The B1G-ACC Challenge is a Monkey That Iowa Needs to Get Off its Back

No sights like this tonight, please. - Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The accursed B1G-ACC Challenge is back. Let's win a damn game this time, eh?

I feel like I've written this post before.

Iowa's looking ahead to another B1G-ACC Challenge clash tonight, this time against one of the ACC's newest members, Notre Dame.  The game is in the friendly confines of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, scheduled for a primetime tip-off (8:15 PM CST) before a national audience (ESPN2).  The last few details are different (Iowa's increased stature in hoops has seen us move away from the ESPNU kiddie table and super-early 6 PM CST tip-offs), and the opponent is a fresh one when it comes to the Challenge, but the ghost of B1G-ACC failures past still looms over this game.

Iowa hasn't won a game in the B1G-ACC Challenge since 2005, losing seven straight contests since then.  It's an ugly streak that's brought Iowa's record in the event to a pitiful 2-10, the worst by far of any regular Challenge competitor (Nebrasketball has the fewest wins of any B1G team, but they've also only been in the event for two seasons.)  It's a streak that really needs to end.  Not so much because a win will guarantee Iowa of any future success or a berth in the NCAA Tournament, but because it's embarrassing.  It's ridiculous that Iowa has such a poor record in this event.  If Iowa wants to continue to rehabilitate its image after years in the basketball wilderness, it can start by winning a game in this event against a quality opponent.

Iowa last won a game in this made-for-TV non-conference showcase event in the heady days of 2005, when the Hawkeye team was adorned with names like Brunner, Horner, and Haluska and optimism felt well-earned among Iowa basketball fans.  That Iowa team, the 2005-06 incarnation, was on its way to a second-straight berth in the NCAA Tournament, a Big Ten Tournament title, and a 3-seed.  What happened after that is pain, darkness, and sadness, of course, but times were still pretty heady overall for Iowa hoops.  The decline of Iowa basketball since then has been mirrored by Iowa's disastrous results in the B1G-ACC Challenge.

2006: Virginia  Tech 69, Iowa 65

THE GAME: Iowa committed 19 turnovers, which Virginia Tech converted into 25 points.  Tech used those turnovers and some ice-cold Iowa shooting to fuel a 36-18 run over the first and second halves, which became an insurmountable lead.  Iowa made a late charge behind Adam Haluska's 24 points but they weren't able to catch the Hokies.

THE OPPONENT: Virginia Tech actually ended up being pretty good that year, earning a 5-seed in the 2007 NCAA Tournament and finishing 43rd in the final KenPom rankings.

THE SEASON: Iowa went 17-14, missed out on both the NCAA and NIT Tournaments and finished 68th in the final KenPom rankings.  After the season, a certain slick-haired Iowa coached left town for the wide open vistas of New Mexico.  Iowa hired a hot mid-major coach fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance.

2007: Wake Forest 56, Iowa 47

THE GAME: Iowa lost to a team that shot 34% from the field (1/15 from three) because they managed to shoot just 38% themselves (2/15 from three), turned the ball over 23 times, and made 39% (7/18).  Iowa trailed 33-17 at halftime and never recovered.  This was a pretty horrendous game.

THE OPPONENT: Wake Forest ended up being a relatively mediocre team: they went 17-13 and missed both the NCAA and NIT Tournaments in 2008.  They finished 69th in the final KenPom rankings.

THE SEASON: Iowa finished 13-19, their first losing season in ages, and finished 141st in the final KenPom rankings.  Sadly, this was not the low point for Iowa hoops during the B1G-ACC Challenge futility streak.

2008: Boston College 57, Iowa 55

THE GAME: BC scored only one point in the final 4:45 of the game, but won anyway because Iowa scored only 10 points over that span themselves.  Andrew Brommer missed the front end of a one-and-one when two free throws could have tied the game at 57-all and sent it to overtime.  Devan Bawinkel led Iowa in scoring with 12 points.

THE OPPONENT: Boston College had a respectable season, going 22-11 and notching a 7-seed in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.  They lost their opening round game to USC and finished 70th in the final KenPom rankings.

THE SEASON: Iowa went 15-17, their second-straight losing season although a slight improvement on results in 2007-08.  Iowa also finished 91st in the final KenPom rankings, a 50-spot improvement from the previous year.  Sadly, this was the high point for the Lickliter Era at Iowa.

2009: Virginia Tech 70, Iowa 64

THE GAME: Iowa trailed 34-28 at halftime and lost despite shooting 44% (12/27) from three.  They made just 10 2-point field goals, though, and attempted just 10 free throws in the game.  They also forced Tech into just five turnovers and the end result was yet another loss to Tech in the Challenge.

THE OPPONENT: Virginia Tech had a solid season and finished 25-9 and 43rd in the final KenPom rankings.  They found themselves on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, though, and headed to the NIT, where they went 2-1.

THE SEASON: Iowa hoops finally hit rock bottom, finishing 10-22 and a dismal 178th in the final KenPom rankings.  Amid historically bad results on the court, rapidly declining attendance in the stands, and a seemingly never-ending stream of transfers out of the program, Gary Barta pulled the plug on the Todd Lickliter Era after three short but miserable campaigns.  His replacement was a fiery coach from Siena with a well-earned reputation for building (or rebuilding) programs.

2010: Wake Forest 76, Iowa 73

THE GAME: Iowa built a 39-27 lead at halftime and seemed well on their way to ending their (at the time) four-game losing streak in the Challenge.  The defensive wheels came off in the second half, though, as the Demon Deacons scored 49 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds to go.  Defense was a problem for the Hawkeyes all game; Wake shot 52% from the field (24/46), 47% from deep (8/17), and 80% from the free throw line (20/25).  It would not be the last time defense cost Iowa a win in the Challenge during the current losing streak.

THE OPPONENT: Wake crashed and burned to an 8-24 season, making them by far the worst team Iowa has lost to during this current 7-game Challenge losing streak.  They finished a dire 271st in the final KenPom rankings.  In fact, in terms of KenPom rankings, this was Iowa's worst loss during the recent dark times; that Campbell team Iowa lost to in 2011 finished 238th in the final KenPom rankings.

THE SEASON: 2009-10 may have been rock bottom for Iowa, but 2010-11 was only marginally better in the win-loss column: they finished 11-20.  But they were a more respectable 91st in the final KenPom rankings and notched a stunning upset win over then-#6 Purdue on the final day of the regular season.

2011: Clemson 71, Iowa 55

THE GAME: Stop me if you've heard this one before -- Iowa fell behind early and played terrible defense all game and wound up losing.  Iowa trailed 34-20 at halftime and despite playing the Tigers fairly even in the second half (37-35), that deficit proved insurmountable.  Clemson shot a scorching 52% from the field (28/54), including a particularly red-hot 52% from deep (11/21).

THE OPPONENT: Clemson finished the season a middling 16-15 and ended the year with no postseason appearances.  They finished 76th in the final KenPom rankings.

THE SEASON: Iowa ended four straight years of losing records with a breakthrough 18-17 campaign that also included their first trip back to the postseason since 2006.  They went 1-1 in the NIT and finished 89th in the final KenPom rankings.

2012: Virginia Tech 95, Iowa 79

THE GAME: Once again, Iowa fell behind early (VT built a 46-38 halftime lead) and wasn't able to get over the hump in their comeback attempt (they cut the Hokie lead to 57-54 with 12 minutes to play, but Tech went on a 12-4 run to retake control of the game).  This time three-point defense wasn't the main culprit (Tech shot just 4/15 from long range), but their defense was still lousy overall -- Tech shot 53% from the field, including 28/46 (61%) on 2-point shots.  They also made 27/30 free throws, which didn't hurt.

THE OPPONENT: Tech started out last season 6-0 and seemed like a good bet to be a surprise team in the ACC, but things fell apart and they stumbled to a 13-19 finish in the ACC and a ranking of 158th in the final KenPom rankings.

THE SEASON: Iowa responded to this loss by... losing again a few days later to Wichita State.  But they rattled off six straight wins after that and finished the regular season 20-11 after a 9-9 record in Big Ten play.  They found themselves on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, but went 4-1 in the NIT, losing to Baylor in the championship game and finishing 25th in the final KenPom rankings.

In Iowa's first few games of this Challenge losing streak, they arguably found themselves a bit unlucky in terms of opposition -- two of the first three teams that beat Iowa in the streak went on to play in the NCAA Tournament and another one ('09 Va Tech) just missed out on an NCAA Tourney appearance.  Fran's Iowa teams have played eminently beatable teams in the Challenge, but poor defensive efforts have doomed Iowa -- all three ACC teams to beat Fran's teams in the Challenge have shot over 50% from the field, which is just disastrous.  Tonight's opponent, Notre Dame, brings a 57.3 3FG% into this contest (18th best in the nation), so Iowa's defense figures to face a stiff test again.  If Iowa's defense is as poor as it's been in Iowa's last three Challenge appearances, we can probably get ready for an 8th straight loss in this event.  Here's hoping that we see a better defensive effort tonight -- and that Iowa is finally able to get this annoying monkey off their back.

BONUS!

Here's the full B1G-ACC Challenge schedule:

TUESDAY (all times CST)

6:15 PM: Indiana at #4 Syracuse (ESPN)
6:15 PM: Illinois at Georgia Tech (ESPN2)
6:30 PM: Penn State at Pitt (ESPNU)
8:15 PM: #22 Michigan at #10 Duke (ESPN)
8:15 PM: Notre Dame at #23 Iowa (ESPN2)
8:30 PM: Florida State at Minnesota (ESPNU)

WEDNESDAY (all times CST)

6:00 PM: Maryland at #5 Ohio State (ESPN)
6:00 PM: #8 Wisconsin at Virginia (ESPN2)
6:30 PM: Northwestern at NC State (ESPNU)
8:00 PM: North Carolina at #1 Michigan State (ESPN)
8:30 PM: Boston College at Purdue (ESPN2)
8:30 PM: Miami at Nebraska (ESPNU)

How do you think the Challenge will go this year?  The Big Ten won 6-5 in 2009 and 2010 and 8-4 in 2011, before the leagues tied 6-6 a year ago.  I'm going with another 6-6 split, with Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Purdue pulling out wins for the Big Ten.  How about you?  Post your predictions in the comments.

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