The Iowa basketball team hosts 5th ranked Indiana later this afternoon. It’s a great opportunity to see where this program is and where it may be headed.
Iowa hosts Indiana today at 3pm in its first Big Ten basketball game of the season. It’s just one game out of 31 regular season games.
Yet it’s so much more than that. It’s an incredible opportunity for the Iowa basketball program to take another step. Perhaps a big step.
Indiana is ranked 5th in the nation. They were the preseason #1 and are one of the favorites to win the national title.
Iowa is a respectable 11-2, but they’ve played a soft schedule and while some hardcore hoops analysts are starting to notice the progress being made in Iowa City, they are still well off the radar as it relates to the sporting fan nation.
That’s why this game is such a perfectly timed opportunity; Iowa has nothing to lose.
If Indiana comes in and beats Iowa, it’s what everyone expects to happen. Heck, it’s what I expect to happen. It’s what Vegas expect to happen, as the Hoosiers are listed as seven-point road favorites.
However, it’s not what the Iowa players and coaches expect to happen. Once the 15,500 fans who have tickets for the game (it’s a sellout) get into the arena and create the energy that will blow the roof off of the lid of Carver Hawkeye Arena, they may not expect that to happen, either.
The first four to eight minutes of this game will tell the tale…will Iowa hang with the Hoosiers? Can they? It’s college basketball, so the answer to the second question is ‘yes they can’. The ‘will they’ part is still to be determined.
I was at the Ohio State game last year. The Buckeyes were ranked 7th in the nation but Iowa was 2-1, having just one back to back road games at ranked Wisconsin then at Minnesota. It was the first time Iowa had won back to back road games in league play since 2007.
The energy, vibe or whatever you want to call it, was amazing. The crowd was sensational and did all they could for as long as they could to help keep Iowa in the game. It was 5-2 Ohio State at the first TV timeout and Iowa had five turnovers. Then it was 12-9 Ohio State after the second TV timeout and the Hawkeyes were just 2 of 8 from the floor. It would be 28-19 at the half and there was still hope. But the Buckeyes would go on a 23-10 run to start the second half and the game was over, the energy was gone and Iowa was manhandled by a much better team.
The Hawkeyes would go on to have a solid year, the best year in the previous six and progress was made. They weren’t ready for that moment or that type of opponent.
Things could be different this year. Iowa won’t be facing Jared Sullinger this year, but the Hoosiers do have Cody Zeller in the pivot. This Indiana team might be better than last year’s Buckeye team. They are certainly a deeper team.
Then again, so is Iowa. This is Iowa’s deepest team in at least a decade. I think this year’s Iowa team is better than last year’s Iowa team, but there are going to be some losing streaks in Iowa’s future. The program is not yet to the point where it can overcome the best of the best in the best league in the nation on a regular basis. Or at least, I don’t think it’s there yet.
Indiana is the best team in the Big Ten, at least in my opinion. While Minnesota is a better defensive team and Michigan’s offensive star power of Burke, Hardaway and Robinson might be more stunning than what Indiana has, the Hoosiers are the most complete team in the Big Ten and will likely be a one or two seed come Selection Sunday in March.
Iowa? They have some real good pieces that can flash and shine but consistency is likely going to be their Achilles heel over the span of the next two months. They start two freshman guards, a freshman center and a sophomore. That’s a recipe for inconsistency.
If Iowa and Indiana played 10 times, the Hoosiers would probably win seven or eight of those games. But the Hawkeyes only have to win today.
If they do, it doesn’t guarantee a trip to the NCAA tournament or that the program ‘is back’. That said, it will send a message to the rest of the Big Ten that Carver Hawkeye Arena isn’t that sleepy road trip that it has been for the better part of the last six years. It will certainly garner attention in college basketball circles beyond just the hardcore analysts and junkies.
Win or lose, #2 Michigan awaits on Sunday, in Ann Arbor. That game is followed by a home game against #19 Michigan State on January 10th. Three games against Top 20 teams in the span of 11 days will certainly test the meddle of this Iowa team and this Iowa program. Lose all three and one will wonder about the confidence of such an inexperienced team. Hold your own during this stretch and notch a win or two? It would be huge.
It’s a great league and there are great challenges. No more Coppin State’s or South Carolina State’s; the real season begins as does the real opportunity to see what type of progress this program has made.
Three o’clock can’t get here soon enough.