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Just win, baby

Last night was the definition of winning ugly. Fortunately for us it still counts in the standings just as much as the thing of beauty delivered a week prior in State College. Iowa is one of those teams that plays so hard defensively they make you win ugly. Personally, I am glad we are done with them at least until the Big Ten Tournament. Until proven otherwise I am going to going to vote them as the best of the bottom five teams in the lead because they are fearless. They know they aren't the most talented team, but because of that they are going to come after you for 40 minutes. Doing so, especially on defense, gives them a chance to win each and every night.

Positives from the Iowa game:

Surviving the letdown game – Clearly we struggled to put the Hawkeyes away in this one. Whether that came as a letdown from Saturday's big win or Iowa just scrapped their way to a near win I don't know. I do know it is a critical lesson that we had a subpar effort against a supposedly inferior opponent and we still walked away with the W. As has become normal for us, we didn't have one guy head and shoulders above everyone else, but all chipped in for the win. We shot better than we did against Wisconsin, but it's not like we set the nets on fire either. Iowa turned this one into a slugfest, but we were still able to walk out of it.

Coaching – Matt Painter outcoached Todd Lickliter in the final five seconds. It was also likely a battle for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. I cannot figure out why Iowa didn't pressure the final in-bounds pass, allowing Grant to get the ball at mid-court with a running start. First of all, we were able to move the ball half the distance we needed to without any time going off the clock. Second, Grant was traveling full-speed to where he needed to go and had his man beat. If anything we almost scored too early! Some people will howl that Grant wasn't fouled on the play and that the Iowa defender got all ball, but the picture above, found by JohnPurdue on the Purdue boards, shows otherwise. Third, Painter's decision to have Grant miss the second free throw was genius. At that point you're asking Iowa to throw in a shot from 85 feet away. If they do that, then great. I don't mind getting beat by a shot like that because it would be one of the greatest shots in college basketball history. Making the free throw allows them to have the same chance we had in advancing the ball to half court without taking time off the clock. A good pass (Christian Laettner, anyone?) gets them an even better shot.

Even calls – Essentially, there were two crap calls in the final seconds, but they evened each other out. I agree that there was goaltending against Kelly by Hummel, but there was no foul on the play. Conversely, if they are going to call the foul on Freeman then they probably should have called a foul on Hummel at the end of the Wisconsin game. At least they were consistent in calling fouls both ways at the end of the game, though Freeman's foul was more of a foul than Martin's.

Turnovers – I cover some high school games, with bad teams playing, and they don't have 22 turnovers a game. Chris Kramer is becoming a grade-A level thief, though I hope he can get his legs back under him because on his dunk he looked like he just barely made it. Since I work with many Iowa fans right now, they were going on this morning about how you can't give a team 10 extra possessions in a close game like that. Winning the turnover battle will be critical this Saturday in Champaign.

Negatives from the Iowa game:

Inside play – Rebounding is normally decided by effort and seeing who wants it more. Since Iowa brought more intensity last night it is only natural that they won the rebounding battle. We only got three total rebounds from Calasan and Johnson, and all of those came from Calasan. For as much promise as Johnson showed in the Wisconsin game he certainly regressed against a smaller Iowa team that I thought he would be able to have a breakout game against at home. Rebounding numbers may have been down simply because of so many turnovers by Iowa, but only 20 for the game a team? Scoring was even more down, as we got almost nothing in the paint. We're going to have to improve our shooting percentage and rebounding if we're going to stay as hot as we have been.

Scoring – Thank goodness for Scott Martin, because the starters couldn't get anything going last night. A ton of credit needs to be given to the Iowa defense last night, but we could not get anything going for consistent stretches. Once again we had a big drought in the first half where we easily could have pulled away early. We have got to be able to put teams like this away at home. We also must start shooting better and take more high percentage shots.

Dictating tempo at home – I am not sure why we continue to struggle with this, but we let Iowa control the pace of play last night. I like our versatility in that we can force the issue if we want to. Even our bigs run the floor well. Last night it seemed like we relied on the 3-pointer way too much because we weren't even trying to go inside. That played right into Iowa's hands! A win is a win though, and I will take it without too much complaint.

Up next:

I'll be honest and say that I am a little fearful of the Illinois game this Saturday. They played very well at Michigan State last night and had the Spartans on the ropes before having a dismal second half. I've been saying all along they have enough raw talent to be dangerous to someone, and the right mix of veterans could cause problems in Champaign. Still, they have set the tone of struggling in the second half of games and have had just about the worst closing kick in the conference. We, in turn, have had the best closing kick in the conference. We seem to get better as the game goes on. If anything, these last two games have shown we now know how to close out close ones.

I view this game as being the clincher. It is our most difficult road game remaining against the bottom five of the league, with Michigan second and Northwestern third. A win on Saturday should mean at least a 4-1 record on the road against the bottom five, and probably 5-0. It also sets the stage for a clean 10-0 sweep against said bottom five, as we're not losing at home to Penn State or Northwestern. Since we already own a couple of other wins outside of those 10 games it would make us, at worst, a 21 win club with 12 conference victories. By my math there is no way we'd be kept out of the tournament then.

We must, therefore, head to Champaign with the attitude that it will lock up an NCAA berth. Of course, we must take that attitude with every game remaining as well. Pending tonight's Wisconsin-Indiana outcome we could go there in first place in the Big Ten, something that hasn't happened this late in the season in a very long time. We then have a relatively easy home game against Penn State, where we can advance to 9-1 before a critical four game stretch that will decide our Big Ten title fate. It's a big if, but if we can come out of the Indiana game on February 19th with a 12-2 or even 11-3 conference record we will be have chance to win the title. We would also be playing for a seed instead of a bid at that point. That stretch begins Saturday in Champaign.