Boise State represented just the kind of team that should have given Iowa trouble: they ran a funky four-out, one-in offense designed to generate three point shots, had shooters aplenty, not to mention a big guy inside that outweighed our "center" by 30 pounds. But you know what? Iowa handled it all just fine. Not perfectly, but well enough to win by nine in a performance that was their strongest of the pre-Big 10 season. They defended well enough, protected the rim for once, stayed competitive on the glass, and, most importantly, used their speed to get in the lane and draw fouls (Iowa had 31 foul shots to Boise St.'s 12). It wasn't always pretty -- the Broncos did make 8-18 threes, got into the lane way too often in the first half, and got more than a few layups off of offensive rebounds that Iowa coughed away -- but they won, and in a way that should give fans some hope as the team heads into a hellish stretch of schedule.
It was a solid effort all around, but four players deserve special mention:
1) Devyn Marble
Coming off the announcement by coach Fran McCaffery that he would be the starter, Marble responded in a big way, putting up an Andrei Kirilenko-like line of 18 points on 5-10 shooting (8-10 from the line), five rebounds, eight assists, three steals, three blocks (all with just one turnover). It would have been hard to believe at the beginning of the season that Marble would take Bryce Cartwright's starting job, and maybe the coach will still find a way to play the two together, but right now, Marble is doing too much to stay out of the game. He made good decisions with the ball, didn't force things, and used his herky-jerky dribble drives to get in the lane and draw fouls. And he's still just
18 19. It's exciting to think he's just going to get better from here on out.
2) Aaron White
When White came in at the 16:25 mark, the score was 6-5 Boise St. and Zach McCabe had just picked up his second foul. White immediately proceeded to pick off a pass in the back court and take it the length of the court for a dunk, then, on the next play, finished another fast break off of a Basabe rebound and pretty Marble pass. White added a pretty scoop shot and an offensive rebound put back in the next few minutes and helped Iowa keep the game close when they were otherwise struggling to score. "Dunk L'orange" finished with 17 points on just eight field goal attempts, had one ridiculous and-one push shot from the baseline where he shot-putted the ball in, and played outstanding defense throughout. There more more than a few times where a shooter would get the ball in the corner and seem open for the three, only to have White swoop in and contest the shot with his long arms.*
* If you wanted to hear Mac McCausland talk about Aaron White's "length" to the point that it got a little creepy, last night was your night. Also, even though I think "Dunk L'Orange" is a solid nickname, I was struck yesterday by White's resemblance to a certain British punk:
"Aaron Rotten" doesn't really have a ring to it, though. "Anarchy in the IA"? "Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's Aaron White"?
3) Melsahn Basabe
He's looking more and more like his old self. Elevating on defense, blocking shots, grabbing rebounds, and scoring inside. He still had a few problems defending the heavier Kenny Buckner once Buckner got the ball in the post, but as a help defender, he wreaked havoc, blocking four shots and altering several more. I don't know if he lost those 20 pounds* or what, but he looks much more spry these days than at the start of the season.
* Can we retire this cliche that every basketball player would benefit from gaining "20 pounds of muscle"? The announcers kept going on about it for Aaron White during the game: "Once he gains 20 pounds, he'll be a real force to be reckoned with." I can understand that players can benefit from being stronger, but that is not the same as being heavier. And if there are trade-offs between strength and speed or agility, it's not obvious that strength should be the ultimate goal. But I guess it 's a mouthful to say: "Wait until Aaron White gets strong enough that he can absorb more contact while still retaining the speed and fluidity that makes him such a great scorer."
4) Matt Gatens
Gatens is so consistently good that it's easy to take him for granted, but he quietly contributed 16 points on just 11 shots, made all his free throws, had no turnovers, and played solid defense for 31 minutes. He also made one of Iowa's four threes (Josh Oglesby deserves a nod for the 2-4 threes he made).
It wasn't all sunshine and lollypops, though. Iowa allowed Boise St. to get too many open looks at three, especially at the start of the second half, when designated gunner Drew Wiley made three three-pointers to help keep the Broncos in the game. It was not a coincidence that Wiley was being marked by Zach McCabe for those first six minutes. McCabe wasn't at fault on one of those threes -- he had to help to prevent a lay-up -- but on the other two, he sagged way too far off Wiley and allowed him clean looks at the basket. After the first media timeout in the second half, McCabe came out, White went in, and White stayed in for the rest of the game. Fran has a tough choice to make with McCabe: continue to give him starter's minutes, or hand more of a role to White. McCabe was hindered by foul trouble against Boise St., but in games where that's not the case, who gets the minutes at the three? Right now White looks like the more dynamic player on offense and defense, and the contrast is particularly strong on defense. I could see certain match-ups where McCabe would be the better choice -- bigger players for instance -- but White made such a visible difference when he came in that it's going to be hard to keep him on the bench. And the final minutes in this game suggested that Fran may be coming to the same conclusion: 27 for White, 11 for McCabe.
Final Note on the Cupcake-o-Gram:
Congratulations to all the people who guessed what that thing was ahead of time, but the winner for "Most Clairvoyant" goes to Swarley, who guessed it was a cupcake the second time it appeared. And in retrospect, it's probably not fair to put Boise St. down as a cupcake, considering they are a decent team and Iowa had to fight pretty hard to beat them. But they were missing their top scorer and another key player, so it sort of fits.
Other Final Note on the Fran Photo:
I had to use this photo of Fran because it's the Franningest Fran photo I think I've ever seen. I'll include a link to the original if I find it. He looks like he's getting ready to choke someone to death... someone with a very large neck. Or that he's a zombie. I'll try to find a link to the original photo, because I could see using photoshop to put Fran in all sorts of shenanigans with this one. UPDATE: Here's the photo: