It was Eric May's senior day, but junior Melsahn Basabe stood out in a solid victory over a tenacious Cornhusker squad
I don't have much to add to Ross' fine summary of the game, but here are a few observations:
- Melsahn Basabe had a fantastic game. Against teams with bigger, stronger forwards, Basabe can disappear, but against a slower, less physically imposing squad like Nebraska, he can really wreak havoc on the offensive boards. Four offensive rebounds, 13 rebounds overall, and 5-7 shooting? That'll do.
- The defense was actually poor by Iowa standards (Ray Gallegos got free at the three-point line a few too many times), but the offense finally seemed to crack the Nebraska code. Basically, Nebraska tried to press the Hawks at the perimeter and front the post, the idea being to stop the Hawks from using their superior size inside and to prevent Brandon Ubel from drawing fouls. Iowa managed to break through that with some nice high-low plays and interior passing. Hey, and they shot better than 50% from the field for the first time in, like, forever.
- I hate to say it, but I think Nebraska got a pretty good coach in Tim Miles. His team plays really hard on defense and does some very smart things to mask their deficiencies in size and depth. You could tell that Iowa had worked on some tactics on offense to counteract what Miles was doing, but it took a lot of effort and concentration for the Hawks to score as well as they did. If Nebraska gets a little deeper and a little more talented, Miles could really turn them into a fearsome opponent.
- Aaron White had another solid game, with 19 points on 5-7 shooting and 9-9 on free throws. One thing I've noticed about White that it seems other teams also have noticed: he almost exclusively goes left off the dribble. If he could add a crossover from left to right, he could really blow by some people.
- Adam Woodbury had one of his better games on the year, going 6-6 from the field and playing his usual stout defense. I think I've figured out the biggest reason why Woodbury struggles on offense (I apologize if this is obvious): he seems to have a vertical jump of about two inches, so when he releases the ball, it's from a height of whatever his standing reach is plus two inches (okay, maybe two feet). His wingspan is 6'9" (which is very short relative to his height -- for an unfair comparison, Kevin Garnett has a 7'5" wingspan and is slightly shorter than Woodbury), so his standing reach is probably in the 8'6"-8'10" range. Considering that he goes against players with roughly similar (or better) standing reaches, and who can out-jump him, it's not surprising that he has problems getting his shot off cleanly. The standing reach won't change, but it's possible Woodbury could improve his vertical leap. Otherwise, he may have to reconsider how he scores. He's not in high school anymore, and he can't simply flip hook shots over 6'6" guys all game. If he gets a little stronger, it's possible he could work on some back-to-the-basket post moves, a la Kevin McHale, but he'll need to learn to be considerably more crafty to get his shot off unimpeded (a face-up short jumper and a faster-than-molasses pump and go move would help too). He's tall, but his reach and vertical leap make him more like a 6'8" player than a 7'1" player right now.
- One other thing I found in my standing reach research: Cody Zeller has an even shorter reach than Woodbury, at 6'8". One more reason to question whether he can make it in the NBA, at least as a center.
- To see the impact of a good reach + vertical jump, look no further than Gabe Olaseni. Although he's shorter than Woodbury by a few inches, he has a 7'2" wingspan and can jump much better -- both higher and more quickly. He has 11 more blocks than Woodbury this year in 184 fewer minutes, and it's because the effective radius he can cover with his arms is much wider. The two players are very different in the kind of defense they can provide -- Woodbury is better at walling up and stopping players in their tracks, Olaseni at making weak-side blocks -- but they both bring something valuable to the table.
- Iowa is still on the outside looking in with an RPI ranking of 72nd, but there is still an outside possibility they could make the tournament. The Northwestern game won't offer them very much in terms of improvement (Northwestern has an RPI of 159th in the country), but Michigan State is rather big game in RPI terms at 5th in the country, and anyone they might play further on in the bracket will probably be in the top 15 of the RPI.
- I don't want to be a broken record about it, but THIS SHOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED. Iowa should be comfortably looking forward to a well-earned tournament bid right now, but because of our execrable non-conference scheduling, this deserving team is probably going to be stuck in the NIT. By comparison, Iowa State has a similar record to Iowa, a slightly worse Pomeroy rating, AND LOST TO IOWA, but because they have an RPI of 47th in the country, no one is doubting that they'll make the tournament. There's nothing that can be done about it now of course, so I won't harp on it anymore, but it's still irritating.
- With that said, the achievement of this team in the Big Ten is considerable. Everyone agreed at the start of the year that the Big Ten was the country's best conference, and I don't think anyone would change that assessment now (especially with the emergence of Wisconsin as a seriously good team). To go 9-9 in conference and to be just a handful of possessions away from going 11-7 or 12-8, is impressive. Kudos to the team and the coaches for a job well done.