It stunk. All of it. Every second of the last four days, beginning at 2:10pm CT on St. Patrick’s, has stunk. There’s no other way to say it without earning an “R” rating. And yet this movie had a very familiar plot line.
The Iowa men’s team entered Thursday’s matchup against the Richmond Spiders with perhaps as much hype as we’ve seen since the last time they were in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes were among the heaviest favorites of any team without a 1 or 2 seed in the first round and thanks to an incredible run not just in the Big Ten Tournament but in the days and weeks leading up to it really since the calendar turned to February.
Since February 1st, Iowa had been one of the top-3 teams in the nation in virtually every metric with the nation’s top offense and a top-50 defense. None of that mattered on Thursday. The Hawkeyes missed early and often en route to their second worst shooting night of the season from beyond the arc. Six times this season, the Hawkeyes shot below 40% from the field. Only three of those games saw Iowa shoot worse than they did on Thursday. They lost all three of those. The only game this season where the Hawkeyes shot worse both from deep and from the field than in last week’s NCAA Tournament opener was the 20-point blowout at Iowa State.
Going into that opening game, the Hawkeyes were 19-0 in games where they out-rebounded their opponent. They were 7-9 in games where they didn’t. Iowa won the rebounding battle against Richmond, making it the only game this season where they did and still failed to win.
The Hawkeyes were 11-1 in games this season where they held their opponents to under 70 points with the lone loss coming at Rutgers - a game where Iowa shot 28% from the field, 22% from deep and were out-rebounded by 10. They held Richmond to just 67 points on 69 possessions, or 0.971 points per possession, making it just the second loss all season not only when holding an opponent under 70 total points, but also one point per possession (13-1 going into the day).
That’s a lot of words and quite a few numbers to say that what we saw on Thursday was one of the worst offensive showings of the entire season for Iowa and that absolutely abysmal offensive showing totally bucked all the trends established over the course of a 35-game season. All the non-offensive indicators should have led to a victory. They had in every game but one during the rest of the season. They didn’t on Thursday.
So it must have been great defense from Richmond, right?
While the points per possession were indeed a positive for Richmond (and perhaps a major positive for the 95th best defense in the nation per KenPom, 17 spots lower than Iowa), it wasn’t that they were preventing Iowa from getting good shots.
In fact, Shot Quality, which measures the expected outcomes based on the relative quality of shots taken over the course of a game combined with the shooter taking those shots and their season averages, gave Iowa a 74% chance of winning the game based solely on the shots taken on Thursday. Their predicted final score based on the shots each team took and who on the teams took them, was 77-70 Iowa.
‼ 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
In short, Iowa got good shots, played good defense and out-rebounded Richmond. They simply missed an incredibly high percentage of shots for one of only a handful of times all season. The stars aligned in one of few ways for the Hawkeyes to lose.
Which, of course, is a perfect encapsulation of what being an Iowa fan is. While this particular incident has a low probability of happening, it seems to happen over and over and over again. Not just for Iowa men’s basketball, but for Iowa athletics in general.
While the men’s basketball team was putting together an absurd display of brick-laying, the wrestling team was fumbling away any hopes of a national title (just a week after losing at the Big Tens). That was followed shortly thereafter by the women’s team, led by their own superstar, doing their best impression of the men’s team with not only a sold out Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but also one of the biggest TV audiences they’d seen all season.
In four days, we saw three major Iowa athletics programs wilt under the light of the cameras and crush every Hawkeye fan’s heart and soul in the process. Again.
While programs like Michigan, which limped into the NCAA Tournament on less than fumes with a coach who shouldn’t have been coaching in a game they shouldn’t have been playing in (the only real explanation for Michigan avoiding a play in game while Indiana was stuck there is the committee locked in seeds before the Big Ten Tournament even started... or they were paid large sums of money by someone to do some of the things they did), Iowa fans looked for something, ANYTHING, to do besides watch this godforsaken tournament.
While programs like Iowa State, which WENT WINLESS IN THE BIG 12 AND ONLY WON TWO (!!!) GAMES A SEASON AGO, stamped their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen with a date with a 10 seed standing between them and an Elite Eight, Iowa fans wondered how in the world their superstar Caitlin Clark and top-10 Hawkeyes lost to a 10 seed. At home.
The answer, of course, is simple. This is Iowa. We are the Hawkeyes and there is nothing that will ever change. You can change the players, the coach, the AD, but at the end of the day, the Hawkeyes will rip your heart out when you least expect it. And while no fanbase is ever truly satisfied, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another program that so consistently lets its fanbase down.