Remember back in November when we posted a conversation with the QC Times' Eric Page? No? Us neither! We do meth; what's your excuse?
Anyhoo, we decided to cap the basketball season by talking with the Great Gazoo's own Mike Hlas. You may be thinking, "BHGP, that basketball ship sailed like a month ago. What the hell?" Well, Mr. Hlas covers more than Hawkeye sports. So he was here. Then here. Then we were gone. Then we were sick. Then--well, shit, you don't actually care, so onto the good stuff.
Oh, and many many thanks to Mr. Hlas, whose work can be found on a regular basis in the Cedar Rapids Gazette and at the exquisitely named Hlog. He is an icon of sports journalism in the state of Iowa, and tonight, he is at BHGP. Enjoy.
OPS: Re: Iowa basketball-- Who's your MVP for this season? How many times during the season did that answer change?
MH: As for my MVP of Iowa basketball, with hesitation I'd say Tate for providing some an inside presence and putting up stats during that brief stretch in mid-January through early February when Iowa was competing against good teams.
But MVP means Most Valuable Player, and I don't know how valuable any player is on a team that goes 6-12 in conference play and has a losing season overall.
My personal MVP was Justin Johnson just for the two minutes of insane shooting he did in the Indiana game in early January. I've never seen anything like that in person. To me, it was the only real highlight of the season, because I missed the Michigan State game at Carver.
Looking back on your expectations for the season, is this about what you expected out of Iowa basketball? In other words, if someone had told you that Iowa would go 13-19 (6-12) on the season, would you have been all right with it? How about before the start of the BXI season?
I expected mediocrity and got it to the nth degree. How could you expect otherwise with that returning roster? The first time I saw the team in person - in the South Padre tournament - the reality of its shortcomings were a little jarring.
It would have been interesting to have seen if the team would have been better with Cole not missing most of the conference season. He's a definite building block, and I mean block.
But he probably would have stifled some of Tate's emergence. So it's probably close to a push when it comes to how much better the team would have been.
I would rather have had Cole gain the valuable experience, but injuries have minds of their own. Not literally, but you know what I mean.
Unlike many, I wouldn't have settled for 6-12 going into this Big Ten season despite a discouraging December. The league was poor, and won't be this poor again for a while in all likelihood. Losing to Illinois and Michigan at home in the second half of the league season weren't good signs.
Plus, they were indicators those two teams aren't going to stay down for very long. The jury may be out longer on Iowa. Or not. What do I know? I thought Keno Davis would stay at Drake for another year or two.
Wait wait wait. You live 30 miles away from the Hawkeyes and the first time you saw them in person was on the southern tip of Texas? That makes total sense.
The Cole issue was fascinating. On one hand, it seems like Iowa desperately needed his presence in the paint during the grind of the conference schedule, but Cy Tate absolutely blossomed without him. Which raises the question, then, of motivation--can Lickliter develop players who are only seeing 5-10 mpg during game time? Sure, he did it at Butler, but let's be honest, mid-major players aren't quite as... shall we say... ego-driven. Agree?
So based on what you saw last year and a very rough estimate of the Big Ten in 08-09, what do you expect out of the Hawkeyes as a neutral observer? What do you expect as a fan--or, lest I impugn your journalistic integrity (wink, joke, etc) , a person whose livelihood is made easier by a more successful Iowa program? Also, Matt Gatens is certainly the most celebrated recruit, but will he have the highest impact on the team next year? Will Brommer be physically ready to shore up the front line?
I haven't seen any Iowa recruit play other than Gatens, but I'll be surprised if he isn't the most-productive freshman on the team. I'm not sure what role or roles he'll fill precisely, but I know it or they will be prominent.
He's smart, skilled, strong, and tough-minded. He can shoot, too. In three games, I saw him play against Division I-bound players in three different high school games this winter, and he was the best player on the floor each time even on the one occasion his stats didn't reflect as much.
Ohio State is bringing in two more McDonald's All-Americans, by the way. But I digress.
I'm not anointing Gatens the Next Big Thing at Iowa, cause that's a lousy thing to do to any kid. But I do think he'll be a vital part of the lineup from early in his freshman season until his career is done.
I expect Iowa to own Northwestern and Penn State next season, have the edge over Indiana, and ... the 8-ball clouds over after that.
Not knowing which players on Big Ten teams will get hurt or transfer to Memphis or Tennessee in the offseason, I'll generously pick Iowa to go 9-9 in the league. With the Big Ten noticeably better, Iowa will be an NCAA bubble team with everything hanging on its quarterfinal at the conference tourney.
If Iowa doesn't make the NCAAs, it will win two NIT (not the CBI, which is the College Basketball Invitational and the other CBI that gave Johnson County so much excitement over the last year) games.
That would make for a nice overall record like 20-13 or something. Hawkeye fans will be so excited about future prospects that they'll swoon any time the name "Todd Lickliter" is mentioned next summer. Or "Frank Lickliter," for that matter.
If all that seems wildly optimistic to some? You may say that I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us. And the world will live as one.
20-13 is, what, a 6-game swing from last season? Being that Iowa played without a decent point guard for 12 of the first 13 games (I'm not as low on Jeff Peterson as most, but he just wasn't ready for all those minutes last season) and that they won't find themselves dressing only 6 or 7 scholarship players anymore, that doesn't sound unreasonable. But as you pointed out, the rest of the BXI is improving as well.
Last bit before we wrap it up--predictions on the spring game this weekend?
Nothing matters til Mighty McMillan of Montana shows up on campus. Nothing.
...says the man eager to see a defensive back thrown through the Jumbotron. Thanks Mike!