And a ginger shall lead them.
We take a moment to move our feet not because Iowa beat Nebrasketball (although it was satisfying to avenge L'Affaire Lincoln from two weeks ago), but to celebrate what this win means. This win gives Iowa 20 on the season and 9 in Big Ten play.
The last time Iowa won 20 or more games in a season? 2005-06.
The last time Iowa won at least 9 Big Ten games in a season? 2006-07.
Two years ago, Iowa rode a wave of Senior Day emotion to a stunning 67-65 win over Purdue at the end of McCaffery's first season in charge. That win gave Iowa a whopping... 11 wins on the season. In two years, Fran has almost doubled Iowa's win total, which is pretty impressive. Under Fran, Iowa has gone from a bottom-feeder in the Big Ten to... well, not the top of the league, but a solid spot in the middle class.
There's still room to grow from here (and hopefully that's what we'll see over the next few seasons), but it's worth celebrating how far we've come in the last two years, too. It wasn't too long ago that March just represented a time of dread and sadness; it meant the end of another wretched basketball season, an end to months of watching miserable hoops. Fran's made March exciting again: we're no longer eager to bid farewell to basketball season, but eager to see what new success might be coming next. Win a Big Ten Tournament game? We can do that! Play in the postseason? We can do that! (In the NIT, at least.) Harbor actual thoughts of being in the field of 68 in the NCAA Tournament? We can do that, too. It's still a faint hope, but that we can even carve out plausible scenarios for Iowa to get into the tourney (i.e., they don't involve the rest of the teams at the Big Ten Tournament being suddenly stricken blind) is a welcome change from years past.
As for the game itself... Iowa used an unusually strong shooting performance (a blistering 62.2% eFG, including 72.7% FG shooting in the second half) and a dominant rebounding advantage (37 to 16) to earn a decisive victory. Nebraska actually hung tight for a while (thanks in large part to Ray Gallegos' 22-point day on 7/14 3-point shooting) and had trimmed Iowa's lead to 44-43 with 15:09 to go in the game. You could be forgiven if you thought you were suffering through a particularly painful bout of deja vu. But Iowa responded beautifully: Josh Oglesby drained a 3-pointer (his only make of the game), which keyed a 20-2 run from Iowa that gave them control of the game. Nebraska cut the lead to 11 a few times after that, but they were never able to get the lead under double-digits.
Aaron White led Iowa in scoring with 19 points on 5/7 shooting (and 8/8 from the free throw line), but the best performances of the game may have come from Adam Woodbury and Melsahn Basabe. Woodbury had 12 points (one shy of his career high, and his best tally in B1G play) on stunning 6/6 shooting, while Basabe was a monster on the glass, pulling down 13 rebounds to go along with 11 points. Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa's driving force over the last several games, had a quiet performance (just 6 points on 2/9 shooting) to go with 3 rebounds and 3 assists (and 4 turnovers), but it didn't matter -- Iowa didn't need a big game out of him for once. (Marble did manage to set a little Big Ten history -- his first bucket gave him 1002 career points, making him and Roy Marble Sr. the first father-son duo in Big Ten history to each score 1000+ points for the same team.)
And on Senior Day, Eric May couldn't get a crowd-pleasing dunk to cap off his career (he had just 2 points on 1/5 shooting), but he still managed to have a positive effect on the game with a team-high 6 assists and 6 rebounds. Props as well to Anthony Clemmons (11 points on 4/6 shooting) and Gabe Olaseni (4 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks); it was a strong all-around effort for Iowa today.
The win also means Iowa locks up the #6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will play the #11 seed, Northwestern, on Thursday. That game will be at roughly 8pm CT on ESPN2.
But for now we celebrate Iowa hoops and the progress it's made over the past few years. Well done, guys. Here's hoping this is just the beginning of the good times.