I didn't want to go back and re-watch Thursday night's game between Iowa and #4 Iowa State, but I did anyway. After experiencing the game live, I honestly didn't think it was going to be very enjoyable to sit through what I remember being 39 minutes of bad basketball. Sure the ending was great, but the rest of the game sucked, right?
Well, as it turns out, I was wrong.
Perhaps knowing the final outcome made it easier to stomach what was mostly a brilliant performance by Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes. Regardless, I was stunned by how much I misremembered from the game and given the magnitude of the event, I wanted to share my thoughts with you, our faithful readership.
The Jarrod Uthoff Problem (First Half)
I mean, where else would we start, right? What Uthoff did in the first half was nothing short of remarkable. Not only did Uthoff put up a scorching-hot 30 points, but he made it look easy. Uthoff has always been described as more of finesse player, but I'll be damned if I've ever seen a smoother performance.
Fran Fraschilla said on the ESPN2 broadcast that there were 14 NBA scouts in attendance and with Uthoff's performance, he may have very well earned himself a nice paycheck after this season. At 6'9" and with a high release, Uthoff could serve as a nice swing man on the perimeter for a lot of NBA teams.
Iowa State had no answer for Uthoff in the first half. Steve Prohm started the game with Georges Niang on Uthoff, but quickly switched to Adbel Nader after a few made buckets. Nader proved to be just as ineffective and Prohm later switched Naz Mitrou-Long onto Uthoff and the results were really no different. Hallice Cooke spent a possession on Uthoff, as did Matt Thomas and Prohm even went to a 2-3 zone. None of it worked.
Sometimes you just have to throw your hands up in the air and tip your cap to a guy playing as well as Uthoff did.
The Jarrod Uthoff Problem (Second Half)
Well, we all know that at half time, Steve Prohm elected to put Thomas on Uthoff and of course, Thomas famously shut Uthoff down, right?
Trust me, I watched that game just like all of you did and shortly after the game ended, I'm sure I had the same conversation with my buddies that all of you had as well. Uthoff scored 2 points in the second half on 1-7 shooting and it was because of Thomas' next-level defensive effort.
Except that's not really true. I re-watched each Iowa State defensive possession in the second half and I'm sure it will surprise you, just as it surprised me that Niang actually defended Uthoff on 5 of his 7 2nd half shot attempts. It also may surprise you to learn that Thomas only spent about 6 possessions on Uthoff in the second half, while Niang spent the majority of the second stanza checking Uthoff.
Well, surely down the stretch, it was Thomas that was guarding Uthoff, right?
From the 9:45 mark on, Niang spent every possession except one on Uthoff and the one that he didn't guard Uthoff was more of an accident as Niang was the first player back in transition to prevent a fast break while Uthoff was the last Iowa player down the floor and Thomas switched onto him.
Now, Thomas does deserve a ton of credit for the limited work he did while guarding Uthoff. On every possession Thomas drew the assignment, Uthoff failed to score and Thomas did an excellent job of ball denial, but Niang deserves just as much credit, if not more for the job he did in the second half.
So what exactly did Iowa State do differently in the second half? Ultimately, it was a team performance and there was a lot of help thrown Uthoff's way (which helped Peter Jok get as many open looks as he did). Surprisingly though, Iowa didn't really run much offense for Uthoff. Now, our Hawkeye friends know that Uthoff has occasionally disappeared for prolonged stretches and going back and watching the game, it kind of looks like that may have happened in the second half of Thursday night's game.
The prevailing point here, however, is that we probably shouldn't crown Matt Thomas as Chris Babb 2.0. It was a very good effort from Thomas on the defensive end, but he's getting far too much credit for what actually happened.
Other Defensive Thoughts
It was not a good night for Abdel Nader. I thought he was going to be the X-factor for the Cyclones and that couldn't have been a worse prediction on my part. Nader was outclassed by Uthoff in the first half and wasn't able to keep pace with Jok in the second half. Nader is a critical piece to this Cyclone team and it's almost shocking that they were able to win in spite of him.
On that note, I would have liked to see Prohm switch Nader onto Anthony Clemmons, putting Mitrou-Long on Jok. Clemmons just isn't the offensive threat that Uthoff and Jok are and Nader could have still been a difference maker on the glass and in the transition game and making that defensive switch might have been enough to keep him on the floor.
On a more positive note, Hallice Cooke continues to be a nice surprise on the perimeter. Cooke didn't see a lot of minutes last night, but he's a capable on-ball defender and offers a nice change of pace when Mitrou-Long goes to the bench. The perimeter combo of Cooke and Morris allows Prohm to overplay ball handlers on the outside when the two of them are on the floor together.
First Half Offense
It was bad. Like, really bad. Iowa State turned the ball over 12 times, went 0-2 from the free throw line and I counted 8 missed shots at the rim (2 of them were blocked). That's 20 empty possessions. Iowa State might have been able to keep pace with Uthoff's torrid shooting had they not been so awful offensively.
But it wasn't just the turnovers and missed shots at the rim. The ball movement was almost non existent, they were too reliant on isolation plays and too often four other guys were standing around while one guy tried to create. I'm not sure what the game plan was at all.
Fraschilla mentioned multiple times just how bad Iowa State looked on the offensive end of the floor. It was completely uncharacteristic of this senior-laden group and had it not been for Matt Thomas, the Cyclones might have been in too deep of a hole to dig out of.
Another unfathomable comeback effort by this Iowa State crew. There's not another program in the country that has played with fire like this Cyclone team has in the last year plus and so rarely been burned. Thursday night's game conjured up memories of last March's comeback effort against Oklahoma, but this time, it was different.
Down by as much as 20 points early into the second half, Iowa State went on a 24-6 run over the course of nearly 9 minutes of game time to cut the Iowa lead to 1 point with 5:56 remaining. Niang was a catalyst during the run, scoring 10 points and dishing out 3 assists, which led to 7 points.
With Hilton Coliseum going beserk and Iowa State down 71-70, this is when the Cyclones were supposed to grab the lead, grab control of the game and put the resilient Hawkeyes away for good. Except that didn't happen.
Iowa kept their composure, trading baskets with Iowa State over the next few possessions before ultimately going on a 7-0 run to build an 8-point lead with 2:39 remaining. The Hawkeyes had taken Iowa State's best shot, picked themselves up off the mat and starting throw jabs right back.
The Second Comeback
I'm not sure which comeback was more improbable, battling back from being down 20 points in the second half or coming back from being down by 8 points with 1:43 remaining.
Did Iowa choke? Absolutely. Iowa 100% pissed Thursday night's game down their collective legs. We can call it Hilton Magic all we want (and maybe it was), but the fact that Iowa State won had just as much to do with Iowa blowing the last two minutes as it did with the Cyclones taking the victory.
Exhibit A) Iowa last attempted a free throw at the 5:10 mark. From that point on, Iowa settled for mid-range jumpers, didn't attack inside and their offense went stagnant. The Hawkeyes didn't even allow potential home-court officiating bias to come into play based on their offensive sets in crunch time.
Exhibit B) At the 1:09 mark, Monte Morris was fouled and went to the line for a 1-and-1 opportunity. Morris missed the first shot and Iowa rebounded the ball, effectively ending the ball game. Iowa State only had four team fouls and down 6, needed a way to get the ball back. Here's the what followed:
- With 1:06 remaining and Iowa inbounding the ball, Iowa State goes to a full-court press. Iowa's guards can't get open, but they get the ball into Adam Woodbury, who is immediately fouled for Iowa State's 5th team foul.
- Iowa again has to inbound the ball and with Anthony Clemmons taking the ball out, he can't find an open guard and with the 5-second violation coming, he panics and tries to force the ball into Woodbury, but the ball is stolen by McKay, who smartly passes up the contested close-range shot, passes out to the perimeter to Morris, who spots Matt Thomas in the corner. Thomas uses an exceptional head fake to get Clemmons into the air and drains a corner 3 to cut the lead to 3 points with 59 seconds remaining.
- Now down just three points, Iowa State continues to pressure and with Uthoff taking the ball out, Iowa's guards are once again unable to get open and a 5-second violation is called on Uthoff with Iowa State taking over the ball.
- Needing just a 3 to tie, Iowa State got the ball to their all-American, Georges Niang, and let him go to work. With Gesell pressuring him up top, Niang showed again why he's one of the more intelligent players in the nation. He smartly drove the lane and was fouled with 53 seconds left. Naturally, Niang stepped to the line and drained both free throws like the clutch mother-effer he is.
In a matter of 16 seconds, Iowa State went from the position of needing to commit 4 fouls just to get Iowa to the line, to now being down 1 point and needing only 1 stop to set up the potential winning possession. Of course, Iowa State got the stop after Mike Gesell fired up a wild shot that missed the rim and a shot clock violation was called.
And then Monte Morris went and did his thing.
The Court Storming Issue
It is what it is. Did the students need to rush the court? No. Do I have much of a problem with the fact that they did? Not really. Sure, Iowa State was supposed to win and is ranked in the top 5 while Iowa is unranked, but sometimes, the emotion just gets the best of you.
I tried to rush the field after Iowa State's Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota and was promptly rounded up by 3 or 4 security guards who proceeded to carry me off the field. Out of nowhere, a man appeared and said I was with him and placed a press pass lanyard around my neck. The security guards set me down, allowed me to go onto the field and I celebrated the victory with the players. To this day, I have no idea who that man was, why he did what he did and perhaps more importantly, why the security guards allowed this to happen.
Anyway, the point is, there are dumbasses like me that are always going to try to get on the field or the court and when there's enough of those types, there's not really much you can do. I don't regret rushing the field after that bowl game win and I'm sure that there's not a Cyclone or Hawkeye fan out there who ever regretted rushing the field or storming the court.
It's what makes college sports great and there doesn't always have to be a great reason to do it, but when it's right, it's right.
Now, that being said, it's terribly unfortunate that Des Moines Register columnist, Randy Peterson, got caught in the melee and suffered a broken leg. Would Peterson have been in that position had the students not rushed the floor? Probably not, but after listening to Peterson on the Dan Patrick Show and watching the video, it kind of just looks like he got knocked over by the person next to him and fell. He wasn't trampled, his life was never in danger and he has downplayed the situation and been a good sport about the whole thing. We all give Uncle Randy a hard time on this site, but he's a good soul and the sooner he's back working the Iowa State beat, the better.
This is the only thing that really matters.