CHICAGO — There is no such thing as a bad win in March. The only objective is to survive and advance.
It doesn’t really matter how you do it as long as it gets done.
So instead of wondering why the Iowa men’s basketball team couldn’t bury Northwestern on Friday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament after leading by 18 points, just be thankful that your team prevailed 73-59 in a game that never felt in doubt.
At least that’s how I felt while watching courtside. It never felt like Iowa’s lead was in jeopardy, even after the pesky Wildcats whittled it down to single digits in the second half.
“We had to fight and fight to the very end,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I thought we executed pretty well against the 2-3 (zone defense). We missed some shots, but the execution-wise was very good.
“I’m just really proud of my guys.”
Iowa’s ability to survive and advance will be tested big time Friday against Michigan State in the quarterfinals. It’s probably fair to say that Iowa will have to lift its performance to another level to keep advancing.
It’s hard to see the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes (21-11) prevailing against Michigan State if they don’t shoot better than the 37.1 percent they shot against Northwestern on Thursday.
Junior guard Devyn Marble made some huge baskets in the second half when Northwestern was trying desperately to hang on. Marble led three Iowa players in double figures with 19 points, including 13 in the second half.
In other words, Marble did what he is expected to do as Iowa’s leading scorer. He rose to the occasion when his team needed him.
Freshman point guard Mike Gesell also scored in double figures with 13 points. He played 23 minutes and showed no signs of being hindered by the foot injury that caused him to miss the previous four games.
“It felt great,” Gesell said. “It’s tough having to sit out and watch the guys. But at the same time, I was just trying to do what’s best for the team. When I was out, I was just cheering the guys on.
“And it felt great to be able come in and play some minutes and make some contributions to the team.”
Now the question is: How will Gesell’s right foot feel when he wakes up today?
Speaking of doing what’s best for the team, senior Eric May continues to do that on a regular basis. He scored seven points, including two on a rim-rattling dunk in the second half.
But it was all the little things that May did that really defined his game, things such as dishing out five assists and tipping the ball to a teammate to keep a possession alive or providing words of encouragement.
It’s widely believed that Iowa has to advance to at least the semifinals to secure the program’s first NCAA bid since 2006.
A loss to a depleted Northwestern squad would’ve almost certainly sent Iowa back to the National Invitation Tournament for the second consecutive season, and it would’ve had some fans wondering when or if the program would finally get over the hump under McCaffery.
A loss to Michigan State also likely would send Iowa back to the NIT, but not with the same sour taste that losing to Northwestern would have left.
There comes a point for a program that’s on the verge of getting over the hump when losing to a team such as Northwestern simply can’t happen anymore.
Iowa has reached that point under McCaffery, although it was hard to tell at times Thursday, especially in the second half when Iowa allowed Northwestern to hang around.
It was hard not to feel sorry for Northwestern coach Bill Carmody after the game as reporters grilled him about his future. The talk is that Carmody won’t be allowed to return for a 14th season at Northwestern.
My opinion shifts back and forth from believing that 13 seasons is long enough and that things are getting stale under Carmody’s watch to believing that he deserves one more chance to right the ship.
It seems a little harsh to fire the only coach who has guided Northwestern to four consecutive postseason appearances, a streak that Carmody carried into this season.
One of the biggest knocks against Carmody is that he has failed to lead Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament. However, that’s been a knock against every Northwestern coach because remarkably the Wildcats have never participated in the NCAA Tournament.
The talk is that Carmody won’t be allowed to return for a 14th season at Northwestern. My opinion shifts back and forth from believing that 13 seasons is long enough and that things are getting stale under Carmody’s watch to believing that he deserves one more chance to right the ship.
It’s to the point now where Northwestern fans and administrators are so tired of hearing about the dubious streak that Carmody might be in the wrong place at the right time.
Watching Northwestern struggle to make shots Thursday reminded me of when Todd Lickliter was coaching at Iowa. His teams often struggled with the same thing.
There were times when I used to feel sorry for the Iowa players during the lowest points under Lickliter.
Those times now are long gone. Thursday’s victory was hardly a masterpiece, but who cares. It was a victory and another step closer to going where Iowa hasn’t gone since 2006.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball