You wouldn't believe Iowa had lost 22 of its last 24 trips to Champaign by its dominance on Sunday. The Hawkeyes controlled the game from the opening tip and cruised to an 77-65 victory. With the win, Iowa moves to 19-4 (10-1) on the season and remains in first place in the Big Ten.
Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff, to the surprise of nobody, were the Hawkeyes' leading scorers with 23 and 18 respectively, and Adam Woodbury turned in yet another solid performance on both ends of the floor—more on him in a bit. Iowa spent the last 17 minutes of the game leading by double digits, and Illinois' last lead was 6-4.
Iowa went up by 20 midway through the second half, and the game got briefly interesting when Illinois responded with eight straight points and got the crowd back into things. It's not that Iowa was ever in actual danger of blowing the game, it's just that that's what the opening stages of blowing a game look like. Fran McCaffery let his guys play through the slump, and they duly responded by closing the game out without incident. That's not the first time McCaffery has had that faith in his players on the floor this season, and they've rarely disappointed.
The dominant factor of the game, however, was Iowa's defense. Illinois is ravaged by injuries and running a short bench, and thus needs its biggest scorers more than most teams would. Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill came into the game averaging a combined 36.4 points per game; Iowa held them to 20 points on 7-for-22 shooting. This isn't an accident or a fluke; it's the latest feather in Anthony Clemmons' cap as a potential Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Clemmons picked off four steals today and absolutely removed Nunn from the offense, and Illinois had no Plan B other than "pray all the threes go in." They didn't.
From there, all Iowa had to be was mediocre on offense, and the Hawkeyes were substantially better than that. Woodbury, my goodness, led the team in rebounds and assists, and he missed only one shot from the floor en route to a 10-14-4 line. His defensive presence was outstanding, and once again he stayed way-the-hell-away from foul trouble without conceding easy post position or driving lanes. That's really, really tough to do, and it's the norm for Woodbury.
Adam Woodbury is averaging 11.5 rebounds per game over his last six games, third most among major conference players since Jan 21.— Matt Benson (@mbenson6) February 7, 2016
This isn't "the start to a season" or a foolishly small sample size anymore; we're nearly two-thirds of the way through the Big Ten slate. And once again, Iowa played a drama-free, dominant conference game and came away with an easy victory. These aren't flukes. These are affirmations of Iowa's status as the best damn team in the Big Ten. If that's not the case, somebody had better prove it wrong, and do it quickly, because there won't be a whole lot of opportunities left for the B1G to do so this season.