Iowa basketball: Greater expectations come with big wins

Iowa basketball fans everywhere are probably still reveling in their team’s victory on the road over 3rd ranked Ohio State this past Sunday, and for good reason.

The Hawkeyes grabbed their first win over a top 5 opponent since 2001 when they took down no. 2 Missouri. In the process they also made a statement to a national audience that they have the ability to compete with any team at any venue in America.

By notching this type of attention snatching triumph, Iowa has raised the bar for the rest of its conference schedule and the postseason play to follow. All of the sudden people outside of the program are looking at a conference title run and advancing in the NCAA Tournament as realistic expectations for this team. Neither of these were tremendously prevailing sentiments before the season began.

Like with most eye-catching victories, the Hawkeyes were the recipient of a significant boost in the polls after taking town a top 5 team. Iowa moved up six spots to 14th and now finds itself sandwiched between powerhouses Kentucky and Kansas.

This type of poll position is rarefied air for the Hawkeyes in recent years. Although they have been ranked for the majority of this season, it will be interesting to see how the players and coaching staff deal with the increased attention and pressure of being a top 15 team.

As Iowa progresses through Big Ten play it will be especially important for the team leaders to ensure that an intense focus is placed on every practice and opponent. The biggest difference for the Hawkeyes will be dealing with the proverbial “target” that sits on the back of ranked teams.

It’s one thing to be a lower to middle tier type of team that doesn’t necessarily receive an opponent’s best shot each night. However, it is another situation entirely when every team on the schedule looks to a game with you as a chance for a win that they can hang their hat on come Selection Sunday. The last time Iowa received this type of treatment was all the way back in 2006, which coincidentally was the last time they made the NCAA Tournament.

Not since the days of Jeff Horner (left) and Greg Brunner (right) has the Iowa Program had such national recognition. (Photo Credit: "Jeff Horner")

Not since the days of Jeff Horner (left) and Greg Brunner (right) has the Iowa Program had such national recognition. (Photo Credit: “Jeff Horner”)

Sunday’s win has certainly altered the trajectory of this season, at least in the minds of those outside of the program. It also brought some long overdue recognition to a few Hawkeye players have flourished this season as they strive to lead Iowa back to March Madness.

Senior guard Devyn Marble was named as this week’s Athlon player of the week for his performances in the aforementioned win over Ohio State as well as Northwestern. Marble has averaged 19.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.5 steals per game in conference play thus far. His 22 points were huge against Ohio State, and he proved his ability to succeed against arguably the best defensive backcourt in America.

Even more under-the-radar has been junior Aaron White. The 6-9 forward is one of the most unique players in the Big Ten, and has the stats to back it up. White has put up 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting over 58% from the field and 83% from the foul line.

If both of these players continue to play well and be noticed by the national media, don’t be surprised if you see them on some All-American watch lists and certainly in contention for All-Big Ten honors. In fact I would challenge anyone to find another tandem in the nation currently playing as well as these two.

The win over the Buckeyes has done a lot for both the Iowa players and program, and it has the potential to help buoy them to even greater heights if they can continue build upon their promising first half of the season.

Every opportunity imaginable sits in front of the Hawkeyes. It will be up to them to take advantage of it because from here on out the going will only get tougher.