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Iowa Basketball Is (NOT) a Team on the Brink

One incredible minute of basketball may have saved Iowa’s season.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Iowa
“So take a look at me noooooooow!”
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

With just over two minutes remaining in Saturday’s game between Iowa and Michigan State, I pulled out my laptop and started jotting down notes for an article about what would assuredly be Iowa’s third consecutive loss. The article, which was going be titled “Iowa Basketball Is a Team on the Brink,” would have focused on the growing list of problems that were on display against Michigan State and were threating to unravel Iowa’s once promising season.

A reminder of why you should never start writing a wrap-up article about a basketball game before it’s over.

As I outlined the points I wanted to touch on in the piece, I began working on the best way to incorporate Fran McCaffery’s now iconic staredown with a referee to match the tone of the article (the leading candidate involved layering the chorus to Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” over the clip).

Maybe that joke would have landed, or maybe I would have come up with something better by the time the article was published. Fortunately, the world will never get to find out, as Iowa proceeded to become only the fourth team in college basketball history to erase an 11+ point deficit in the final minute of a game thanks to a barrage of three-pointers, forcing overtime in unfathomable fashion and eventually winning the game 112-106. “Against All Odds,” indeed.

In one glorious minute of frenetic, impossible, and inspired basketball, the Hawkeyes completely changed the narrative surrounding their season, transforming from a team that was plummeting towards the NCAA Tournament bubble and resurrecting discussions about the so-called “Fran Fade” into one whose place in March Madness is secure who has put the college basketball world on notice about what it is capable of when it plays to its potential. Most of the criticisms I included in my outline are still true: Kris Murray’s shooting efficiency is still below his usual standard of excellence, Patrick McCaffery is still trying to rediscover his early-season form, and Iowa’s defense is still a serious problem (the Hawks did surrender 106 points and allow MSU to shoot 73% from three, after all). But Iowa also played nearly perfect crunchtime basketball, Kris Murray hit a critical three pointer to give the Hawkeyes life, Patrick McCaffery made a series of huge plays in the final minute of the game, and Iowa’s defense found a way to get stops and turnovers when it mattered the most. The Hawkeyes remain a flawed team, but one capable of putting any opponent on the mat if they can get its uppercuts to land. Payton Sandfort missed on two attempts to down the Spartans during the teams’ first meeting in January, but his three-pointer with three seconds left in regulation was the right cross that rendered Michigan State unconscious on its feet, even if Sparty had to stagger through overtime before the knockout became official.

Sandfort’s overtime-forcing shot was one of six threes made by the Hawkeyes during the final 90 seconds of the game, and this virtuosic display of outside shooting ultimately proved to be the difference in this contest. This explosion from long-range was impressive in its own right, but even more so when one considers that Iowa made six three-pointers in its losses against Northwestern and Wisconsin combined. The Hawkeyes’ 47% performance from beyond the arc widened the already sizeable gap in Iowa’s home/away shooting splits (39.2% from three at home vs. 26.1% away), and eased the mind of Hawkeye fans concerned the team had completely lost their shooting touch.

Iowa’s win over Michigan State likely punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament; even if the Hawkeyes went 0-2 in its remaining games and flamed out spectacularly in the Big Ten Tournament, their four Quad I wins and impressive 8-2 record against Quad II opponents should be enough to earn them a spot. However, Iowa’s seeding in both the NCAA and Big Ten Tournaments can still be heavily influenced by their play down the stretch. A road win at Indiana seems improbable given Iowa’s struggles away from Carver-Hawkeye, but the Hawkeyes could likely secure a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament if they manage to beat the Hoosiers and take care of business against Nebraska at home. How the Hawkeyes fare once they reach postseason play will have everything to do with whether they look more like the team that was down 11 points at home against Michigan State through 39 minutes, or the team that scorched the nets during the final 60 seconds of regulation. The outcome of Iowa’s season remains in doubt, but if the Hawkeyes’ last game was any indication, the final weeks of the 2022-23 campaign should be entertaining until the very end.