It’s Monday morning and for the first time in three years, Iowa fans are waking up following a Selection Sunday with a vested interest in the games to be played in the coming week. As exciting as that is, it comes with a bit of a bad taste.
The Hawkeyes earned a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament yesterday. Despite the late season slide, that’s lower than just about anyone predicted going into the weekend. Sure, there were the typical Chicken Littles telling us Iowa was on the bubble or that they weren’t going to make it at all. That may have been true had they gotten blown out by Illinois and not had the first 3⁄4 of the season go the way it did.
But Iowa didn’t lose to Illinois last Thursday. Instead, they looked much like the team we saw for the majority of the year. They played solid defense and they knocked down open shots. Lot’s of them. The Hawkeyes shot over 50% from deep in a game that really wasn’t close beyond the 3 minute mark in the first half.
That’s been a theme for Iowa all season. When they are shooting well, everything else seems to fall into place. In 17 of the Hawkeyes’ 22 wins, they’ve shot over 30% from deep. They are averaging 40% in those 22 wins. That’s a far cry from the 29% they’ve shot in their losses.
A day after the hot shooting against Illinois, Iowa fans would have done just about anything to see the Hawkeyes shoot 29% on Friday night. Instead, they had their worst shooting performance of the season, hitting just one of sixteen from deep for an astonishing 6.3%.
Had that been a blip on Iowa’s radar, they would have likely been looking at a much higher seed this morning. But it wasn’t a blip. It was far from it. The Hawkeyes entered Selection Sunday losing 6 of their last 8 and shooting poorly in nearly all of those games.
That late season skid clearly didn’t sit well with the selection committee. Without it, this was an Iowa team that was, at one point, 20-5. It racked up wins over the PAC-12 Tournament champions, the Big 12 Tournament champions, as well as No. 2-seeded Michigan. They had no bad losses. Then the wheels fell off and what was likely to be a 4 or 5 seed turned into a 10 seed.
But what is maddening for Hawkeye fans is to see the team be punished so harshly for the late-season trouble. It’s not that they’re a 10 seed. In fact a 7-10 game may have been preferable if only because it avoids a second round matchup with a 1 seed. The issue is that the Hawkeyes, as a 10, will be effectively playing a road game Friday.
While most schools which didn’t earn a top-2 seed see no major impact from location either positively or negatively, that’s clearly not the case for Iowa. Instead, they get to take on Cincinnati in Columbus, Ohio. That’s 108 miles door-to-door for the Bearcats - less distance than if the Hawkeyes had been able to play in Des Moines, which would have been preposterous.
Yet here we are. The Hawkeyes are a 10 seed playing a road game at a 7 seed. And their reward if they manage to get a W? A date with the Tennessee Volunteers in the second round.
Neither of those are great matchups for Iowa. Such is life as a 10 seed. You don’t like it? Win more games during the regular season. The Hawkeyes didn’t and much of it comes down to how they shot the ball.
The defense is certainly not without blame, but it’s not the root of the problem. When Iowa shoots the ball well, they play with more energy and effort on defense. While some schools use defense to generate offense, the Hawkeyes need their offense to fuel the defense.
While that hasn’t worked much over the last 8 games, what we saw on Thursday night was the impact when it does. That’s what makes this team so intriguing in March. When the shots are falling and the defense follows, the Hawkeyes can play with just about anyone.
They certainly have their shortcomings, and those are likely to be exposed in the first round against Cincinnati. Namely, Iowa struggles against teams with guards who can harass their shooters. Jordan Bohannon is deadly, but if he can’t get the ball in a position to shoot, he can’t make shots. Ditto Joe Wieskamp. But Iowa hasn’t found a way get them room to operate.
That will be the struggle Friday. Cincinnati is quite good defensively. That has helped propel them to a 28-6 record — something the Hawkeyes could only dream of. Fortunately, if they can find a way to create space their shooters and Iowa can throw a ball in the ocean, they have a very decent chance at winning - 3.5 point spread be damned.
The Bearcats are coming in hot after winning the AAC Tournament this weekend, but they aren’t infallible. Despite Jarron Cumberland averaging more than 18 points a game, Cincinnati ranks 192nd nationally in scoring. Iowa is known for making bad offenses look good, but if they can get things rolling offensively, it may be difficult for the Bearcats to keep up.
And while things have not ended the way Hawkeye fans would’ve liked, we have seen this team overcome adversity to win some close games. They could desperately use more ball handlers who can take their man off the dribble to create a shot, but this is a team built to cause opponents trouble in the tournament. If they get hot, they can play with anyone.
The question now is which Iowa team shows up on Friday. Is it the team that knocked off a number of really good teams earlier in the year with a renewed vigor on the defensive end, tremendous shooting g beyond the arc and ice in their veins? Or is it the team that collapsed down the stretch with miserable defense and worse shooting?
We’ll find out soon enough. Until then, it’s good to be mad again.
Happy Monday. Try to get some work done before Thursday. Go Hawks.