Your, my, and our Iowa Hawkeyes (15-7, 5-6) return to action Thursday, heading east in search of a season sweep of the Maryland Terrapins (11-12, 3-9).
Iowa won a back-and-forth game with Maryland in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on January 3, 80-75. In a surprise to absolutely no one, Keegan Murray led the way for Iowa, erupting for 35 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks while shooting 14-21 from the floor and 5-6 from 3. Iowa initially led the game by 12 and looked to be on the verge of a rout, but the Hawks hit a rut offensively, allowing Maryland to take a 40-36 lead at half. After trading buckets early in the second half, Iowa didn’t trail after the 12:12 mark, leading by as many as 10 with 5:22 left. This is Iowa basketball though, so of course Maryland made things tight. Eric Ayala made a Caitlin Clark-like, halfcourt logo-adjacent 3 to pull within 2 with 10 seconds left. After Patrick McCaffery made 1 of 2 free throws to go up 78-75, Iowa smartly fouled Ayala up 3. The Maryland guard missed both free throws while Jordan Bohannon made his two with 3 seconds left to ice the game.
There isn’t another way to say this - it’s been a weird season for Maryland. They made waves after just 8 games as Mark Turgeon mutually parted ways with the university on December 3. Writing this as an Iowa fan, a fan of a school where almost no one leaves for any reason other than “found another job in the off-season” or “retired,” the timing is strange being mid-season. It’s especially strange given he signed an extension last April through 2026. I never thought Turgeon was great, and a cursory look at the Testudo Times comments section on the separation is aligned with that - they were ready for change. He was getting booed during home games at the end of his tenure, and especially his last game against Virginia Tech, a dreadful loss to an old ACC foe on a night when the school was honoring Len Bias. They believe they can and should do better than Turgeon, and with their history and proximity to talent they will attract good candidates for the job.
Turgeon’s departure left Danny Manning in charge and results have been poor, going 6-9 in his 15 games in charge. They have some good wins - a 2-point win over Florida, a 16-point demolition of a Kofi-less Illinois, and an 8-point win at Rutgers. But they’ve been hot and cold on their own floor. They lost to both jNW and Rutgers at home, had the Illinois win, lost close games with Wisconsin (70-69) and Michigan State (65-63), and lost to Indiana by 13. They make zero sense and are a program in major flux, but they are perfect for this wild, insane sport.
G - Eric Ayala (6-5, 195) 15.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.1 apg
G - Fatts Russell (5-10, 165) 12.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.7 apg
G - Hakim Hart (6-6, 200) 9.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.9 apg
F - Donta Scott (6-7, 225) 12.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.7 bpg
F - Qudus Wahab (6-11, 237) 8.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 0.8 bpg
(Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference)
Ayala leads the way for the Terps. His shooting splits leave much to be desired (39/35/67; not great, you guys). He’s a player that can have a big night - he notched 22 points and 8 rebounds in the win at Rutgers on 8-13 shooting. Pretty good and efficient, plus hitting the glass. Then he goes for 6 points on 2-12 shooting against Indiana. That up-down nature in performance is there across the roster, and for me is partly what makes this game so dangerous. You never know what you’re going to get from these guys.
Russell and Scott have similar shooting numbers (39/31/77 for Russell, 43/31/78 for Scott). More variance in performance - Russell goes for 23-5-7 in the double overtime win at jNW, but then comes back and posts 9-6-4 in the Rutgers loss. Scott - 25-6 in the big Illinois win, then 3 points and 6 boards at Rutgers (though they won that game). Big game followed by a lot of meh for their best players.
Overall, it’s a poor shooting team - they rank in the bottom 3 or 4 teams in the league in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and made 3s. They also turn the ball over a lot - bottom 4 in that metric too - and their defensive numbers aren’t great, either. So, 11-12 sounds about right for them.
Can Iowa keep momentum going?
The second half of the Minnesota game was one of Iowa’s best halves of the year. It got them out of trouble, frankly. That looked hairy at halftime after Luke Loewe’s half-court 3. It was shaping up to be one of “those games,” a game you’ve seen a hundred times as an Iowa fan - Iowa has ample opportunities but can’t make anything at the rim, Minnesota makes a bunch of tough shots, and Iowa’s in a dogfight that, if they lose, it’s a third-straight loss and possibly curtains on an NCAA bid. Instead, we got one of their best 20-minute stretches of the year where the defense powered the offense and suddenly a tough game turned into a bit of a laugher. Can they carry that effort over to Maryland? Iowa has to have max effort, especially on the road. Ease off the accelerator at all and Iowa can easily lose this game.
Is this the night Bohannon gets right?
Historically, Bohannon has shot well at Maryland. He loves this gym. Here are his stats in 3 career games in College Park:
February 26, 2017: 8-13 FG, 8-10 3FG (!!!), 24 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, Iowa win
January 7, 2018: 5-13 FG, 5-10 3FG, 17 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, Iowa loss
January 7, 2021: 6-10 FG, 6-9 3FG (!!!), 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, Iowa win
When I say he loves this gym, I mean he loves this gym. It’s the perfect building to get him going again. Unfortunately, the shots just aren’t falling right now. I thought the first two makes on Sunday would be the jolt he needed. He then missed his next five. It doesn’t help that we also got some poor shot selection sprinkled in there. He had a couple of heat check 3s at a time when a heat check 3 was definitely NOT what the doctor ordered - one from the logo in the first half ended in a long miss, another in the second half ended in an air ball (he’s had a startling number of air balls this year). Those shots, the “no, no, YES!” 3s, are electric when he makes them, but he’s not making them right now and when they’re early in the shot clock like the logo 3, they’re the equivalent of a turnover. On that shot, Bohannon was the only Iowa player to touch the ball after Keegan’s rebound and pass off a Minnesota miss. That is a bad shot. When I see those Bohannon 3s, I’m left scratching my head and I’m wondering why Joe Toussaint is the fall guy for all of this.
Fran and rotations?
I loved Iowa’s rotation in the second half Sunday. Billy Taylor (great job by him on Sunday) played the starting group of Bohannon, Perkins, Patrick, Keegan, and Rebraca out of halftime, but Perkins didn’t see much time, if any, after the first media timeout so it was down to Bohannon, Patrick, Keegan, Rebraca, Kris, Ulis, and Sandfort. 7 guys! Taylor went NBA playoffs Game 7 rotation for the second half and I love it. Rebraca held his own on Curry. Sandfort gave them some good hustle minutes, a good transition bucket, and he’s on a green light to shoot. But I especially liked the Ulis-Bohannon-Patrick-Keegan-Kris lineup - good defensively and shooters in four spots. That Keegan-Kris-Patrick front court had Minnesota completely out of sorts. They had NOTHING going in the post. Anything that got within 10 feet of the rim was met with a barrage of Murray arms, plus Patrick backing them up. And when they needed a bit more bulk, Rebraca came back in to take a bunch of shoulders in the chest. Even Bohannon, despite his shooting slump, warranted a place in that group by playing with effort on defense - just having him among those shooting options spreads everyone out. Plus Ulis’s size and ability to get to the rim is a good pairing for Bohannon.
But OH MY GOD, THAT’S FRAN MCCAFFERY’S MUSIC! I like Fran a lot, but he can’t help himself when it comes to rotations and minute distribution so we should anticipate him being a bit more, um, generous. He’s going to have too many options, and 2-foul jail is back in the cards. Connor might be back. Joe Toussaint probably doesn’t get frozen out (speaking of, he had one of his best games of the year in the first meeting with the Terps; 9 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 steals. He’s going to play in this game, and maybe a lot). Does Fran keep playing Sandfort? Lots of questions that have me concerned.