If you throw Omaha, Neb., into the mix, the eyes of the college basketball world zeroed in on Iowa last weekend as five of the nation’s top teams battled for conference championships and March momentum.
Tipping off Friday, Iowa natives Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs closed out lowly DePaul 78-66 and continued to keep 17th-ranked Creighton tied atop the new Big East standings.
McDermott scored 32 points. He is all but assured to win the Wooden Award as the nation’s top player. The veteran Blue Jays have an explosive shooting team, but gave up 16 offensive boards, and don’t currently rebound or stop penetration well enough to play into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
In what was their most impressive win of the season, the 15th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes dominated 18th-ranked Michigan, 85-67.
Michigan native Devyn Marble was brilliant. He knocked down six 3-pointers on his way to 26 points. At the defensive end, Marble and Josh Oglesby shut down Nick Stauskas, who torched Iowa in their first matchup. “I wasn’t going to let him get 26 points today,” Marble said with a serious look.
Mike Gesell continues to improve and was throwing perfect passes to open shooters, while harassing Michigan’s point guards. Gesell finished with eight assists and only one turnover. Most impressively, the Hawkeyes crushed an athletic Michigan team on the boards. Melsahn Basabe ripped down five of Iowa’s 15 offensive boards. Gabe Olaseni continues to be a factor at both ends of the court, scoring nine points and swatting three shots.
“If you look at how well we played at both ends, it was our best performance of the year,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
Iowa still has to prove it can consistently score in the half court. If the Hawkeyes can, a deep run in March is possible.
Meanwhile, Melvin Ejim’s Big 12-record 48 points and 18 rebounds were impressive in 14th-ranked Iowa State’s 84-69 win vs. TCU on Saturday.
“What can you say?” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg asked. “He got behind the zone on several occasions. He is a great finisher.”
What is really scary for opponents is that Iowa State has multiple scorers capable of torching the nets. Senior DeAndre Kane already has a 30-point game against Baylor and consistently flirts with triple doubles in points, rebounds and assists. Sophomore center Georges Niang downed 27 points vs. Oklahoma and can score from anywhere on the court.
The Cyclones are loaded with long-range bombers, and they know how to find them. They assisted on 27 of their 32 field goals against TCU and Hoiberg said it was his favorite statistic of the game. The Cyclones sometimes shoot too quickly with leads and allow opponents opportunities to hang around.
In part because of tired legs and a quick turnaround, ISU was blown out at West Virginia 102-77 on Monday night. But if the Cyclones can continue to rebound efficiently against bigger teams, a Big 12 tourney title and a shot at the Final Four is within reach.
I sat courtside last Saturday for Northern Iowa’s big opportunity to upset Wichita State. The Shockers won 82-73 but I came away impressed with both teams. The second-ranked Shockers play with toughness.
“We have some guys on this team that can really compete,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall proudly told me about his undefeated squad that won its 25th in a row.
Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are both sophomore guards who make plays. Star forward Cleanthony Early scored 16 points in the first half in Cedar Falls, and Tekele Cotton hit four threes against the Panthers. The Shockers play excellent transition defense and guard extremely well.
UNI coach Ben Jacobson continues to get a maximum effort from his guys and kept this game close in the second half. But with injured forward Nate Buss unable to stretch the floor for UNI, Wichita State’s Kadeem Coleby and Darius Carter clogged the lane all night. UNI’s Matt Bohannon hit five big threes, and, at times, Seth Tuttle was the best player on the court.
It would have taken a perfect shooting night to pull the upset, but UNI has a chance to win the MVC tournament if the Panthers are healthy.
Are the Shockers, who have Lone Tree native Steve Forbes as an assistant, the true No. 2 in the country and would they be undefeated playing in the Big Ten or Big 12? Probably not. But they are proven winners, and if they shoot the three with consistency, they will have a chance to go back to the Final Four.