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Overreaction Monday: It’s Time to Talk to Your Kids About Iowa Basketball

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The schedule is about to get much more difficult, but it’s time to prepare ourselves for the possibility this Hawkeye basketball team is really good.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa
Is Fran McCaffery happy or mad? Yes. And you should too.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It feels as though we’ve been through this before. Perhaps several times. Iowa <insert sports team here> is off to a really good start, but the fanbase is more focused on how they are going to collapse than enjoying the ride. In fact, it feels like we go through this at least once a year with one of the programs.

Yet, here we are again. Your Iowa men’s basketball team is waking this morning 16-3. They ran the table in what many thought was going to be a very difficult non-conference schedule (look, I get it, there were a bunch of sub-300 teams in there, but you measure the strength of a non-con by the top rather than the bottom) and nearly half way through the Big Ten schedule, they’re now sitting a half game out of the top 4 in what is arguably the best conference in America.

Despite that, there are still a number of questions from fans. The biggest seems to be whether this team can keep its hot streak alive as the schedule stiffens. If you’re in the minority who hasn’t spent the 5-game winning streak looking ahead, here it is.

1/24: #6 MSU at Home (likely to move higher in today’s rankings)
1/27: @ Minnesota
2/1: #2 Michigan at Home (likely to fall a bit after losing to Wisconsin)
2/7: @ #25 Indiana (likely to fall out of the rankings today)

An optimist and looks at that stretch and sees the two toughest opponents coming to Carver. A pessimist looks at it and sees that Iowa has to travel to the two teams they would have the best opportunity to beat. Both are equally correct.

All told, 5 of Iowa’s 12 remaining games will be against teams that were ranked last week. Five of the seven against unranked opponents are on the road. That’s a season-defining stretch.

So for once, Hawkeye fans’ perpetual wait for the other shoe to drop may be warranted. But what if it’s not? Are you prepared for a genuinely successful Iowa basketball season? Have you spoken with your children about the possibility that this Hawkeye team is just good?

As fierce as that remaining schedule is, all indications so far are that this group is, in fact, for real. How for real? How about only the second time under Fran McCaffery the team has started 16-3? That last time? That was 2016.

The team finished with a collapse, losing 6 of 8 down the stretch. But despite their best efforts, they still walked into the NCAA Tournament with a 7 seed and advanced to the round of 32.

This team, despite their very difficult schedule down the stretch, is now likely to do the same. They may never reach the ranking heights of that ‘16 squad (they were ranked as high as #3 with the football team also in the top 5 - sigh), but this team is headed to the NCAA Tournament barring a collapse wherein they lose essentially every game for the rest of the year.

The question now is how this group will respond to the pressures of being ranked inside the top 20 (frankly, it would be criminal if they aren’t ranked there by the end of today) with big time games with a pair of top-5 teams coming up. In 2016, things got disastrous down the stretch, but this season appears to be different.

In addition to those difficulties facing the team outlined above, this year’s version also has a pair of games against Rutgers and a home date with the same Northwestern team they defeated in Evanston without Tyler Cook. In a glass half full world, they do get a number of the toughest opponents at home. And this team is damn good at home.

Yesterday, for example, this group shot an astounding 68% from the field. The only thing more blistering than the overall field goal percentage was the 3-point percentage - a mind-numbing 71%.

One of the top reasons for the unreal shooting performance was Joe Wieskamp. The freshman has been on fire of late, scoring in double figures in 9 of the last 10 games. On Sunday, he dropped 24 on 8-8 shooting, including 6-6 from beyond the arc.

From a roster standpoint, the only difference between this year’s top-20 team and last year’s 14-win season is Joe Wieskamp. The rest has been addition by subtraction. Nothing against any of those players absent from this year’s squad, but the limited numbers has forced McCaffery’s hand in terms of rotation and minutes.

This year’s rotation is noticeably tighter than in years past. That is presumably in large part due to the limited number of bodies. It’s also means a slightly longer leash for players who have a head-scratching turnover or an ill-timed foul.

That has allowed guys like Isaiah Moss to ebb and flow in their minutes based on their game with a bit of a longer leash. In games like the one Iowa played in Happy Valley on Wednesday, that means Moss spends much of the second half on the bench while the hot hand gets plenty of run. In games like Sundays, he gets 24 minutes to knock down 5 3-pointers and score 21 points against him home state school.

Each game, we’re seeing someone different step up. The defensive intensity has had some minor lapses, but by and large it’s a gigantic step up from what we saw a season ago. That intensity has led to continued offensive success.

Despite injuries to some of Iowa’s most important players, including both big men (Tyler Cook and Luka Garza), the Hawkeyes are a finding a way to win and to win comfortably. Without Cook on Wednesday, Iowa was still able to pound the ball inside. They got a combined 37 points from Garza and Ryan Kriener off the bench.

In Cook’s Sunday return, he only scored 7 points in his 29 minutes, but was still a major factor. Garza, meanwhile, continues to be a force inside with the oldest of old man games that has to utterly infuriate a team like Illinois that’s built on pure athleticism. He finished with 20, making it three Hawkeyes over the mark (joining Wieskamp at 24 and Moss at 21).

This is a well-rounded group that can beat teams from the inside our out. They don’t have the penetrators that a number of top teams possess, but they have tools all over the court. There will be nights a number of guys are off, but given the volume of scorers, it’s unlikely there won’t be anyone capable of putting the team on their back.

The combination of that versatility, the potency of the offense and the new-found defensive effort makes this Iowa team different from any we’ve seen in the McCaffery era. It harkens back to some of the early REDACTED teams or the Tom Davis teams before that.

It’s in our nature to expect things to fall apart. As Hawkeye fans, we are always expecting the inevitable. There’s a collapse just around the corner. But this time, the fall may not be so far. The pieces are there. The road ahead is long and arduous, but it’s not insurmountable and the work already done is likely enough to eliminate the possibility of being left out of the tournament.

It’s time to talk with your kids about the real possibility that this Iowa basketball team is simply good.

Happy Monday. Come out firing this week like everything’s going in. It certainly was in Carver yesterday.

If that’s not enough to make you want to attack the week, how about we tug at the ol heart strings?

I’m not crying! You’re crying!

Go Hawks.