Ross Binder contacted me yesterday for another Q&A about Our Most Hated Rival in the Iowa Hawkeyes and I was happy to assist. Here are Ross' answers to my questions as a preview of tonight's game, while my answers to his will be up shortly at BHGP:
T-Mill: Nebraska? Does Iowa need to sit in the corner and think about what it’s done?
Ross: HNNNNNNGGGGGGG. I wasn't able to watch that game, thanks to the ridiculous TV issues and the fact that I already had plans for Saturday afternoon and... that was probably for the best. I followed the second half on my phone with an ever-increasing sense of doom and despair. And then seeing the highlights... awful. Just horrible. That second half was as epic a failure as you're likely to see all year in the Big Ten.
T-Mill: Is this a must-win for Iowa if they are going to make the NCAA Tournament?
Ross: At this point, basically every game is a must-win game if Iowa wants to make the NCAA Tournament. They probably need to sweep their remaining regular season games and win at least two games in the Big Ten Tournament to get an at-large bid. Their non-conference schedule is just so bad and they don't have nearly enough good wins to off-set that (or the handful of bad losses they have, like Virginia Tech and Nebraska). But this was a "must win" game before the Nebraska loss, so nothing has really changed on that front. Iowa just needs to win, baby.
T-Mill: What is Iowa’s biggest problem in closing games this year? Are they the Northwestern of Big Ten basketball this year because of their infamous closing troubles?
Ross: I hurts to get compared to Northwestern in anything, but it figures Our Most Hated Rival would slip in a low-blow like that. I'd say the biggest issue for Iowa in these close game losses has been the lack of a guy who can reliably create his own shot. Our late-game offense has often defaulted to "Roy Devyn Marble Heroball" and that's, uh, not ideal. He's a very good player, but he's not great at that sort of thing. But there have been a host of other issues as well: too many costly turnovers and bad decisions and too many nerves. Unfortunately, I don't think these issues are exactly unexpected with a team so heavily reliant on freshmen and sophomores. You're bound to have some issues there when your two main point guards are both true freshmen. Iowa also struggles too much with late game free throws, which is clearly a nerves issue.
Oh, and Iowa is absolutely atrocious at defending late-game three-pointers. So if it's a close game, just run a play for a three -- you'll probably get a good look. And, hell, even if you don't get a good look, hoist it up anyway, because knowing Iowa's luck with those shots this year, it'll probably go in.
T-Mill: Is there any kind of backlash toward coach Fran with Iowa’s troubles in close games?
Ross: Only from the mouth-breathing contingent of the fanbase. The close game losses are frustrating, sure, but this also seems like a fairly natural growth progression: you need to play close games before you learn how to win them consistently. And, again, with a team so reliant on freshmen and sophomores, I think everyone knew that there would be some growing pains. It doesn't make the losses any less painful, but it does make them a bit more understandable. Now if Iowa's close game woes continue next year, well, then we might have some problems...
T-Mill: Overall has the Iowa season been a step forward or a step back?
Ross: It's a step forward unless they somehow miss out on postseason basketball altogether. They finished 18-17 last year; they should finish better than that this year. The close losses have sucked (a lot), but this was a very young team, so it was obvious they were going to take some lumps. The biggest disappointment is just that they haven't been able to grow up faster. But they've definitely made strides forward this year. The defense is worlds better than it was last year and it really seems like they've been able to establish a solid foundation for the next few years. They only lose one player from this team (6th man Eric May) and hopefully another year brings crisper offense (and some better long-range shooting).
T-Mill: Your prediction?
Ross: Iowa has been better at home than on the road this season and they've shown an ability to bounce back from some tough losses, too. Also, they can't possibly shoot worse than they did in the first Purdue game, right? I reuse to even entertain that as a possibility. I think Iowa uses this game to bounce back and wins, 72-64.