In a way it seems like an eternity has passed since the Iowa basketball team last took the floor.
The 14th ranked Hawkeyes were the talk of much of the college basketball world just a week ago following their road win at previously 3rd ranked Ohio State. Praise and attention were rightfully received, but now a full seven days have come and gone since.
When Iowa takes the floor this afternoon against Minnesota an entirely new set of circumstances will exist.
If the Hawkeyes don’t come out with a win the media will view the performance as a complete failure. That is the price to be paid when a team is showered with national coverage and exposure.
A target has been painted squarely on Iowa’s back due to their early season success, and a win today could quite possibly vault them into the top 10 for the first time in years. Players may not want to admit it, but there is an undeniably different feel when a team consistently enters games as the prohibitive favorite as opposed to the underdog. The Hawkeyes will feel the full brunt of those expectations today.
In many ways games like the one this afternoon are just as important as those against highly ranked opponents.
Great teams are expected to play great games against other top tier squads, but they are also expected to take care of business against the inferior opponents on their schedule.
For the better part of the last 7-8 years Iowa has played the role of the lesser team hoping to spring an upset. Now the Hawkeyes sit squarely in the crosshairs of those teams. Today’s contest will be very telling about whether or not Iowa has the mental fortitude to eliminate outside distractions and focus solely on the task at hand.
In the Minnesota, Iowa will be faced with an opponent that deserves their full respect. The Golden Gophers have
continually improved in the early part of this season under 1st year head coach Richard Pitino, and pose a threat to any team they face. Just like Iowa they enter today’s game full of confidence coming off of a win against Ohio State, prevailing 63-53 at home three days ago.
The Gophers present a guard-oriented attack centered around big man Elliot Eliason (8.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game). Much like his father, Pitino utilizes a full-court press to speed up the opposition and force turnovers. When Minnesota has possession they look to get the ball in the hands of Andre and Austin Hollins, who present one of the better offensive backcourts in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes will have no reservations about playing an uptempo game, but they must be conscious of taking care of the basketball against Minnesota’s pressure. The relatively turnover-free play of Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell this season should provide Iowa with an advantage in this area.
If Iowa can limit its mistakes I see the Gophers having trouble matching up with them in the half-court, both offensively and defensively. This game has the potential to be very close should the Hawkeyes get sloppy with the basketball, but ultimately I think they will pull away from a very game Minnesota team.
I’ve got Iowa winning 84-68 with the game MVP going to Devyn Marble, who should continue to make his strong case for Big Ten Player of the Year consideration.