Howe: Hawkeyes Locate Edge in Upsetting Cincinnati
Few folks outside the Iowa locker room believed it could advance in Friday’s NCAA Tournament. It turned out the Hawkeyes only needed the faith within those four walls.
As the 10th-seed, they upset No. 7 Cincinnati, 79-72, in Columbus. The Bearcats enjoyed a support advantage playing just 100 miles from their campus, but it wasn’t enough to hold off Iowa.
Not all wins are created equal. This one puts the season in a far better light than had it gone the other way.
The Hawkeyes had lost five of their previous six games, three of them being blowouts. They needed something to feed a fan base reeling from another late-season tailspin.
Now the faithful will be relishing the victory for two days. It can puff out its collective chest and soak up positive things being said about the program at the most important time of the year. And it won’t hurt things on the recruiting trail, either.
At this time last year, folks still were licking their wounds from a 14-19 campaign. Iowa entered this season without any momentum and few expectations. They questioned if coach Fran McCaffery was the man for the job after two consecutive season missing the NCAA Tournament.
The narrative has changed for the better. The Hawkeyes turned things around, reached the round of 32, at minimum, and honored just one player, Nicholas Baer, on senior day, meaning next season should be fun.
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They showed signs of improvement throughout the campaign. They cruised in home victories against Iowa State and Michigan. They won all of their non-conference games for the first time since 1986-87. But they faltered during the last several weeks. The slide included embarrassing losses to Rutgers, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan.
They restored some faith with a domination of struggling Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines then stomped them, bringing fans down again.
Iowa looked locked in on Friday. It wasn’t proving doubters wrong, it was showing itself it could perform well on a big stage. With the college basketball world watching, it survived and advanced.
In this instance, it did so against a program known for being tough, physically and mentally. And the Hawkeyes haven’t always shown those traits and wilted against them.
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They dug in against a team that came into Friday’s action ranking 12th in scoring defense (71.7), 18th in fewest turnovers per game (10.5) and 20th in offensive rebounds per game (12.8). Cincinnati showed a combination of Wisconsin’s style and Michigan State’s edge this season. Those two teams swept Iowa.
Coach Fran McCaffery and his staff put together a good game plan against a team that doesn’t shoot well from the perimeter. They mixed defenses and kept the Bearcats off balance.
The players rallied together, playing for each other with energy and effort. That proved to be a good formula during the good times this season and it wasn’t a mystery why that was the case.
Cincinnati muscled up with nine offensive rebounds in grabbing a 36-31 halftime team. The Hawkeyes dug in and changed that after the intermission, allowing just three offensive boards during the final 20 minutes. In the end, Iowa won the battle on the glass, 33-32.
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Center Luka Garza led the way for the winners, netting 20 points on 8 of 11 shooting from the floor. He thoroughly outplayed Cincinnati’s Nysier Brooks, who fouled out with 11 points. That took away the Bearcats’ inside presence on defense.
Iowa freshman Joe Wieskamp came up big in his first NCAA Tournament game, scoring 19 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field, including 4 of 6 on treys. Junior guard Jordan Bohannon hit a clutch shot before halftime and added key baskets in his team’s decisive run. He finished with 13 points and a team-high four assists.
Lone senior Nicholas Baer added 10 points off the Hawkeye bench. Seven of the nine players who saw action for Iowa handed out an assist.
Iowa must play balanced to win. It’s not a roster that can get by on talent alone. That’s not a knock. It’s the same case for most non-blue blood programs.
The Hawkeyes have performed best this season when contributions come from up and down the lineup. That happened on Friday. This team saw again what works.
It’s now charged with bringing it again Sunday against the winner of the Tennessee-Colgate matchup. The school’s first Sweet 16 in 20 years is on the line. The guys have a chance to make history, but they’ve already proven a lot of people wrong. And that has to feel good.