Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
When physics has conspired to stop you, it might be time to admit that it wasn't meant to be.
With seven minutes left to play Wednesday night, Iowa had built a nine-point lead on Wisconsin and had the Badgers reeling. Wisconsin was getting nothing from its bench, and the Iowa press had worn the Badger starters down to the bone. It looked as if Iowa could simply defeat Wisconsin by attrition. Bo Ryan astutely called a timeout before the under-8:00 TV break, giving his team back-to-back respites. This immediately led to a brief Wisconsin run that brought the Badgers within one point with just over three minutes left.
The teams traded baskets for the next few minutes. Wisconsin tied the game with 1:40 to play, then again 25 seconds later. Aaron White got a three-point play with 45 seconds left, and Iowa was seemingly one defensive stop from escaping Madison with a second consecutive win. With 20 seconds to go, Traevon Jackson threw up a wounded duck from the right side, a shot that was as ugly as Mike Bruesewitz, a shot that falls harmlessly to the floor 98 times out of 100. But this shot defied the laws of physics. It hit the front of the rim with apparent topspin -- I say apparent because I still can't figure out how one would shoot a basketball with topspin -- bounced four feet into the air, and fell into the hoop. The hackneyed final possession and the two overtimes were a mere formality for Iowa, the most offensively-challenged team scoring 70 points per game in the country. The Hawkeyes might as well have given the Badgers the ball on the inbound pass and saved the energy for the trip home. The crowd was against Iowa. The Badgers were against Iowa. The history, both in this season and the long term, was against Iowa. The referees, which fell victim to the phenomenon of false equivalency that overtakes every ref at the Kohl Center and, in an attempt to exhibit fairness and not call Wisconsin for a foul on every defensive possession, let the Badgers hack away at anything within 10 feet of the rim, these refs were against Iowa. And now physics had turned its back on the Hawkeyes, as well.
This is a tough basketball team. These players are everything that we want emotionally from a basketball program. They give a damn, and we give a damn with them, and we give two damns against the detestable Bo Ryan and his Badgers because it's so painfully obvious that our guys want this win. But the Hawkeyes are also a fundamentally flawed team, in that they have ten role players and no alpha dog scorers. As much as Fran and the media and we try to shoehorn Roy Devyn Marble into the role, he is not, in fact, Kobe Bryant. As much as we want to will Aaron White to be something other than an evolutionary Reggie Evans, he is not Dirk Nowitzki. There is not one player on this team that can make his own shot besides Marble, and this Marble, for whatever reason, can't do that either.
Marble had two points tonight on 1-10 shooting. He played less than a half (18 minutes, to be exact) in a game that went to double overtime. Of Iowa's ten-deep rotation, only Gabe Olaseni played less. McCaffery put him in the game late to stop Ben Brust. The loathsome Brust drove past Marble like he wasn't even there and laid the ball in to tie the game, leading McCaffery to call timeout, look at Marble, and quite visibly say, "You've got to be fucking kidding me." On a team that desperately needs an alpha dog, its supposed top player is averaging 1 point in the last two games, two games lost in devastating, soul-wrenching fashion when the rudderless Hawkeyes tried to protect a lead by running clock in the half-court offense and inevitably collapsed into a pile of goo and bad shots. Without Marble as a star, this is a capable team with no ability late in games. This Marble is not a starter, let alone a star.
A win at Indiana could do something for Iowa's March hopes, to be sure, just as Illinois' win at Gonzaga is the only reason the Illini are still in the conversation for the tournament. But this team, at this point, is far more likely to drop a game it should win than win a game it shouldn't. We worried in December that the stretch of games that ended tonight with Mike Gesell laying on the Kohl Center floor, with his team -- and make no mistake about it, it's his team right now -- having gone 3-7 against the toughest the Big Ten had to offer and losing five of those seven by a total of 17 points, would demoralize this team for the significantly easier second half. That letdown has to be certain now. Because I am heartbroken tonight, and I can only imagine that these players are exponentially more devastated than me. If they can come back from this and piece something together out of the remains of this season, they're superheroes.