability to do such things.

Keep doing them.

Cully had his mishaps, such as his two-for-eight shooting, but two misses were after absolutely beautiful plays.  Both times he split the would-be double team and attacked the basket.  He would however miss two, maybe three layups, one of which would result in the three-point play on the other end for Ohio State.  Almost every time you miss a layup, it going to end up as easy points for the other team.

While the missed layups hurt, his attacking, decision making, and overall play have me liking what this frosh may be able to do here at Iowa.

This goes without mentioning the continued growth of sophomores Aaron Fuller and Matt Gatens, the team’s leading scorer.

Iowa has its warts though, as at times they still fall into their same old habits that force them into bad shots late in the shot clock, and at times could have better ball rotation along the perimeter

However, there are plenty of signs of progress, and when you field a team with four freshmen, four sophomores (including Anthony Tucker) and just one junior, and one senior, things might be a little rocky.

The key as any coach will say is progress, and improving from game to game.

This Iowa team is in the process of turning this around, I’m telling you.  There are reasons for optimism in regards to Iowa basketball.  Take it from a first-hand account.

What about you?  Did you see the game?  What did you think?



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