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I'm not sure what you can really judge about Iowa's men's basketball team following its 95-67 loss at unbeaten Michigan Sunday, other than it isn't the No. 2 team in the country.
Let's see. You take a team with three freshman starters to the No. 2 team's lair, and you don't measure up. That's a dog-bites-man story if ever one existed.
I don't know for sure if Iowa has what it takes to win enough Big Ten games to position itself for an NCAA tournament berth. Two weeks ago, I thought it did. This week? I still think so. I was among the 99.4 percent of people who gave the Hawkeyes precious little chance to get out of Ann Arbor with a victory. If anything, I was surprised Iowa hung with Michigan for 15 minutes.
Those were 18 good minutes. Followed by 22 rotten ones.
The biggest complaint about Iowa's play went from 3-point shooting (Indiana and the nonconference non-entity that came before that) to transition defense. And it's true, the Hawkeyes' just seemed to stop playing defense once Michigan found its offensive rhythm. That wasn't good.
Keep in mind, the Wolverines can make just about anybody look woeful defensively. A package of their statistics, individually and as a team, are almost mind-blowing.
Trey Burke may be the best player in college basketball. He is averaging 18.2 points and 7.5 assists. The last Big Ten player to average 17 and 7 for a season was Magic Johnson, 34 years ago.
Burke has hit 41 percent of his 3-pointers, 54 percent of all his shots. That's ridiculous for a guard who shoots quite a bit.
It's also ridiculous that Tim Hardaway Jr. would be the second-best guard on a Big Ten team, since he's the second-best guard in the league.
The No. 3 guard is freshman Nik Stauskas, who averages 13.5 points. He was 3-of-6 from 3-point range Sunday, and his season-average went down to 53.6 percent!
Oh, then there's freshman forward Glenn Robinson III, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Hawkeyes. Sheesh.
So, Michigan is a team unlike any Iowa will play in the regular-season. Weirdly -- and luckily for the Hawkeyes -- they won't play the Wolverines again unless they meet in the Big Ten tourney. (This paragraph was edited. I earlier mistakenly said Iowa also plays Indiana just once.)
Nonetheless, the Hawkeyes will need to noticeably tighten up its defense and develop more toughness to win against other good teams, starting at home Thursday night against Michigan State.
It's far from one of Tom Izzo's best teams, yet it's 12-3 and has familiar statistics like these: Allows 57.7 points per game, outrebounds opponents by nine per game, and holds foes to 37 percent shooting from the field.
However, even MSU may look mortal after Michigan, and Iowa has 16 Big Ten games left against mortals. This season is about growth, about moving into NCAA contention, about vying to contend in the first-half of the conference standings. Those were reasonable goals before Dec. 31, and remain so after a blow-out loss Sunday.
A lot of big-time players will leave the Big Ten after this season, including Burke and Hardaway. None of them are from Iowa, or so I'm presuming on Jan. 7.
Hawkeye fans are starved for basketball success now for two reasons, the lack of it they've enjoyed for the last several years, and the drop-off in football victories. But they'll enjoy this season more if they accept that this team isn't anywhere near a championship level yet, but seems pointed to at least get in that discussion in the next couple of seasons. It's not like I've heard anyone saying they want it all now, but a bad loss like Sunday's has a nasty habit of making clouds seem darker than they really are.
A few hours after Iowa's game at Michigan ended, the Big Ten Network televised Wisconsin's 47-41 win at Nebraska. I saw a few minutes of that mess. I'll take what Iowa's up to right now, instead, even if the occasional one-sided loss to a national power is part of the deal.