Iowa’s tailspin to close the regular season has carried into the postseason in the form of a stunning loss to Northwestern, 67-62.
As an adjective, “stunning” is overused as pertains to college basketball, but this result is deserving of the term. Not only did the Wildcats overcome some heavy odds to get the win (KenPom had the Hawkeyes as 86% favorites), Chris Collins’ team also did it in the most unlikely way. Northwestern scored a staggering 1.17 points per possession on red-hot shooting (57 percent on twos, 48 percent on threes).
Let’s not forget – these Wildcats quite possibly have the worst offense the Big Ten will produce in your lifetime (insert Rutgers joke here). In the entire tempo-free era, no Big Ten team had ever finished outside of the top 300 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency… until Northwestern did it this year. Allowing this crew to score nearly 1.2 points per trip certainly qualifies as rock bottom for an Iowa team that had high hopes – and an outside shot at a Big Ten title – just a few weeks ago.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. The Wildcats didn’t have much to play for, but they made shots and fought defensively to get this win. In a shining example of perseverance, Dave Sobolewski hit some big shots down the stretch to finish with 10 points – his first double-digit output since before Thanksgiving. It’s been a rough year for Sobolewski, both health-wise and performance-wise, so it had to feel good for him to make some big-time contributions under the bright lights.
Likewise, Drew Crawford’s effort, including 15 points and six assists, had to be gratifying. The fifth-year senior could have had his pick of transfer destinations as a graduate student, and probably could have landed on a team with NCAA tournament aspirations, but he instead stuck around Evanston to help get the Collins era started. His college career will continue for at least one more day.
For Iowa, this loss probably doesn’t jeopardize an at-large bid, but you wonder if it really matters. The Hawkeyes are probably looking at a 10-seed or 11-seed in the Big Dance, and it’s hard to imagine this squad making any meaningful run from that spot with a defense this bad.
There is, of course, still time to change the course of this season – NCAA tournament wins have a way of erasing past sins – but right now it appears that Iowa will finish this season no better a team than it finished last season, which would be a major shock. Given the way Roy Devyn Marble has performed in his last go-round, it would also be quite a shame.
With that, the quarterfinals of the 2014 Big Ten tournament are set. The action resumes Friday at noon ET, as the conference’s hottest defense (Illinois) takes on the conference’s hottest offense (Michigan). The Illini would have realistic at-large hopes with a victory, but the sharp-shooting Wolverines don’t figure to hand one over so easily.
At approximately 2:30pm ET, Nebraska will attempt to lock up an at-large bid against Ohio State. Both of these teams can really defend, so we should expect a close, hard-fought affair.
At 6:30pm ET, Wisconsin and Minnesota will renew their rivalry with the Gophers’ tournament hopes potentially on the line. Both teams should be able to score the ball in this matchup, so we might see a winner in the 70s.
In the nightcap (approximately 9pm ET), Northwestern will look to pull another huge upset as it faces a Michigan State squad that wants to get right for the Big Dance.
It was a heck of a first day in Indianapolis, but we’re just getting started. See you bright and early Friday.