The Iowa Hawkeyes crushing defeat ended the season before anyone really expected it to.
It wasn’t because of the defense. Outside of the anomaly of all anomalies (at Rutgers), every time Iowa held an opponent under 70 points, it resulted in Hawkeye victory. 67 points is a winning number for an Iowa basketball defense. No defense is going to be perfect - the Hawkeyes certainly weren’t today with Richmond hitting on their signature backdoor cuts - but they did enough on that end of the floor.
The defense, on a per-possession basis, was better than 10 of the 14 prior games. This was a stretch where Iowa’s defense was rightfully praised!
Nope. It was because of the offense. An offense which failed to find the basket. That happens sometimes.
The dirty little secret of the sport is that “the ball goes in or it doesn’t.” Through no fault of the shooter nor impact of the defense, the volatility of the sport dictates that some shots just won’t go in.
The Hawkeyes had too many of those yesterday.
It started with the Richmond Spiders’ approach: clog it up. It’s not unlike what we saw Indiana roll out against the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten semifinals. The difference in that game was Keegan Murray torched the Hoosiers to the tune of 8/10 shooting from deep. That kept driving lanes open for Patrick McCaffery and Tony Perkins which made the Hawkeyes more difficult to guard.
Yet the cavalry didn’t come from behind the arc. Iowa’s shooters - Jordan Bohannon, Payton Sandfort, and Kris Murray - went a combined 2/15 from deep. Tony Perkins & Connor McCaffery’s hot streak ran cold. Keegan missed all three of his attempts.
So Richmond’s plan worked.
In a one-and-done scenario, all that matters is that one of these games pops up. It was the first time in 18 games Iowa failed to reach 70 points, a number they hit 32 of 35 times they played this season. They scored 80-plus in seven of the prior nine.
I figured if Iowa was gonna lose, it would be by virtue of getting caught up in their old ways. Happy to play a back-and-forth affair. I wasn’t the only one. But they didn’t.
Richmond navigated the narrow path to victory - Justin Gilyard was great and outplayed Jordan Bohannon. Tyler Burton played Keegan Murray to a draw. And they did plenty of little things to keep Iowa at bay after trading 11-0 runs in the first part of the second half. They shirked offensive rebounding to limit transition opportunities, of which Iowa had plenty by virtue of Richmond’s misses. The Spiders deserve immense credit in this regard.
Yet the shooting which made the Hawks so dangerous in transition was gone. It allowed Richmond to beat Iowa to the rim and force half court basketball.
Could Fran have ran more through the post with Keegan? Sure - he had just 22% of Iowa’s shots, down from his season average of 31%. But Fran played Filip Rebraca more than normal as Kris fought foul trouble, which exacerbated the spacing issues from those missed shots.
Even still, advanced analytics were kind to Iowa’s shot selection:
‼ SQ UPSET ‼— ShotQuality (@Shot_Quality) March 18, 2022
Actual Score: Richmond 67-63 Iowa
ShotQuality Score: Richmond 70-77 Iowa
Based on the quality of shots taken:
Richmond wins 26% of the time
Iowa wins 74% of the time pic.twitter.com/ozN0uRc3XF
The Hawks left 14 points off the board with their misses.
As for what that means for how the balance of this season is viewed. I don’t know.
The easy comparison is the 2006 squad who won the conference tournament before another early exit in March. That team, in my recollection, was much different. They returned damn near everybody and carried those expectations through the season. That group finished in a second-place tie after the Big Ten’s 16-game schedule (of course it included a 51-48 loss at Northwestern which would have given Iowa a banner).
Upon review, though, those guys were playing with fire all conference season. They didn’t score more than 70 points in the 10 games prior to the tournament. The loss to Northwestern State was that team’s style coming to roost.
This group entered with no such expectations. 55 points departed the roster through the NBA Draft or transfer portal (the 2006 team averaged 66 points). Keegan figured to be the guy. We were getting Jordan Bohannon in a new role. But who knew what that would really mean?
Well, it meant another consensus All-American. Iowa’s 4th in history.
It meant a conference tournament championship, which fans are happy to cheer on Sunday but whine about on Thursday. I know it matters to the players. They get rings out of the deal.
So yeah, it was Fran’s best coaching job. Unfortunately, the worst loss came at the worst time. It happens to a lot of teams this time of year.
I just know I’ll miss watching this group play together.