A Down Year. Entering the season, the prevailing wisdom held that Iowa was a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten basketball team, with six of the usual contenders -- Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maryland -- clearly ahead of them, and the likes of Illinois and Ohio State in the NCAA-bubble portion of the standings.
We're now one month into the campaign, and it looks like (1) Iowa is better than expected, and (2) this is the worst Big Ten in almost a decade. Indiana is playing at breakneck pace and has posted the nation's highest effective field goal rate, but has already lost to two ACC teams (Duke is OK; Wake Forest not so much) and UNLV. Tom Crean is basically a dead man walking, and the Hoosiers are staring cross-eyed at the [NAME REDACTED] Experience in 2016.
Wisconsin just lost its fifth game of the season (and second in a row to an in-state opponent) against the Marquette team that Iowa demolished by 28 in November; a defeat against Wisconsin-Green Bay next week would make the Badgers the state's fourth-best team. Ohio State is off to its worst start under Thad Matta and under .500 through nine games (though, to be fair, it is against a solid schedule). Michigan can't rebound or defend against anyone with a pulse and just lost Spike Albrecht (who wasn't playing much to begin with). And Nebraska lost to Creighton again.
Meanwhile, Iowa is 13th in Monday morning's Kenpom rankings despite having suffered three losses. The Hawkeyes were competitive in all three, and clearly are having another nonconference season spent learning how to hold a lead (we'll get to that later today). Jarrod Uthoff is the collegiate Dirk Nowitzki that Aaron White always wanted to be, and could be the best player in the Big Ten if he ever figured out how to make a second-half shot; he's first in the conference in points per game, sixth in three-point percentage and eleventh in rebounds. And yes, Iowa's bench is young and is prominently featuring an undersized walk-on power forward, but that walk-on is playing out of his mind.
Last week's loss sucked, because it confirmed a lot of issues that we all thought this team might have, issues that will have to be resolved during the next few weeks if Iowa has a chance of doing anything beyond those middle-of-the-pack, first-round-tournament-exit expectations. But Iowa's problems are a lot better than those of some of its conference mates, and there's room in the top tier of the Big Ten if they're fixed.
The King and I. Newly-minted Thorpe Award winner Desmond King and teammate Austin Blythe were named AP All-Americans Sunday. King was a first-team All-American cornerback, while Blythe made the third team at center. King is the first Iowa defensive back to earn All-American honors since Bob Sanders in 2003, and the first to win first-team accolades since Craig Clemons back in 1971.
Blythe, who strongly considered going to Rose Bowl opponent Stanford back in 2010, has been largely overlooked in awards season due to the misfortune of being in the same conference as first-team center Jack Allen of Michigan State. As much as Blythe has contributed on the field, it was his preseason "I didn't come to Iowa to go 6-6" quote that signaled a change in leadership for this team as much as anyone. They're both more than deserving.
Here Comes the Death Star. Anyone following the Big Ten over the last half-decade knows that (1) the decision to bring in Rutgers and Maryland was driven by the television markets they brought with them and the first-tier subscriber rights their cable companies can charge, and (2) Rutgers has fired its basketball coach, football coach and athletic director amid scandals and is kind of an embarrassment so far.
All of this is supposed to pay off for the Big Ten in 2016, as the Big Ten renegotiates its television rights. The projections used when Maryland and Rutgers entered the conference indicated that member schools could see their already-giant-sized piece of the television pie double in size, with something like $45 million per year coming from ESPN or Fox and going to the coffers of athletic departments already trying to find new ways to spend all of this money. There is one big problem, though: People are dropping ESPN.
The financial news stories coming out of ESPN over the past several months have been quite negative. The Disney-owned cable network has endured several rounds of layoffs and reported last week that it has lost 7 million subscribers over the past two years. This is of particular interest to the Big Ten, which will be negotiating new television contracts over the next year and has been banking on massive increases in rights fees.
Many of the Big Ten's financial projections during the conference realignment process were based upon the assumption that ESPN would offer a massive rights fees increase (which in turn would garner similar bids from other media companies, particularly Fox). However, should the Big Ten be worried with the recent turbulence at ESPN? Do the cost-cutting measures at ESPN mean that the network will pull back on what it could offer to the Big Ten?
Frank goes on to predict something that makes a lot of sense: ESPN and Fox, the two media companies expected to compete hardest for those Big Ten rights, could end up making an agreement to split them. It's worked in the past (remember, the Big Ten Network is a joint venture of the conference and Fox Sports, and Fox owns the rights to the Big Ten Championship Game), and it would allow both companies to have the content they need without breaking the bank or putting their financial models at risk.
The bigger problem for the conference in the middle-term is cord-cutters. The BTN model, in particular, is built on the premise that every cable subscriber in the footprint (a footprint that now includes three of the nation's five biggest cities and eight of the top 25) has to pay a premium fee to have BTN on basic cable. At last check, that was $1.00 per month for everyone in those cities and states. But as people move to a la carte television options through the Internet, people who don't watch Big Ten sports don't have to pay those fees. Throw on that loss of income at ESPN (which charges an insane $6.61 per month for ESPN alone and $7.66 per month for ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU) and you have a recipe for disaster. In other words, the next Big Ten television contract is the most important ever, because it might not ever get this good again.
People Call Him "The Rick". A quick note about now-former Des Moines Register Iowa beat writer and Friend of the Pants Rick Brown, who covered his last game for the DMR last week.
Goodbye, seat C-1, Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It 'a been a blast. Next man in. pic.twitter.com/tNVIdlXakw— Rick Brown (@ByRickBrown) December 8, 2015
Rick has been at the Register since 1978, and has pretty much seen it all. He's as old-school a beat reporter as you can find these days, and he's been a must-read for Iowa fans every day that he's been on that beat. The great irony of it: We would have posted just about everything he wrote if it didn't come with one of those autoplay faux-Seven Nation Army videos that Gannett puts on everything. Here's to hoping he finds a landing spot.
Iowa fans stampeded 30hop in Coralville just to get a picture with the Rose Bowl trophy. This is seriously getting out of hand. The cheapest tickets on StubHub are still above $400 as of Monday, with almost every seat running $500 and up.
Sixteen Iowa football players made the Academic All-Big Ten team, the most since 2010. Win, graduate, do it right, I guess.
This is a little late, but former All-American safety Tim Watson writes that Iowa's 2015 football season is a triumph of technique over talent.
Paul Chryst redux: Rutgers should have hired Greg Schiano. Instead, it hired Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash, and so Ohio State hired Greg Schiano. Luke Fickell can't be pleased.
Seven months after TDG was calling him the sign that Minnesota had passed Iowa once and for all, four-star offensive tackle Sean Foster decommitted from the Gophers. Foster said the decision was "mutual," due to a change in offensive line philosophy under a new coordinator. And yet Iowa, which usually bends over backwards for legacy players (his dad Troy was a lineman for Hayden Fry in the early 90s) and is in desperate need of offensive tackles, still has not offered. Iowa might be waiting for the Farniok decision, or Foster just might not be that good.
The Bill Cubit two-year contract, a program-killing John-L.-Smith-goes-to-Arkansas decision by an athletic department desperate not to make any actual decisions, proves that Illinois doesn't care about football.
Northwestern fans preparing for an Outback Bowl against Tennessee have discovered Tennessee Twitter, the closest approximation to Nebraska Twitter's mix of FOOTBALL IS SERIOUS and REMEMBER THE 90S existing on the Internet today. I have to take exception to Trahan's views on Rocky Top, though, because Rocky Top is magnificent.
You've spent the last three months ignoring your significant other, and so with no games this week and no real news to follow, you should make him or her a nice dinner. And that link right there is delicious.