This had all the markings of a game Iowa could have quietly lost without anyone much noticing: Iowa City had just gotten 15 inches of snow dumped on it, the arena was half-empty, and Tom Izzo was coaching the other side. So it surprised the hell out of most fans in attendance when Iowa roared out to a 24-8 lead in the first ten minutes, then continued to pummel the Spartans for a full 40 minutes en route to a dominating 72-52 victory.
Make no mistake: we flat-out rolled MSU. And victory had a thousand fathers, or at least six:
- Matt Gatens, who came out sharp, scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes on 4-4 shooting (and 2-2 from three);
- Bryce Cartwright, who operated like a surgeon with the dribble and found several Iowa bigs with sick, Steve-Nash-esque bounce passes on the pick and roll. Cartwright finished with 10 assists and 12 points of his own;
- Jarryd Cole, who caught several of those tough passes and finished adeptly at the rim (Cole went 6-6 from the field), played great defense, grabbed nine boards, and tossed in two steals and a block while not turning the ball over once;
- The improbable twin towers front court of Andrew Brommer and Devon Archie, who did a fantastic job of showing on the pick and roll on defense;
- Eric May, who rained down thunder and damnation on the head of Mike Kebler with an epic dunk in the second half, as well as contributing a crucial block late to maintain our lead;
- The whole team, playing team defense.
It was a beautiful sight to see. The Hawks finally put together all the aspects of their game. They shored up their perimeter defense in a big way: as mentioned above, Fran had his big men show hard on the pick and roll at the top of the key, sometimes even double-teaming and trapping the Michigan State guards, which really seemed to stymie their offense. The Spartans looked out of it on offense, but our defense looked the best it has all year. When we forced a shot-clock violation in the first five minutes of the game, you knew it was going to be a good night for the defense.
And the defense led to offense, naturally enough: Iowa forced 16 turnovers, and that led to several fast breaks (including May's Keblerization). Iowa also did a better job of turning rebounds into semi-fast-breaks and played most of the game with a fast, assured tempo. It was just a really nice, competent game of basketball. There was a moment in the second half when Iowa looked like they were going to let Sparty back in the game, but it didn't last long: we had allowed our lead to shrink from 25 to 15 in the span of two minutes and Keith Appling was driving in for a sure layup when Eric May swooped in, blocked the shot, controlled the ball as he tip-toed the sideline, and made the outlet pass. Gatens got fouled on the ensuing possession, made two free throws, and the lead never felt in doubt after that.
- I decided to add a little subpar photojournalism to this post. Here's the crowd in the second half: not great, but not as bad as I thought it would be given the weather.
- One reason there are so few people in the seats may be the long lines at the concession stand. The free sodas and $1 hot dogs proved to be a popular selling point (the hot dogs sold out within the first 10 minutes):
- On the topic of free soda, my dialogue with the concession stand guy went something like this:
ME: Small coke please.
HIM: Would you like some pretzels or something with that?
ME: No, just the free soda please.
HIM: How about some popcorn?
ME: No thanks, how 'bout some free soda?
HIM: Kettle corn? Pizza? Big ice cream cone?
ME: (in Sam Kinison voice) FREE SODA!! FREE SODA!! FREE SODA!! AHH! AHH! AHH!
HIM: There you are, sir, have a nice day.
- One sinister thing did happen: Iowa unveiled new naming rights for the new "Mediacom Court." On a completely unrelated note, the court seemed to play unusually slowly tonight, and the game was stopped unexpectedly several times for no apparent reason.
- The refs were kind of wonky, but whatever. They called three intentional fouls, when zero seemed like the right number on the plays in question (I saw it live, so people who saw replays may have a better idea here). The first one was weirdest: Cole scored a basket inside and seemed to accidentally hit Draymond Green with his elbow, knocking Green to the ground for a few minutes; because of the stoppage in play, the refs had time to look at the replay. After several minutes of study they came back and called an intentional foul on Cole. I looked at the rulebook and this seems like a bit of a stretch for what the review process is supposed to do. The refs are supposed to be able to look at possible flagrant fouls after the fact and then call either a flagrant or an intentional foul if they see one. Fair enough: but what Cole did (accidentally elbowing a guy) is not an intentional foul: the definitions of intentional foul include "excessive" and "not legitimate" fouls, fouls from behind fouls away from the ball, but Cole didn't do any of those things. It seems like what happened is that Cole committed an offensive foul, the refs missed it, and then made up for their mistake by calling a bogus intentional foul. The other two intentional fouls were similarly borderline, but I've gone on too long about this already, and the refs weren't the story here.
- Izzo looked really depressed and defeated for the middle 20 minutes of this game. Normally he is up, yelling at his team, talking to the refs, but when Michigan State got down big, he sat quietly and an assistant did all the talking for a while. Iowa played great, but Michigan State really looks out of sorts. This loss won't go down well in East Lansing.
- The bizarre highlight of the night was the half-time entertainment, introduced as "Anna, the human slinky, from Orlando, Florida" (thankfully they avoided booking the human centipede). Basically, it was a woman in a weird extendo-tube outfit doing dance moves and... well, it's on the internet, check it out. It's sure to haunt your dreams (although personally I think Anna was just ripping off Sweet D).