So. That didn't go quite as planned. Iowa dropped an exhibition game on Friday night, losing 76-74 to Division II Augustana on a game-winning buzzer beater from Daniel Jansen. Jansen was selected one of the Preseason Player of the Year in Division II, so he is as they say, a baller. He's also an Iowa native, from Orange City, because The Narrative Always Wins.
The good news: the game doesn't count on Iowa's record and won't be a factor on Iowa's resume come March. The bad news: well, Iowa lost to a Division II team. That's not good. Augustana is a good DII team -- a very, very good DII team, in fact, loaded with talent and experience -- but they're still a DII team and Iowa is still a Big Ten team. You don't want to be losing games like this.
More alarming for Iowa than the loss itself might be the way they lost the game -- with some lazy defending, poor rebounding, and sloppy ball movement on offense. Perhaps Iowa didn't take Augustana entirely seriously and assumed they could roll out to a win because the Vikings were DII and Iowa was Big Ten. That might explain some of the sloppy play that was on display in this game. But Iowa got outscored 40-25 in the first half after jumping out to a quick 9-0 start. Augustana picked up where they left off after halftime and ran out to a 15-point lead in the second half. Iowa eventually turned up the defensive intensity and was able to make a comeback and tie the game, but it's frustrating that it took so long. For much of the game, the Vikings were able to get open looks or very easy looks near the rim. Iowa also got out-rebounded 42-35, 12-10 on the offensive glass.
It would be easier to swallow this loss if Iowa had played the freshmen big minutes in an effort to get them some experience. Only... that's not what happened. At all.
Outside of Clemmons, Iowa's starters all played 30+ minutes and the two reserves who got the most minutes were Dales Jones (a JUCO transfer) and Brady Ellingson and Nicholas Baer (redshirt freshmen). Ahmad Wagner, Christian Williams, and Andrew Fleming played 10 minutes combined, contributing 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. Two freshmen, Isaiah Moss and Brandon Hutton, didn't play at all. We found out before the game that Moss wouldn't play:
Isaiah Moss will not be in uniform for tonight's exhibition game. Moss will redshirt this season. #Hawkeyes— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) November 7, 2015
And based on tonight's showing, it seems safe to assume that Hutton will join Moss in Redshirtville. That's fine -- someone from this massive freshman class needed to redshirt -- but Iowa's certainly going to need bigger contributions from the newbies than they had tonight. And chances are, they'll get them -- this is still very (very very) early in the season and there's plenty of time for young guys to get acclimated and make an impact. But it does suggest that none of this crop of freshmen is going to hit the ground running.
As for the newcomers who did play, Jones provided a spark in the first half and Ellingson did the same in the second. Both also made a pair of three-pointers, suggesting that they might be able to help Iowa's perimeter shooting (for the game, Iowa made 8/21 3s, or 38%). On the other hand, Ellingson got burned badly on defense a few times and if that keeps up he'll have a hard time seeing the floor when the competition ramps up. Jones added some rebounds to his outside shooting and he'll definitely get minutes this year -- hopefully he can quickly become a consistent contributor.
Especially since the guy Iowa was counting on to play big minutes as a replacement for Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni -- and to serve as a back-up for Adam Woodbury -- was largely MIA through Iowa's two exhibition games. Dom Uhl played two minutes tonight. Two! There hasn't been any word that he's dealing with an injury, but that might be preferable to the alternative -- that he's suffering the sophomore slump from hell.
Peter Jok and Mike Gesell were two of the few bright spots for Iowa in this game. Jok carried Iowa's offense in the first half, scoring 14 of their 34 points, hit the game-tying three-pointer late in the game, and finished with 21 points on 7/18 shooting (3/7 from deep). He was aggressive and active on offense, which is something Iowa will need from him all year. Gesell picked up the load offensively in the second half, scoring 12 of his 14 points in that half and personally getting Iowa back into the game after Augustana opened up a big lead. He shot 7/17 for the game and also added 9 assists (against only two turnovers). Through two games (albeit exhibitions), Gesell has looked ready and willing to be a big-time player for Iowa as a senior.
The ever-polarizing Adam Woodbury grabbed 14 rebounds (5 on the offensive glass), but had just 6 points on 3/5 shooting. He's never going to be a dominant player offensively, and that's fine, but it would have been nice to try and get him more involved in the offense in this game, given the considerable size advantage Woodbury had over every player Augustana used to defend him. Iowa settled for a lot of jump shots (tellingly, they attempted only five free throws for the entire game -- all by Jok) in this game. Particularly happy to settle for jumpers? Jarrod Uthoff, who had 10 points on 5/12 shooting, with several of those shots coming as semi-contest fadeaway 20-foot jumpers -- not exactly the most efficient shots, in other words. Uthoff has been prone to drifting through games in the past, but Iowa simply can't afford to have him do that this season.
Again: it's just an exhibition game. It doesn't count. It doesn't matter -- not really. It's embarrassing, sure, and provides fodder for rivals to chortle about, but nothing about Iowa's goals (or their ability to achieve them) has changed in any fundamental way. And again: Augustana is a very fine team -- possibly better than almost all of the actual Division I teams that will be visiting CHA over the next six weeks or so. I strongly suspect they could contend in many mid-major conferences in Division I -- they're a well-coached, experienced team with some good players.
But this was a poor performance by Iowa -- a very poor performance. The question now becomes how Iowa responds to this loss because now the games do count and the results do matter. Iowa's going to need their senior leaders to play better. And they're going to need the new guys to get adjusted to DI hoops quickly and be able to contribute meaningful minutes. Let's see if this loss lights a fire under all of them. Fran said he wanted to use this game to challenge Iowa and identify deficiencies:
So clearly that's what this game is.
We have arguably the toughest schedule we've played in a long time, so this, I think, would better prepare us for what we're going to face in the ensuing weeks and not a game that we're just going to rotate everybody in and not really see where our deficiencies are and how good we can be.
Well... mission accomplished on that front. This game definitely challenged Iowa and we definitely identified some deficiencies. I don't think this game was an indication of how good (or bad) Iowa can be, but now we'll get to see how well Iowa is able to solve the problems that were exposed in this game.
Iowa starts the actual regular season next Friday night with an 8:30 PM tip against Gardner-Webb. ESPN3 has television coverage.