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Overreaction Monday: Announcements and Bowl Games and Dolphin, Oh My!

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In what would normally have been a slow week, there was quite a bit of news for Hawkeye fans last week.

Wisconsin v Iowa
It was quite a week in Hawkeye land. Unfortunately, nobody was talking about the early season success of Fran McCaffery’s squad.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

With no football game for the Hawkeyes this weekend, it seemed like perhaps this would be a slow week. We are fast approaching the offseason for football, and while we will at least have hoops to keep us mildly entertained, the slowdown is sure to be noticeable.

But just when you start to make peace with that, you start looking to the NFL or NBA or - gasp - your family to fill that void, the Iowa athletic department drums up a week like they just had.

Hoopyball

Let’s start with the big drama for the week, which of course is related to comments made by a member of the media and nothing at all to do with the University of Iowa itself. Naturally, I’m talking about the incident during halftime of Iowa’s nice 69-68 win over Pitt on Tuesday.

For those living under a rock the last week, those comments can be heard below:

Now, there isn’t much to really unpack there - it kind of is what it is. And what it is, is the truth. Sort of.

It’s not totally fair to compare a 6’7” guard/forward hybrid to a lightning quick point guard. It also completely neglects the fact that Iowa walked out the highest rated freshman in Tuesday’s game. Joe Wieskamp came to the Hawkeyes as the 43rd rated recruit in the country - 40 spots higher than Trey McGowens. And Xavier Johnson, who was really giving Iowa fits? He was the 83rd rated point guard in the class of 2018.

But it is 100% accurate that Pitt, in its first season under new head coach Jeff Capel, brought in a pair of point guard recruits who possess a skillset Hawkeye fans have been clamoring for for a decade plus. So it seemed a bit unfair to suspend Dolphin for two games for saying what a good number of fans have been thinking for a while.

Unless....

“The two game suspension is a result of those comments, as well as some ongoing tensions that have built up over the past couple of years. This time away from the microphone will allow a chance to work through some of these issues.”

Well, surely if they are going to give us that bombshell in the press release, there will be a lot of questions and answers over the next few days.

Image via 50artprojects1year.com

This is the Iowa Athletic Department and Gary Barta. So instead we got more tough language and cryptic answers from Fran McCaffery during his media availability and Barta completely reneging on his planned availability.

Fran found Dolph’s remarks “inexcusable” and “incredibly unfair.” Maybe, maybe not (probably not). But Barta bailing on answering questions Thursday ensured this thing drug out and became the focus of the media heading into Friday’s matchup with #22 Wisconsin.

Instead, Barta met with the media less than an hour before that game and even then refused to give any insight into the “ongoing tensions.” They will “remain private.” Ok, thanks Gary. We’ll all just act like you weren’t the one that took it from being private in the first place and put it out for the entire world to see completely unprompted.

Just another week in the Iowa AD.

It really is a shame the focus turned almost exclusively to the Dolphin situation as this Hawkeye basketball team is off to a tremendous start. At 6-0 they had climbed into the top 15 nationally, something NOBODY would have predicted a few short weeks ago.

Most impressively has been the fact they’ve been doing it with defense.

That’s why the gut-wrenching loss to Wisconsin on Friday night is tolerable. It came on a night when Iowa shot just 39% from the floor and 25% from deep. Yet the Badgers only managed a 6 point come-from-behind win.

Iowa isn’t shooting that poorly again this season.

It’s strange to think - and I assure you I’m fully aware of the jinx I’m putting on them here - just how improved this team is from a season ago. The defense is enough to win this team a lot of games if they can avoid consistently shooting as poorly as they did on Friday. That’s a safe bet.

But sitting at 6-1 at the beginning of December, there are 24 games remaining. Three of those are against teams ranked 280 or lower in the NCAA’s new NET rankings. Safe to say the Hawkeyes get to 9 wins. From there, they have 21 games - 19 against the Big Ten. Is it crazy to assume they’ll have no problems winning half of them?

Get to 10-11 the rest of the way and you’re looking at a team with 19 wins heading into the Big Ten Tournament. That includes some nice resume builders with Oregon, UConn and Pitt already in the fold.

I don’t know that it’s enough to be in, but with the way the Hawkeyes are playing so far, I don’t think it will need to be.


Foosball

While most weeks, all the storylines from the basketball world would have been enough to use up all the digital ink in Hawkeye land, this week was the gift that kept on giving.

While most of us were focused on the Dolph storyline, Friday was a monumental day in the world of Iowa football.

I am, of course, talking about Kirk Ferentz’s first appearance on Barstool Sports’ Pardon My Take. For those of you who haven’t already listened, here’s a link.

The stuff you care about starts around the 1 hour, 6 minute mark.

This may seem like just another media appearance for the Captain, and to an extent it is. But this isn’t exactly your average media outlet and it certainly isn’t the type of crowd KF typically speaks to.

No, no, this is a podcast geared toward the younger generation and focused far more on comedic relief than any sort of in-depth reporting. The set up was enough to have most Hawkeye fans aware of it concerned with how badly Ferentz would embarrass himself.

But in fact, it was a pretty enjoyable listen and he clearly knew what he was getting into. He played along, didn’t take the bait on the salary questions (side note: congratulations to Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm for making Ferentz’s salary look like chump change with your new $6M salary - a full 33% higher than Kirk’s despite never winning more than 7 games at a P5 school) and even took advantage of the opportunity to rail on his favorite topic: chop blocks. Good stuff.

The only negative from the interaction was that it was recorded on Thursday night, before Noah Fant announced he was leaving Iowa early for the NFL draft.

That much was expected, but the timing was not. And it seems by the response the Captain gave in his first media availability after the announcement that he was not expecting it either.

In a release Friday, Kirk said, “We are disappointed Noah will not be finishing the season with his teammates. He is a tremendous athlete and we wish him the best as he pursues his goal of playing in the NFL.”

Not exactly a vote of confidence or support, but it is open to interpretation. Is it disappointment like a parent hearing their kid broke a major rule? Disappointment like a coach who just learned he isn’t going to have a key weapon in the bowl game? Disappointment like someone who feels like they weren’t told the truth? Or just disappointment like a guy who is realizing they won’t get to gameplan with a star player who happens to be a solid human being ever again?

Who knows. But at the end of the day, Noah Fant is done as a Hawkeye. While it also sounds like T.J. Hockenson, Amani Hooker and Nate Stanley are all evaluating their potential futures in the NFL as well, none of them will be departing before Iowa takes on Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.

Wait, what?

Yeah, that’s right. Buried in all the other headlines of the week, the Hawkeyes parlayed their disappointing 8-4 regular season record into another New Year’s Day bowl.

It’s a familiar destination for Iowa fans, but a totally foreign opponent. There will be 3+ weeks of evaluating the matchup to come, but for now let’s just call it an intriguing one.

Mississippi State comes in ranked 18th in all three major polls. Their 4 losses all came against teams who are now ranked while their only victory over a team ranked in the top 25 now came against #19 Texas A&M.

The matchup is said to feature a pair of premier defenses with little to offer offensively. That may be partially true, but quite misleading. We all know how good this Iowa defense can be (and we’ve also seen it can stumble), but the MSU defense may be even better. They rank 3rd nationally in total defense (6 spots ahead of Iowa) and first in scoring defense at 12 points per game (Iowa comes in at 12 with 17.4). Offensively, they’re 66th in total offense with 402 yards per game (Iowa is 75th with 389.7) and 64th in scoring offense with 29.1 points per game (Iowa is 47th with 31.5 ppg - only 0.4 ppg below the explosive offense in West Lafeyette).

Something will have to give. Neither team is likely to match their season average for points, but it’s also likely neither defense will hold the other to their defensive average. Vegas set the early line at 6.5 in favor of the Bulldogs. As tempting as that might seem, Vegas was built on tempting lines and fools betting them.

The Hawkeyes will need a win in Tampa for the season to feel satisfying to most fans and even that is not likely to fulfill everyone. But regardless of the outcome, a New Year’s Day bowl in sunny Florida sounds quite lovely right about now, even if the only trees they have to light are of the palm variety.

Happy Monday. Use common sense this week. Hopefully it’s a little less eventful than the last one. Go Hawks. Beat MSU (tonight and 1/1/2019).