Howe Friday 5: Ringing in the New Year with Hawkeye Success

January 3, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The 5 has returned from the West Coast to the friendly confines of Iowa City’s East Side.

We couldn’t be happier with this development. San Diego is beautiful but there really is no place like home.

Hawkeye sports thrived during the last seven days. It made this week’s 5 fun:

5. Iowa women’s basketball accomplished a lot during the career of all-time great Megan Gustafson. It didn’t, however, score 108 points in a game. That happened Tuesday night in a demolition of visiting Illinois.

The Hawkeyes set a program record for points in a game during the 108-72 beatdown. Senior guard Kathleen Doyle scored a game- and career-high 33, making an incredible 11 of 14 shots from the field and all nine free throw attempts.

Iowa shot 65 percent from the floor. It assisted on 34 of 39 field goals.

The Hawkeyes bounded back from a 78-69 setback Saturday at Nebraska in the Big Ten opener to improve to 10-3 overall. They won for the 28th time in a row at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a home streak that trails only Baylor and UConn nationally.

My wife and youngest daughter, who started playing organized basketball this fall, attended the Iowa-Drake game with me. They had a blast in watching the exciting brand of hoops.

Iowa returns home next Thursday when it plays host to No. 12 Maryland. It could use a great crowd and you’ll be entertained.

4. Speaking of records, the wrestling team established a new mark at the Midlands Tournament Sunday and Monday. It scored 196.5 points in winning its seventh title in a row and 29th in the 57-year history of the event.

Alex Marinelli (165) won his third Midlands championship, becoming just the 14th Hawkeye to do so. Max Murin (141), Pat Lugo (149), Kaleb Young (157), and Tony Cassioppi (285) claimed their first Midlands’ titles.

No. 1 Iowa’s performance was made even more impressive when considering it was accomplished without wrestling at 174 pounds, where the coaches held out third-ranked Michael Kemerer. They also withdrew two-time defending national champion Spencer Lee after he reached the quarterfinals at 125 pounds, where he won by tech fall.

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Lee wrestled at the U.S. Nationals the week before. There was no need to push him through the Midlands with five conference duals ahead this month.

Cassioppi continued impressing and proving he’ll be a factor at heavyweight. The redshirt freshman backed up his victory against then No. 2 Trent Hillger of Wisconsin last month with a dominating run at Midlands that saw him begin with a pair of falls, top No. 18 Carter Isley of UNI, 11-5, in the semis and No. 8 Matt Stencel of Central Michigan, 5-1, in the finals.

3. The men’s basketball team will have played two games in the 22 days leading up to Saturday’s meeting of ranked teams at Philadelphia’s famed Palestra. It provided the No. 23 Hawkeyes with adjustment time leading into a return to Big Ten action against No. 21 Penn State.

They look different than the start of the season having lost Jordan Bohannon, Jack Nunge and Patrick McCaffery to injury and illness. Coach Fran McCaffery is learning how to practice with a smaller roster and figuring out lineups.

Iowa won both games during the finals and holiday lull, knocking off Cincinnati in Chicago before destroying Kennesaw State, 93-51, on Sunday. It posted a 9-2 non-conference record and split its first two Big Ten contests.

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In what could have been considered a rebuilding campaign after losing Tyler Cook, Nicholas Baer, Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey from the 2018-19 rotation, the Hawkeyes begin the New Year No. 23 in the NCAA’s NET rankings. Simply finishing 9-9 the rest of the regular season puts them comfortably in the Big Dance but would be selling this group short.

January will be telling for this group. After facing the Nittany Lions, it plays host to No. 12 Michigan and welcomes a home-and-home challenge against 15th-ranked Maryland. There’s also a meeting with nemesis Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

2. If A.J. Epenesa has played his last game as a Hawkeye, and that appears likely, he finished with a flourish. The true junior defensive end captured Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP honors with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. That followed a 14-tackle performance in the regular-season finale at Nebraska that came with a pair of sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Epenesa has been criticized for not producing more counting stats earlier in the year. That noise failed to address his impact on one of the nation’s top defense. The attention paid to him freed up teammates.

Ohio State’s Chase Young received a lot of praise this season and deservedly so. He dominated. And that overshadowed Epenesa.

I’ll be interested to see how these guys perform at the combine. I think they will test a lot closer than many might believe. And I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Epenesa enjoys a similar pro career.

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I’ll admit to there being homerism in that belief. That said, I’m confident in that prediction.

1. It’s never too early for looking ahead in sports. Heck, some folks would rather do that than live in the moment.

When thinking about the ’20 Hawkeyes, I feel really good about some positions and have questions regarding others. Welcome to college football, where that’s the case every year.

The receiving corps, led by Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith, Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini, has a chance to be the best in the coach Kirk Ferentz Era. That’s grading it as a group overall.

The tight end position was trending up toward the end of this season and should become a force again next fall. Running back is in good hands with Tyler Goodson, Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and company. If one or more of the veterans decide to move on there, it’s still strong.

The biggest question comes at quarterback, where Iowa will be replacing three-year starter Nate Stanley. If you’re in the addition-by-subtraction camp, seek help.

Redshirt sophomore Spencer Petras leads in the clubhouse. Peyton Mansell, Alex Padilla and incoming freshman Deuce Hogan could push him.

Beyond that, and in conjunction with it, the offensive line must improve. The new signal caller would benefit greatly from a rushing attack that has been below average the last few years. Getting it going would also allow maximum utilization of the aforementioned receivers.

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