When we looked at the Iowa schedule at the beginning of November, the odds of starting Big Ten play 1-8 looked high. Iowa started with games at Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan State, and Purdue, and tough home dates with Ohio State and Michigan. Even with the improvement we expected, it took some wishful thinking to find a game where Iowa would be favored outside of a January 26 game against Nebraska.
Two weeks ago, Iowa was 2-1 in the conference after inexplicable wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota, but a pair of drubbings at the hands of Ohio State and Michigan State seemed to confirm our worst fears: We might have caught the Badgers and Gophers at the right time, but this team still looked a long way from the cream of the conference crop. It's why today's victory, a convincing wire-to-wire 16-point beatdown of #13 Michigan in which Iowa built a 10-point halftime lead and never looked close to relinquishing it, is so important. It does more than just stop the bleeding of last week; it gets the heart pumping again.
Though Iowa had four players in double digits, it's not difficult to identify the player of the game: It's Matt Gatens, again, working the mid-range game, effective from the outside, and looking like he's having fun for maybe the first time in his Iowa career. Gatens scored 19 on 5-10 shooting, made four key three-pointers, and threw in three rebounds and three steals. He was also instrumental in holding Michigan to just 8-31 shooting from beyond the arc. Devyn Marble added 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists, and has become a massive matchup concern even for teams running zone defenses. Melsahn Basabe had a quiet stat line (7 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) but was key in holding Michigan's interior production to virtually nothing (Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz finished with just 4 points combined on 1-7 shooting) and was extremely effective finding open cutters from the short corner, as the offense so desperately needed against Beilein's 1-3-1 defense. Zach McCabe (11 points, 7 boards, 3 assists) provided the initial spark before getting into foul trouble. And Aaron White (12 points, 5 rebounds in just 23 minutes) must really like coming off the bench, because there's no longer any other rationale for why he's sitting behind Basabe or Eric May.
It could be that Iowa caught Michigan at the right time, just as it looks they might have done against Wisconsin and Minnesota; the Wolverines were playing their third game this week and fourth in ten days, and had to use everything they had to get an overtime win over Northwestern on Wednesday night. That doesn't matter for now, though. Iowa has three Big Ten wins on January 15 for the first time since they won the conference title in 2005-06, and will escape the brutal first half of the conference season at no worse than 3-6 (and with a legitimate shot at 5-4). And for that, and for beating at top 15 team on a day where there was no reason to believe they could, it's Junior Senior time.
Move your feet and feel united. Go Hawks.