The biggest match-up between two in-state rivals in nearly three decades lived up to its billing and then some.
Unfortunately for the visiting Iowa basketball team, it would return home carrying an 82-85 loss to the Iowa State Cyclones with it.
In front of a sell-out crowd at the thunderous Hilton Coliseum the Hawkeyes played one of their most impressive games win or loss in recent memory. As heartbroken and upset as countless fans probably are at the moment, the real takeaways from this game are far more encouraging than a simple ‘W’ in the win/loss column could have provided. So take a deep breath Iowa fans, and read the following points with the knowledge that if anything the outlook for the 2013-14 season is even brighter after the gut-wrenching loss on Friday night.
1. The superior team going forward to emerge from Hilton Coliseum on Friday night was the Iowa Hawkeyes.
If you’re feeling confused after reading my initial statement, breathe and please follow my logic. Iowa proved to a nation-wide audience that it has the guts to go into a hostile arena and not so much as flinch. Yes both Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell missed crucial free throws down the stretch, but anyone who watched closely would come away with the conclusion that in this instance the better team did not leave victorious.
The visiting Hawkeyes thoroughly controlled the action throughout the ball game. This despite the noticeably one-sided officiating in favor of the home team Cyclones (yes I know how cliche is it to talk about the officiating after a team has lost, but I also don’t care in this case). The fact of the matter is that Iowa was severely hampered by untimely foul calls and officiating blunders.
The final foul tally might read 20-27 in favor of Iowa State, but in reality the disparity was far greater prior to the closing minutes as the Cyclones racked up a few calls obvious enough that the officials were forced to blow the whistle. On the season Iowa has made far more free throws than their opponents have attempted, and yet suddenly against a team notorious for shooting 3’s the script is flipped? Something doesn’t quite add up…
Will all of that being said, the Hawkeyes led throughout the contest despite shooting at below average clips from the field, behind the arc, and the free throw line. An utter domination of the offensive and defensive glass showcased the capability of this team to control a game in numerous ways.
Iowa was also hit by the worst performance from its bench all season long. A unit that had averaged over 42ppg through 11 games tallied only 18. Moving forward it would be foolish to expect many more nights like that from the Hawkeye reserves who have proved themselves to be very reliable.
2. Aaron White has proven he does indeed have college star potential.
The junior forward has always been a unique player at his position, possessing unusual speed and dexterity for someone with his 6-9 frame. He also is not a stranger to putting up big numbers in important games (see a 20 point, 7 rebound, 7 assist game against Notre Dame earlier this year). White’s game on Friday night however, was something else entirely.
Simply put, Aaron White was spectacular. In the very definition of uber-efficiency, he finished 11-15 from the field while also hitting his only 3 and both of his free throw attempts for a total of 25 points. White scored in the half-court, in transition, on drives to the hoop, on lobs above rim, and with a smooth mid-range game. He could not be, and was not stopped so long as he was on the floor.
As if the scoring wasn’t enough, the junior also pulled down a career high 17 rebounds, including five on the offensive end. White was everywhere on the basketball court against the Cyclones, and continuously lifted the team on his shoulders when not much else was going its way.
When White remains aggressive and trusts in his outside jump shot he is one of the most dynamic players in the Big Ten. This game could very well springboard him into an all-conference type of season, though only time will tell. The bottom line is that Iowa fans should feel confident in their team’s ability to compete with any team in the country if White continues to assert himself.
3. This Hawkeye squad is realistically capable of making a second weekend run in the NCAA Tournament.
Prior to the game against Iowa State, nobody was questioning the depth of the Iowa roster. Instead critics wondered whether or not they possessed an individual who could take control of a game down the stretch.
For the most part both Devyn Marble and Aaron White put this concern to rest, even in a loss. Was the play of the Hawkeyes perfect in the last minute of action? No. However, if you were to take away the final 80 seconds or so one would be hard pressed to not come away confident that Marble and White can get the job done late in games.
Combine that with the other numerous positives associated with Iowa (size, depth, unselfishness, scoring), and you have yourself a team with the ability to make a deep run in March.
Pundits will likely continue to question the tournament prospects of the Hawkeyes no matter how much success they have in the regular season because this team doesn’t have any experience in the Big Dance. Fair or unfair as that may be, I am starting to become a firm believer in Iowa’s chances of reaching and succeeding in the Sweet 16/Elite 8 portion of the tournament.