Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Regrets, we got a few...
Iowa opened Big Ten play with their biggest test of the season thus far, and while they didn't pass (they lost), they didn't really fail, either. Iowa played Indiana, the #5 team in the country, and held their own, more or less. I think this program is pretty much beyond moral victories at this point, so I don't take much solace in just playing Indiana close. This was a winnable game for Iowa, but they weren't able to get it done. That sucks.
But this was also a measuring stick game for Iowa and they didn't look woefully outmatched or outclassed by Indiana. Indiana has considerable depth and talent, but they also have experience. Indiana had their breakthrough season last year, with largely the same players that are still playing key roles on this year's team. Cody Zeller led the way statistically for Indiana -- 19 points (on 7/12 shooting) and 10 rebounds is a fine line -- but he did most of his damage against Iowa in spurts. The most consistently excellent player for Indiana was probably junior Victor Oladipo, whose stat line -- 14 points (6/10 shooting), 10 rebounds, 2 assists -- doesn't really capture his influence on the game. He played strong defense and always seemed to be in the right spot to make a play in a big spot for Indiana. Fellow junior Will Sheehey was a capable (if infuriating) sidekick -- 13 points (5/11 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, innumerable uncalled shirt-tugs.
In comparison, the two most experienced Iowa players that got a lot of playing time (Roy Devyn Marble and Zach McCabe) combined for 18 points (on 2/20 shooting), 11 rebounds, and 2 assists, which... yeah. RDM's shooting performance was especially woeful -- 1/14. Early on he was attempting some long- and mid-range jumpers that weren't falling but by the end of the game he wasn't even getting lay-ups to fall, which was frustrating. (He did make 12/13 free throws, at least.) But the bad shooting was also pretty much team-wide: Iowa shot 21/63 (33%) and 3/17 from 3 (putting them at a ghastly 3/34 from 3 over the last two games, I believe). (And, to be fair, Indiana had some shooting issues of their own: they hit just 4/14 of their 3 pointers and the usually sharpshooting Jordan Hulls went 0/10 from the field.) Aaron White had 15 points on 6/12 shooting and Mike Gesell had 13 points on 6/12 shooting to lead Iowa. Anthony Clemmons led the team with 6 assists and had a couple nice buckets on aggressive drives to the rim, but he also made some poor passes (4 turnovers) and looked a bit too out of control at times.
Iowa trailed for most of the game (including the entire second half), but they never let the game get out of hand. Indiana's largest lead in the second half was 9; Iowa trimmed that lead to 3 on several occasions but was never able to tie the game or take a lead. Too many costly turnovers and (way) too many missed shots doomed Iowa. Again, this program is beyond moral victories so I don't take much comfort in "just" losing to Indiana by 4 points -- it's still a loss and it still hurts. But Iowa played Indiana and absolutely looked like they belonged on the floor with them. The players got to experience an intense (if friendly) atmosphere and a high-profile opponent and though they came up short this time, experiences like this should be beneficial down the road when Iowa finds themselves in similar situations.
Iowa will probably rue this loss at the end of the season -- a win over Indiana would have been a fabulous resume-builder -- but it needn't (and shouldn't) bury this season. Despite what Dan Dakich said, this game did not define Iowa's NCAA tournament candidacy. A win would have been huge, but a loss doesn't doom them. The key for Iowa will be building off this game and continuing to improve. Do that and this can still be a successful, exciting season.