11 straight first round victories. That's just amazing when you think about it, especially with all the program has been through. The last time we lost a first round NCAA tournament game was in 1993 to Rhode Island. Since then we have at least lasted past the first day in every tournament we have appeared in. It is not like we have had #1 or #2 seeds and easy game every time either. Here are some of the more notable wins in that stretch:
As the Big Ten Champions in both 1995 and 1996 we had absolute escapes against #14 seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay (49-48) and #16 seed Western Carolina (73-71).
In 1999 we barely got into the tournament as a #10 seed, and some thought we shouldn't have made it at all. We beat Texas 58-54 and #2 seed Miami 73-63 to go to the sweet 16
In 1997, 2003, and 2007 we won in the 8/9 game over Rhode Island, LSU, and Arizona.
Winning is fun!
While our second round hasn't been as impressive in that time, 11 straight first round victories is still a very impressive feat. We haven't had a bad enough game to get knocked early in over 15 years. Even programs like North Carolina, Connecticut, and Duke can't say that. Of course, Northern Iowa certainly made us work for it today.
Positives from the Northern Iowa game:
JaJuan Johnson - JJ was totally dominant early on. We had a clear advantage with our athleticism and instead of pounding the ball down low JJ showed his versatility by exhibiting his mid-range jumper. It was the type of performance early that had me praying he doesn't seriously consider the NBA this year. Playing Washington and Jon Brockman will be a major test for him physically. Brockman doesn't have his height, but he can body up JaJuan well. Of course Eglseder did just that today for a moment. I still think that we need to look for JaJuan more in moments where we need a basket to break momentum. He's the best player we have for that.
E'Twaun Moore - I would love to see E'Twaun become a more aggressive rebounder. To me, it is the one aspect of his game that he could be incredible at if he would just assert himself more. Think of how much our offense would be freed up by a rebounding guard. He only had two boards today, but I can see him getting at least five or six. On another positive note, E'Twaun got it done from the free throw line today. As the broadcasters mentioned in the final seconds, E'Twaun wanted to be on the line for those final free throws and got himself in a position to be there.
Chris Kramer - I was doing the liveblog with the Boiled Sports guys today and they were begging for Chris to shoot the ball. I do have to agree with them here. He's not an awful shooter, and if he just pulls the trigger a couple of times when he is wide open he would open things up for everyone else. I very much appreciate his defense and he is a positive here because he hit some big free throws down the stretch, but we need a little more offense from him.
Robbie Hummel - Robbie has been our most consistent rebounder in our past few games, and that will be very important against a good rebounding team on Saturday. I am confident that the offense will eventually come. He's going to get hot in a game, and if it happens against Washington that will be even better. He will be critical in that game not for his scoring, but for his rebounding. I think this was a nice game for him to set things up for the Huskies.
Poise - I will be the first to admit that it looked like things were getting out of hand in the second half. Still, we showed great poise by never letting Northern Iowa have a serious chance to tie or take the lead. You could tell we were a year older. Last year we faced a more experienced physical team in Xavier and got beat. This year Northern Iowa tried to dominate us physically and we pushed right back. Our shooting was awful, but we still did just enough to win. That's the most important thing right now. We're still playing and they are not. That's all I care about.
New records - We've been to two Final Fours, but we now have a new record for wins in a single season. The 26 wins this year has topped the old record of 25 last year. Most of that is due to the fact teams play a lot more games these days, but it is still a nice feat. Our current juniors can now seriously threaten to have 100 career wins by the time they graduate next season.
Negatives from the Northern Iowa game:
Second half offense - We didn't turn the ball over or do anything that led to momentum points for the Panthers, but we didn't exactly put them away either. Today's trend seems to be the better teams turning it on and avoiding the upsets. Villanova, Gonzaga, and Memphis have all done that today. We did just the opposite. We played our best at the beginning then had to hold on and avoid a furious charge. Part of this comes from not having any offensive flow for most of the second half. Kramer would shoot, so Northern Iowa knew they only had to guard four guys. No one else was hitting, but fortunately we were doing enough on the defensive end to survive. This has to change on Saturday.
3-point shooting - We weren't hitting the three, but fortunately we did go away from it for most of the game. Chally hit one early, but that was about the only time we were shooting well. I am honestly surprised we shot better than 40% from the game. It certainly felt like we shot better Sunday against Ohio State, but the numbers don't lie. Of course, you have to separate the halves. In the first half we were 48%. In the second half we were 31% and had one field goal in the last nine minutes. Someone needs to tell the guys the last eight minutes of the game do count.
The important thing is that we are moving on. Everyone wants this next game because it means we went one more step nationally than we did last season. I have had enough of scarring higher seeds in the second round of the NCAA's. I want to get one of those games. What better time than now? We've got to have more consistent offense against Washington and we will have to continue working hard on both ends of the floor.
We survived another slugfest today, but that is nothing new. We have been in slugfests all season long. That's the nature of Big Ten play, so what is one more. We're going to have to play better against Washington, but I know we will rise to the occasion.