#KeepIowaWeird. One of the nice things about being a nationally prominent team is that there's no shortage of outlets interested in writing about you -- and some of those pieces are very good indeed, like this article from Vice Sports breaking down Iowa's success this year by explaining how weird (in good ways!) so many of Iowa's players are:
When Iowa substituted backup center Dom Uhl for seven-footer Adam Woodbury, Purdue was supposed to have its advantage. The Boilermakers have two 7-foot centers, and a star 6'9 forward in former five-star recruit Caleb Swanigan. Uhl, also 6'9, was being asked to handle the five spot, meaning he would be guarded by a much larger frontcourt. For most backup centers, that would be very difficult, but thanks to his unique skill set Uhl was extraordinarily effective, coming in to score five straight points.
The first? A three-pointer.
This was no lucky shot. Uhl is shooting an spectacular 51.3 percent from beyond the arc, good for 13th in the country on KenPom. Only three players his height or taller shoot anywhere close to that from three, and nobody ranked higher than him is taller. Uhl can shoot like a guard, but he plays center, making him an incredible mismatch for opposing centers who aren't used to guarding shooters.
As Adam pointed out a few weeks ago, Jarrod Uthoff is an incredibly unique and unusual player, which is a big part of his brilliance. But he's not the only oddball on this Iowa team -- and that's a very good thing. Long live the weird.
IS IOWA A PROBLEM AT STUDENT MANAGER HOOPS? Apparently, yes.
Maryland's win over Iowa and Illinois' upset of Ohio State shape this morning's standings. pic.twitter.com/0I3EtM06aw— B1G Mgr Hoop League (@B1GManagerHoops) January 28, 2016
Looks like they could use a little more weirdness. And apparently Indiana's student managers aren't allowed to play games against other student managers? Seems harsh.
About that Big Ten title picture... The Big Ten season isn't even halfway over yet, but Iowa's spectacular 7-0 start (including season sweeps of putative Big Ten contenders Michigan State and Purdue) has given them a commanding lead in the race to win the regular season conference title. That's a feat that no Iowa team has managed since Lute Olson's Hawkeyes grabbed a share of the Big Ten in the 1978-79 season. No Iowa team has won an outright Big Ten title since Ralph Miller's sensational "Six Pack" team went 14-0 in 1969-70. But according to the math at The Only Colors, Iowa has an 84% (!) chance of winning the Big Ten outright this year and a 94% chance of earning a share of the title. The math here (from a Wisconsin fan) paints an even rosier picture for Iowa:
Only downside of tonight's big win: it helped Iowa. pic.twitter.com/mBYgFOAzld— Bart Torvik (@totally_t_bomb) January 27, 2016
Per TOC, Iowa also has an almost 90% chance of winning at least 15 games, which would be a new school record. (KenPom is currently predicting a 16-2 record for Iowa.) Again, there's a LOT of Big Ten hoops still to be played -- over half the season! -- and we don't have to think back very far to remember a Big Ten season that went badly sideways after a very good start (2013-14). But still... right now this team is doing some incredible things -- and they're in position to do even more amazing things in the weeks to come.
How far we've come. The good folks at Big Ten Powerhouse crank out a lot of quality Big Ten hoops writing every week, but this retrospective on how far Iowa hoops has come under Fran is certainly worth reading:
There was a point when we had to entice students with free pizza to get them in the arena before tip-off and burrito coupons for those that stayed to the end. Even then we would only get a couple of rows filled up and that was considered good.
Do you know how hard it is to build a new culture of better fans when you only have 25 people and half of them are just wanting a free dinner out of it?
That's what makes what Fran McCaffery has done -- particularly this season -- so damn exciting. He resurrected a dying program by pulling the ultimate Field of Dreams.
"If you build it, they will come."
As clearly as I remember the bad stuff -- including the total inaccessibility with Lickliter and his staff -- I remember meeting McCaffery before his first ever press conference; giving each one of us the opportunity to ask him a question about the future of the program we cared so much about. I remember the handful of times that he asked for members of our leadership board to come into his office and bounce ideas off him on how to get the students back and on his side. On how he would like to create one of the best home court experiences, not only in the Big Ten, but the country.
Listening to him speak about his up-tempo, balls to the walls offense was just as intriguing as his thoughts on adding "Fat Heads" to the student section and chanting along to Kanye West's Power.
I still lived in Iowa City during Lickliter's first year in charge, in 2007-08, and I can remember how down things were -- and that was far from the worst year during that run. (Iowa somehow actually won six Big Ten games that year. Six! In related news, the Big Ten Conference was not awesome back then.) Fan enthusiasm only got worse in the years after I left, and even following things from afar, it wasn't hard to see how dire things had become by 2009-10. Which makes it even more startling to see just how far Iowa's come in the six years since then. A 16-3 start? 7-0 in the Big Ten? A Top 3 ranking? Unbelievable.
The Big Ten Powerhouse bros also previewed tonight's Iowa-Maryland game, breaking down the key match-ups and weighing in on how big of a game it truly is. Three of the five writers picked Iowa to beat the Terps.
U OUGHTA KNOW. As we've discussed many times, Jarrod Uthoff is having an incredible season -- so incredible that he's very deserving of some National Player of the Year chatter. So it's very nice to see Nicole Auerbach making that case for Uthoff for USA TODAY Sports.
"He's really an amazing player," McCaffery said. "He can do it inside. He can do it on the perimeter. He can do it in transition. We can run sets for him, and nothing seems to rattle him. We feel like, if he's open, everything's going in.
"So we just keep going to him."
Uthoff did not make the Wooden Award preseason watch list, which included 50 names. He was one of five players added to its midseason top 25 list, announced earlier this month. On Monday, he was added to the watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, the player of the year award sponsored by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. He's coming on, and if he keeps producing at this rate and Iowa keeps playing this well (the Hawkeyes are No. 4 in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll and have won nine in a row), he could be a first-team All-American by season's end.
Speaking of Uthoff, Courtside Films dug up up some rare footage from his high school days:
That hair! Once you get past the moptop, though, you can definitely recognize a lot of the same stuff we see in Uthoff's game every night: the sweet, effortless stroke on the jump shots, the peerless shooting range, the vicious blocks. Uthoff been schoolin' opponents for years.
Don't stop believing (or watching). The Journey, BTN's excellent weekly documentary series, had a tremendous episode a few weeks ago focusing on high school teammates and close friends Anthony Clemmons, Denzel Valentine, and Bryn Forbes -- it was a great watch if you were an Iowa fan. It looks like Iowa fans won't want to miss the next episode of The Journey, either:
* The line on Iowa-Maryland is up to Maryland -5 at several books. DISRESPEKT.
* The Daily Iowan's Danny Payne has some theories on why Iowa's good this year; maybe we should send a thank-you note to El Nino?
* Really good episode of the On Iowa podcast this week, with two hours (!) of chatter about basketball, football next year, and football crootin' news.
* Speaking of football crootin'... Iowa added a walk-on punter this week. Mmm, punting...
* Cordell Pemsl hasn't been the most heralded member of Iowa's 2016 recruiting class, but he balled out in a big way earlier this week -- 39 points and 20 rebounds in a win over Cedar Rapids Jefferson. He's not showing many ill effects of the knee injury that sidelined him last year. Iowa's other hoops commits have also been doing some very good things during their senior seasons.
* Perfect Game predicts Iowa baseball to finish 4th in the Big Ten in 2016 (behind Michigan, Maryland, and Indiana) and tabs two Hawkeyes as preseason all-conference picks (3B Mason McCoy, an incoming JUCO transfer, and SP Tyler Peyton). Baseball will be here before we know it, won't it?