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Free-For-All Friday: Luka Garza and the Hawkeyes’ Rocky Moment

The Hawkeyes stumbled badly against Purdue. Was that the fake peak or the delayed start of a late season fade?

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Iowa
Luka Garza and the Hawkeyes got knocked down on Tuesday. Will they get back up again?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes dropped a nasty one on Tuesday night. Just when we thought we were past the late season fade, we were all broadsided by a really disappointing loss to a team that isn’t in the same class as Iowa in terms of resumes. That has Iowa fans in a bit of a panick, including some of the BHGP staff.

Was that loss the beginning of the end? Or was it just what Iowa needed to wake the hell up before the live bullets start flying next weekend? We’re diving in.

JP: Jerry, I still have a nasty taste in my mouth from that complete letdown on Tuesday night. I fell into the trap of believing this team was above a complete mental lapse. Am I alone here? How are you feeling ahead of the final regular season game of the year?

Jerry: Look, that game was face palm bad from the opening jump. It was brutal. It wasn’t any fun at all. Iowa was outworked, out hustled, out rebounded, out performed and out physicalled (is that a word?). Fran recognized it the minute his son airballed that three pointer in the opening few minutes and tried to do everything he could to light a fire.

It was sloppy, uncharacteristic basketball.

But if it was going to happen, i’m glad it happened when it did. Look, you played hoops at a decently high level. Basketball is a funny thing. You can know a team is going to come out and punch you in the mouth, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to answer it the way you want. And when teams punch you in the mouth and can’t miss on top of it... well that shit happens. I really think this is the best thing that could happen to Iowa to help them refocus going into the final game against Illinois, the Big Ten Tournament and eventually March Madness. Nobody was more embarassed at the effort level than this team and I think it was a reality check.

With all of that said, I’m not sure how much it will do if Joe Weiskamp doesn’t figure it the EFF OUT. We all keep waiting for his maturation and instead we just keep seeing him take steps deeper and deeper into this slump. No matter what Luka does on the floor, Iowa is doomed if he doesn’t get it together, full stop.

So to answer you question, I’m still very optimistic about this team, but I’m concerned that I’m setting myself up.

JP: I don’t disagree with the sentiment that the timing of this should be the kick in the pants a team like this can take and turn into a postseason run. But the timing of the complete collapse, on senior night, where Luka Garza was set to break the scoring record, is also concerning to me. Jay Wright mentioned after Villanova won at Seton Hall the other night that being the home team on senior night is much worse than being the road team. There are distractions, pressure, etc. and we’ve now seen a few top-25 teams lose strange games on senior day (thinking of #17 Auburn falling to a .500 Texas A&M team on Wednesday as well). I get it.

I just didn’t expect the mental stuff to impact THIS team. We’ve seen them be so resilient all year and be so mentally tough, I thought this team was immune to this type of showing. It’s one of the reasons I was never worried about a collapse in February. But after seeing them come out flat and totally not execute on what you could tell Fran had emphasized in the scout, it makes me a bit more nervous down the stretch than I had been.

I really thought this was as team that would seek revenge on Purdue and just totally dominate. I expected that momentum to carry them to a big time showdown in Champaign and I genuinely believed this team could still win a Big Ten title. Now I’m nervous we’re staring down a 6 seed in the BTT.

And you nailed it on Joe W. He’s out there thinking. He’s questioning himself. He’s assessing the defense and his teammates and what has happened in prior possessions and totally mind effing himself into oblivion. As a buddy said to me, he needs to go out and hit a slump buster a la Nuke LaLoosh in bull Durham. He’s gotta get his mind off all that crap and get back to just throwin’ that smoke man.

We see the same thing with Connor McCaffery. When he catches, his first thought is to find the right pass. You can see the wheels physically turning. Then he airballs a wide open three. But when the shot clock is counting down and he sees that before a catch, he pulls the trigger in rhythm and is actually a quality shooter.

Just. Play. Hoop. Joe.

Just get back to having fun and stroking it from all over the floor. Don’t worry about senior day festivities. Don’t worry about seeding. Don’t worry about who’s going where after the year. Just play the way you have all year with the mentality you’ve had all year and this team is going to be a problem for somebody in the NCAA Tournament.

Are they capable of doing that? Have we gotten to the point where the expectations are out in front of them and now we’re back to years of McCaffery past? WHY AM I TURNING INTO THE FAN I LIVE TO TALK DOWN TO???

Jerry: Of course they’re capable. They have the best player in college basketball and a team of swaggy, no nonsense players. I’m telling you JP baby, don’t undersell this ass whooping. Think about every great sports movie you’ve ever seen. The hero ALWAYS has to get his ass whooped when he reaches the “fake peak” if he truly wants to reach the real peak. For example, Rocky v. Clubber Lang I. You know the one, when Rocky had been fighting a bunch of wannabe punks after reaching what he thought was the pinnacle of boxing. Rocky Balboa got so complacent he literally lost the eye of the Tiger, got his ass kicked so bad he had no choice but to turn to Apollo Creed who had to reteach him how to fight like the I-talian Stallion again. Or, take the 12-1 loss Team USA took to Iceland early in the Junior Goodwill Games. Do you think the Minnesota Miracle Man thought his entire team would come out that flat and get manhandled like they did in that one? They has just beat the bejesus out of Trinidad and Tibago and had the best of times doing it.

But what happened next (outside all of us learning that Iceland is actually very green and Greenland is actually full of ice)? Rocky and the eventual Mighty Ducks banned together.

JP you said it best... “We’ve seen them be so resilient all year and be so mentally tough”. That doesn’t just go away after an ass kicking. Not with a team this close and this tight. They’re going to ban together after this. They’re going to be stronger. I fully believe that.

DC and I talked about it on this weeks SpoCo, so I’m sorry if you all are hearing this from us for the second time, but this loss was different than any other loss they took this season. Purdue was a different type of beast. They didn’t just boat race us by hitting a million threes and we couldn’t keep up. They came out and started the game as if they were the Seattle Seahawks (shouts to DC for the amazing comp). They dictated the level of physicality in this game and the refs allowed it to continue on. Iowa was shocked by it. They wont be again. They can’t. If anything, they need to expect it.

Every team from Illinois to Penn State to Michigan State is going to try and push Iowa around from the opening jump now. Iowa will be ready. They’ll clean up their act. They’ll have plans in place.

Because when the wind blows hard and the sky is black, Hawks fly together.

JP: Now, I’m going to say something that is going to trigger a lot of people. So consider this an official warning – if you don’t want to be upset, skip the next sentence or two.


You lost me on the Rocky reference because I, uh… I’ve never seen a single minute of any of the Rocky movies. I genuinely don’t know how it’s possible as a kid who grew up watching 3-4 movies a weekend with family for probably 15 years, but I never saw it as a kid. Then I got older and it wasn’t exactly a flick I could talk my wife into. Now that I have kids, I can’t even watch Iowa games on a TV, let alone find time to devour classic movies a la Rocky. Where do I turn in my man card?


Now, having said that, you had me at Mighty Ducks. And I’m all in on the fake peak theory. In movies. But my worry is that this isn’t a movie. We’ve seen that fake peak turn into the real peak so many times before. I don’t think I’m going to get over this until I see Iowa win another big game. Sunday would be a huge start for that.

If the Hawkeyes can find a way to win in Champaign, they’ll lock in the 4th seed and that coveted double bye. Perhaps just as important, there’s no team in that 5 range that I think would scare most Iowa fans pre-Purdue meltdown. And in some strange twist of fate, Wisconsin’s deal with the devil has put them in a way too good position to win the 1 seed. As miserable as that may make Hawkeye fans feel, is there anyone you’d feel better about matching up with in a 1 vs. 4 game? I can’t think of any.

So your fake peak theory is set up perfectly for a movie style ending. Get knocked down on senior night, turn around and ruin Illinois’s senior night and then make that Big Ten Tournament run we’ve been waiting for over the last 14 years. From there, we get back into the Sweet Sixteen and everyone dies happy.