The Iowa Hawkeyes had no business winning in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon. Hitting the road in the Big Ten is difficult. Playing without a key contributor is also difficult. Playing without that key contributor when you’re already down two other season opener starter and a key bench player is even more difficult. Doing all those together is virtually impossible.
Yet Iowa, who hadn’t won a road game since their January 14th win at Northwestern, overcame the odds to take home a 58-55 victory over Minnesota. It was a win that was never supposed to happen. Even before the CJ Fredrick injury at Indiana on Thursday, Iowa was projected to lose to the Gophers by both KenPom and Sagarin. Vegas has this as a 4.5 point win for Minnesota.
So when Luka Garza found himself in early foul trouble and Joe Wieskamp ping ponged between totally absent and struggling, the writing seemed to be on the wall. This wasn’t a game the Hawkeyes were destined to win. It started to feel like yet another road game where Iowa could have won but instead were out of it by halftime.
Yet, just as we saw in Bloomington earlier in the week, this team fought back. They never gave in, even when the fanbase was ready to. This time the outcome was different.
The contributions Iowa got from their bench on Sunday are a shining beacon of what this team could be when firing on all cylinders. They certainly weren’t on Sunday, but the lift from guys like Cordell Pemsl, Bakari Evelyn and Ryan Kriener (OK, so Special K got the start, but he’s a bench guy typically) was enough to get a hard fought road win.
Its exactly what Iowa needs down the stretch. This team has to get solid minutes from Bakari where he uses the ability to get into the lane we saw today to open things up for Joe Wieskamp. We have to see the defensive pressure from him we saw against Minnesota to have a shot in defending teams like Penn State.
Bakari Evelyn with the 3️⃣!— PointsBet Iowa (@PointsBetIA) February 16, 2020
#21 Iowa is hanging tough with Minnesota! pic.twitter.com/AnmuTDawWe
In the low post, we have to get quality minutes out of Kriener and Pemsl. Both came up huge on Sunday. Kriener finished with ten points and a huge block on a three-pointer on Minnesota’s final possession that could have given them a win. He takes some heat-check shots each game that will leave you yelling at the TV, but if Iowa is going to will its way to wins down the home stretch, they need Ryan Kriener knocking down shots and attacking the low post.
They also need competent play from Cordell Pemsl. With the incredibly short bench, Iowa can’t afford to have Pemsl be a liability. He wasn’t on Sunday. Quite the contrary. We’ve seen a lot of Cordell the passer this season, but on Sunday we caught a glimpse of what we saw from Pemsl his freshman year. The junior finished with six points and three boards in 17 minutes. If Iowa can get that from their #3 post player on a regular basis, they’re going to be OK.
Especially when #2 is giving you what Ryan Kriener gave Iowa Sunday (10 points and 7 boards in 35 minutes) and #1 is the best player in the country. At this point there really should be no question about it. What Luka Garza is doing is really incredible. Once he touches the ball it’s almost certainly points, regardless of the number of defenders opponents try to bring.
Drop all five on Luka Garza, doesn't matter pic.twitter.com/qC2GGdtXhx— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) February 16, 2020
It was obvious on Sunday, Iowa’s strategy for survival in a post-Fredrick world is to rely on Garza every possession. It’s a wise strategy with as well as Luka is playing. He hasn’t had anything resembling an off night in several months and he’s dominating some of the best big men in the country. Garza finished with 24 and 8 in just 28 minutes on Sunday. He was in foul trouble all afternoon thanks to some
absurd questionable calls. It didn’t matter, just as it didn’t matter in the last road win at Northwestern.
Its hard to imagine it ever mattering. Garza is good enough to be absolutely dominant in even shortened minutes. And that again speaks to the potential of this team.
Iowa won on the road Sunday. In the Big Ten, where road teams simply don’t win. They did it with their star center in foul trouble the entirety of the game. They did it with their best shooter out with an ankle injury. They did it with their best scoring threat not named Luka Garza finishing with just 2 points. They did it by doing what they had to do in an ugly, drag out dog fight.
The win on Sunday took guts and composure. Iowa teams of past would have found a way to lose. They wouldn’t have made a comeback at all. Iowa teams of pst would’ve been run out of the gym when they went n 8 in the first half with their centerpiece on the bench with two fouls.
This isn’t the Iowa teams of past. This is an Iowa team full of heart, fight and moxie. They haven’t hit on all cylinders yet, but when they do they’ll be capable of beating any team in the country. They have the best player in the country and they have the Big Ten’s coach of the year. They have a supporting cast of players capable of doing the little things like finding the right entry pass, knocking down clutch free throws as the clock is winding down or blocking a would-be game-winner. They have a second star who can go off for thirty, but the will to survive when he only scores 2. And when they’re healthy, they have the best shooter in the best conference in America.
There are sure to be more bumps along the way, but the sky remains the limit for the 2019-2020 Iowa Hawkeyes. They’re 3-2 in the month of February and despite all the injuries and adversity, there’s no fade in sight. This team is different.
Bakari Evelyn's 2 clutch free throws broke a tied score late, and Connor McCaffery hit another at the charity stripe with just over 3 seconds left to complete an amazing Hawkeye comeback! pic.twitter.com/WRCVo7cN0u— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) February 17, 2020