The Iowa men’s basketball team already has won 16 games this season with the most impressive victory coming on Saturday at Northwestern.
That’s right, lowly Northwestern.
Saturday’s 76-50 victory at Welsh-Ryan Arena stands above the rest because of the difficult circumstances. The game had letdown written all over it being that it was sandwiched between Wednesday’s 75-67 loss against Big Ten leader Michigan on the road and this coming Tuesday’s game against Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Northwestern also was playing with confidence under first-year coach Chris Collins after winning three of its previous four games.
And yet, the 16-4 Hawkeyes won convincingly and did so by playing at Northwestern’s slower pace. Good teams adjust their style to fit a particular game and that’s what Iowa did Saturday. The players could’ve started forcing shots with the score close in the first half, but they stayed the course and eventually seized the momentum.
The Iowa players also could’ve taken Northwestern lightly after crushing the Wildcats 93-67 on Jan. 9 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but that wasn’t case. Northwestern got Iowa’s full attention and paid for it.
“I’m just really proud of our guys because this team was playing as well as any team in our league,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after the Northwestern game.
McCaffery would prefer to play more up tempo, but sometimes the circumstances call for a different approach. The Hawkeyes showed patience and poise against Northwestern, which is easier said than done, especially for a team that is used to pushing the pace.
Returning home from Wednesday’s game at Michigan also was easier said than done. Iowa couldn’t fly home after the game on Wednesday because the airplane scheduled to take the Hawkeyes back to Iowa City couldn’t make it into Ann Arbor, Mich. because of adverse weather conditions.
Instead, the team flew home Thursday morning and barely had 48 hours to prepare for the 11 a.m. tip-off against Northwestern.
McCaffery held a teleconference with reporters Friday morning and the first question he was asked was how being delayed in Michigan would impact his team’s preparation for Northwestern. McCaffery said he didn’t think it would have any impact at all, and he was right.
McCaffery could’ve made excuses, but that’s not his style. He was confident that his team could handle the quick turnaround and be ready for the pesky Wildcats and now we know why.
Iowa is one of just three Big Ten teams that haven’t lost back-to-back games in conference play this season. Michigan and Michigan State are the other two.
Iowa has been praised for its depth and versatility, but team chemistry might be its biggest strength. McCaffery has put together a roster in which all the pieces seem to fit almost perfectly. Nobody seems to care who scores as long as somebody does. Senior guard Devyn Marble and junior forward Aaron White are Iowa’s go-to players on offense, but they don’t always have to play that role for the team to have success.
It’s encouraging that Iowa never let up on defense against Northwestern. McCaffery challenged his players on defense and they embraced his challenge from start to finish.
The national media has climbed on Iowa’s bandwagon, saying this team has what it takes to play in the NCAA Final Four. Some teams might allow such high praise to become a distraction. But this Iowa team seems different in that regard thanks largely to McCaffery’s insistence on living in the moment.
This season has a chance to be special, but the players have to stay focused on the journey more than the destination. They took that approach against Northwestern and were rewarded nicely for it.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball