The weather was pretty wonderful in Iowa City this weekend: temperatures climbed over 40 degrees, the mountains of brown snow started to melt and run in the streets, and fans streamed through the balmy weather to watch the improving Hawks. There was only one problem: a vortex of ice-cold chill had taken residence in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and curiously affected only players in white jerseys. Iowa was cold yesterday: painfully, painfully cold.
Things looked so promising to start the game. The crowd was full and very loud, especially after Iowa's swarming defense caused a couple of turnovers early, helping us to a 14-6 lead at the 10 minute mark in the first half. But there were scary signs even then: missed shots, bizarre turnovers (like Bryce Cartwright's more than optimistic 60-foot alley-oop pass to Eric May), ticky-tack fouls (including two on Melsahn Basabe, after which Fran McCaffery pulled the freshman from the game), and a general sense of frustration on offense. Eventually Minnesota figured out how to score a little bit, but we never did. Ever.
How did this happen? Minnesota played a very simple game plan against us: they played a 2-3 zone with their three big men (Colton Iverson, Ralph Sampson III, and Trevor Mbakwe) in a line in front of the basket, and their guards chasing shooters. Here's what we saw 100 times today:
I could be missing the nuances of what they did here, but it seemed like Minnesota stayed in something like this defense all game. And so the game had the simplicity of a mathematical equation or a puzzle, the only question being, could Iowa solve it? We clearly had a plan A to attack this zone: find a shooter in the deep corner before the big man could rotate over. And Iowa got some decent shots this way. But this strategy demanded that our shooting aces, namely Matt Gatens or whoever was playing Gatens' role when he was off the court, make those shots. And Gatens simply couldn't make them tonight. He took eleven shots (all eleven of which were threes), and made two. It was his coldest game since, as it happens, our last game against Minnesota, when he went 5-21. And the rest of the team was just as cold from deep: May was 1-5, Marble was 0-2, McCabe was 0-2, and only Cartwright seemed to have any touch at all, going 3-7.
So plan A failed. And that's when things got dicey. Because, as it turns out, there was no plan B. Whenever Iowa tried to drive into that forest of arms* in the lane, the usual result was a block, a turnover, or a missed shot. Minnesota didn't do anything fancy. They just stood there, waited for us to come at us, then stretched their arms up and dared us to shoot over them.
* The wingspans on that front-line are pretty scary: Sampson (7'2"), Iverson (7'0") and Mbakwe (7'0")
- There was not too much levity at this game. Once the icy pall fell over our shooting, fans got kind of depressed. One fun thing was that a group of Iowa football players came at half to show their Insight Bowl hardware, including Marcus Coker and Micah Hyde with their Offensive and Defensive MVP trophies, respectively. Oh Blaine Gabbert, what made you throw that pass I'll never know, but bless you for it.
- One fan had a sign that read: "Get ready for Bromination." I assume they didn't mean this. They may have had in mind what Brommer did midway through the first half when he dove out of bounds and straight through a cameraman. That poor man wishes he had just had a bromine atom added to him and not 240 pounds of high-speed Brommer.
- I didn't go into Minnesota's offense that much, because while it was okay, it wasn't anything that fantastic. They shot an eFG% of 48.9%, which is pretty average and got to the line 10 more times than us, but apart from Mbakwe, who absolutely abused us down low in the second half, Minnesota's offense was no great shakes.
- In the second half the PA announcer welcomed members of the "Fort Madison community" to Carver. The excited Fort Madisonians duly stood up and clinked their shackles together in appreciation (I kid! They were all law-abiding citizens... I think).
- One odd decision by Fran was the way he played Basabe. He pulled him after getting his second foul with 10 minutes left in the first half, and then didn't play him much until the game was out of hand. He only logged 17 minutes and took four shots. Given that Basabe scored 20 points the last time out against Minnesota, we know he can score against these guys. His disappearance was mystifying.