Iowa thoroughly outplayed the Nittany Lions last night en route to a 64-49 victory. The 15-point victory matches the 58-43 opener against Idaho State as Iowa's second-biggest of the season; only a 65-48 win over UMES was more lopsided. With the win, Iowa improves to 10-11 and 3-5 in the Big Ten.
At 3-5, Iowa is alone in sixth place in the Big Ten after eight games.
Coincidentally, so was the football team.
If you'd asked us on August 1, 2007 whether the football team or basketball team would have the better season, we probably would have responded with some form of "Sweet Jesus' Butthole, please let it be the football team," because everybody knew this season would be cover-your-eyes terrible. Change the question to what the best-case scenario was for this season, and the answer probably would have been 7-11. The greediest fans may have asked for 8 wins, but you get the point. And that's from a partisan crowd--uninterested observers wouldn't be giving Iowa more than four or five wins. And really, many of us had begun preparing for the notion of a 3-15 BXI season.
But they started winning. And that 3-15 turned into 5-13. 5-13 turned into 7-11. And 7-11 turned into what we're forced to consider now, a 8-10 or 9-9 season that seemed totally foreign to our prognostications. Granted, 8-10 won't be turning into 10-8; the Hawkeyes still lack depth and scoring ability, and their four remaining games against the top five teams in the conferece will, in all likelihood, end in losses. The BXI is incredibly top-heavy this year, and Iowa has no chance of cracking that group or of qualifying for any postseason play. So we're at the upper limit of what we can expect from Iowa.
But when the season began, all we asked for was that improvement be evident, records be damned. Well, they are improving. Gorney looks light-years ahead of where he was at the beginning of the year, and Tony Freeman has gone from out-of-control muscle freak to the team's most reliable and productive player. When next year's influx of talent comes, sure they'll need time to acclimate themselves to the offense. But it's becoming evident that the process doesn't take years, and it's perfectly reasonable to ratchet up expectations for next year.
With the job Matt Painter's doing with his freshmen at Purdue, it's safe to say that he's locked up Big Ten Coach of the Year. They just took out Wisconsin in a game that didn't even resemble an upset, and their horrendous non-conference slate is taking backseat to a 6-1 start to the conference season. If they finish 12-6 and win one game in the tourney, they're 22-11, and that's good enough to dance. So that's outstanding and he merits all the credit in the world. But the runner-up ought to be Lickliter--there's maybe two players on the team that would even make the rotation of the top 5 teams, and he's got them through the toughest part of the schedule at 3-5.
I'm rambling like a drunk trying to get a reticent ex-girlfriend back in bed, so I'll stop now. Let it not go unsaid, though, that what Lickliter is doing is awesome, and we're looking forward to great success(!) next year.