NICHOLAS BAER'S TRACKS VS. ILLINOIS
7 minutes, 1-2 3 PT, 1 rebound, 3 points
AND THE BAER-OMETER SAYS:
To be honest, Nicholas Baer didn't do a whole lot in his seven minutes, but Iowa's team defensive effort on Super Bowl Sunday in an Illinois setting earned a comparison to the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Hawks didn't have a great offensive game themselves, but thanks to their defensive cohesion, they didn't need to. The Illini shot under 40% for the game, were out-rebounded by 11, and had only six free throw attempts all night. That'll do.
There wasn't really a clear defensive MVP, just a very disciplined team effort. Iowa's rotations were quick and consistent, they kept track of shooters on the perimeter most of the time, stayed down on shot fakes, and swarmed when the ball went in the post. Jarrod Uthoff had a couple of his customary jump shot blocks, Anthony Clemmons and Peter Jok combined for 6 steals, and Adam Woodbury absolutely locked down the defensive glass. Iowa's offense gets a lot of (deserved) attention, but their defense is currently ranked 11th in the KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings and is a big reason for their 19-4 record so far. It's not a flashy defensive team, but they play very smart positional defense and use their length to shrink the court and force the opposing team into a lot of uncomfortable, semi-contested shots.
The real question is, if you had to match up each Hawkeye player with a defender on the 1985 Chicago Bears, who would it be? Here's my best shot.
MIKE SINGLETARY :: ADAM WOODBURY
The respective captains of their defenses, both players coordinate their units and serve as coaches on the field/court. Although both players get a lot of grief for being undersized (or, in Woodbury's case, short-armed and gravity-challenged) for their positions, both use their intelligence and endless effort to be in the right place at the right time.
JARROD UTHOFF :: RICHARD DENT
The players who produce the most dramatic, game-changing plays on defense, Dent with his sacks, Uthoff with his blocks. Both players take plays that could be positive plays for the offense and in an instant turn them into defensive victories, often giving the ball back to their offense in the process.*
* By the way, Richard Dent had some insane statistics that year. 17 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and two interceptions?!?
ANTHONY CLEMMONS :: WILBER MARSHALL
Both were remarkably versatile defenders, using a combination of strength and speed to cover a varieties of situations. Marshall was as adept at rushing the passer as he was as dropping back into coverage, and Clemmons is equally comfortable hounding quick point guards and bigger, stronger two guards.
PETER JOK :: OTIS WILSON
Both players were masters of the big play, Wilson with his sacks, Jok with his steals leading to fast breaks. Both teamed up with another player (Clemmons/Marshall) to provide tremendous pressure on the perimeter of the defense.
DOM UHL/AHMAD WAGNER :: DAN HAMPTON/STEVE MCMICHAEL
Both pairs were perhaps less flashy than their defensive teammates, but nonetheless served crucial interior roles.
NICHOLAS BAER :: WILLIAM PERRY
Fan favorites, unconventional interior defenders, and the physical resemblance is uncanny.
MIKE GESELL :: DAVE DUERSON
Speedy, pesky, but with the power to serve up an unexpected sack/blocked shot when you least expect it.
BRADY ELLINGSON/CHRISTIAN WILLIAMS/ANDREW FLEMING/OKEY UKAH :: GARY FENCIK/LESLIE FRAZIER/SHAUN GAYLE/MIKE RICHARDSON
Okay, this isn't fair to the Bears players, who all made important contributions, but basketball and football are different sports with different numbers of players, so get off my back.
BAER ESSENTIAL PLAY OF THE NIGHT
There wasn't much to pick from here. Baer made one of his customary threes, but there wasn't anything special about it. He had one nice play where he volleyball spiked a rebound out of the pack and back to the perimeter. It happened to land in the hands of an Illinois player, but it was a smart play — the same kind of rebound Tyson Chandler has made famous — nonetheless.
THE BAER FACTS
The "Super Bowl Shuffle" was a bona fide music hit, selling more than a half-million copies and reaching #41 on the US Billboard Hot 100 list. The Chicago Bears are the only American sports team with a hit single, and the "Super Bowl Shuffle" was even nominated for a Grammy in 1985 for Best Rhythm and Blues performance by a duo or group (it lost to "Kiss" by Prince). The lyrics to the song were written by Red Label Records president Dick Meyer and "Mellow" Mel Owens, a blues musician. The story of Owens post-"Shuffle" is a sad one, and you can read more about it here or here.