It has not been a good month basketball-wise for Iowa as well. To share the pain, I sent some questions over to Black Heart Gold Pants, your one-stop for Iowa athletics, dinosaur race cars, and horses playing football. RossWB, to my knowledge the world's only Iowa/Oakland Raiders/Chelsea fan, was kind enough to give me answers. If you want to see my answers to Ross's questions, go ahead and click here.
Negativity abounds between the Peninsula State and the Hawkeye State. We talked to RossWB from Black Heart Gold Pants to get his opinion before today's game.
By Pete Rossman
1) Iowa may be 4-4 since their loss to MSU, and that is a bit of a bummer. However, at least it isn't 3-5 with losses to Nebraska and Illinois at home. That said, on a scale of 1 to watching a Bo Ryan offense, how frustrating have the past eight games been?
ROSS: Do I have to turn in my B1G blogger card if I admit that Wisconsin's offense actually isn't that horrible to watch this year? Now Northwestern's crapfense... that's claw your eyes out bad. No mas. No. Mas. But in terms of frustration levels... it's been a bit aggravating because you never quite know which Iowa you're going to get. That 8-game span has included a game where Iowa came from behind in the second half and finished really strong against Illinois, a great win where they blew the doors off Michigan, and a few other wins, too. But it's also included tear-your-hair out losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Indiana. The Wisconsin loss was frustrating because it was a game where Iowa had a lead with a minute to go before things went awry, but the other losses were probably more irritating because in all three games Iowa let offenses that had been looking pretty putrid suddenly look like world-beaters. I'm sure to an extent there's some luck involved and some regression to the mean for those offenses, but there was also just bad defense from Iowa: bad rotations, a failure to get back in transition, and a general sense of confusion. Needless to say, I'm terrified that Iowa's defense will be just what the doctor ordered for Michigan State's currently stagnant offense. Be gentle, please.
2) It looks like the Hawkeye offense has still been effective in the last month (over one point per possession in each game since the MSU game). However, the defense hasn't looked great. Is that due to factors beyond the Hawkeyes' control, such as opponents getting hot? Or is something Iowa's doing or failing to do leading to a giving defense?
ROSS: Heh. See previous answer? Like I said, some of it is just luck (bad for Iowa, good for the opponent) and opponents getting ridiculously hot -- there were stretches in all three of Iowa's recent losses where it looked like the opponents just got in a Pop-A-Shot zone out there. Sometimes there just isn't a ton you can do about that. But Iowa gave up 90+ in back-to-back games and allowed Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin to score at well over 1.0 PPP in those losses -- you can't ascribe that all to luck. And again, you've been able to see the defensive miscues on the court: too many easy buckets in transition, too many open looks from outside in the half-court, and way too much dribble penetration from opposing guards.
Iowa's defense has been trending downward throughout February, too. The three-game losing streak (and back-to-back defensive meltdowns against Minnesota and Indiana) set off the warning klaxons, but the warning signs had been there before. Which is strange because Iowa's defense had been pretty solid earlier in the season and it was very solid a year ago (22nd in defensive efficiency, per KenPom). Iowa returned nearly all of the same years from last year's team and while Eric May (the lone senior on last year's team) was a strong perimeter defender I don't know that his absence should have led to this many issues on defense for Iowa. I hope Iowa gets things figured out on that end ASAP, though; if they don't, tournament time could be short and painful for Iowa fans.
3) I've called 2013-14 "The season where the Big Ten let its freak flag fly". You asked this same question to me, so I'll throw it right back at you -- with how the B1G's beaten up on itself this year, what the heck's going to happen with the Big Ten tournament?
ROSS: Honestly? I have no freaking idea -- and it's pretty great. Earlier this year Adam Jacobi said that the Big Ten was "full of blood and spiders" this season and I think every week has only proven that statement more accurate. This league is crazypants bananas. I mean, Northwestern won 5 out of 7 games... and is now riding a six-game losing streak. Indiana beat Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State at home... and lost to Northwestern, Penn State, and Nebraska at home. Wisconsin went through a 1-5 skid... and has now won eight in a row. Nebrasketball has ten freaking wins and could get a bye in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. And on and on and on... it's a crazy, mixed-up season where anyone can (and has) beat anyone else.
That being said, I still think we'll see at least two of the Big Ten's top five teams (Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio State) playing on Saturday -- any of them could lose to teams from the league's bottom half (or Nebraska, who is probably insulted that I didn't list them among those top five teams), but I just can't see them all losing to those teams. But I'm very skeptical that we'll see a chalk or near-chalk semifinal round on Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament; I think there will be an upset, maybe two. Setting aside Nebraska (if they end up being the #5 seed, a #5 beating a #4 isn't much of an upset), the teams I'd be most wary of are probably Indiana and Minnesota, who could be exceptionally dangerous opponents if they get into a bit of a rhythm on offense. I'm loathe to make any more predictions until the bracket is finalized, though.
4) Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White have both been fantastic this season. Who are a couple other players that will cause Spartan fans to spiral towards liver failure?
ROSS: Josh Oglesby is one guy to watch. He's Iowa's designated sharpshooter off the bench and if he gets hot from outside, it will be an enormous boost to Iowa's offense. He's hit double figures in three of his last four games and when he's hot from outside it tends to free things up for the rest of Iowa's offense. The other guy to watch is Mike Gesell. He's the starting point guard and he needs to be on the court to keep Iowa's offense from bogging down into a clogged toilet of sadness and bad shots. It would be great if his outside shot is also falling (along with Oglesby and Marble, he's Iowa's main weapon from long range), but he really just needs to be on the court to direct Iowa's offense and keep things flowing. If he gets in foul trouble, the results for Iowa's offense may not be pretty.
5) Sometimes you're so close to a team all rational thought ceases to exist. Even though you haven't seen them a lot this season, tell us what you think of the Spartans, and how you think they'll fare the rest of the season.
ROSS: Michigan State is the proverbial puzzle wrapped in a mystery, covered in riddles. On paper, MSU looks like they should be brilliant -- easily the best team in the Big Ten and a team that can legitimately contend for a spot in the Final Four. But that "on paper" team hasn't showed up in reality nearly as often as I expected it to, frankly. Injuries have played a huge role, I know -- not having a talent like Adreian Payne is brutal, Gary Harris and Keith Appling have been banged up and less-effective, and Branden Dawsen has also missed several games. That's a lot of talent to replace, even for a team that recruits and develops talent as well as Michigan State.
As far as the rest of the season... Michigan State's still not a team I'd care to run into in the Big Ten or NCAA Tournaments. They seem to be getting healthier at the right time. Assuming the injury gods don't smite them again, I could see them getting in sync and putting together a nice run in the postseason. Again, the talent is unquestionably there for them to do that -- it's just a matter of them staying healthy and playing coherently, I think. Of course, if the disjointed Spartan squads that lost to Illinois and Nebraska show up, then y'all are going to have some short and painful post-season stints and this will go down as one hell of a "what if...?" season for you.
6) This is the part where law requires me to ask you for a prediction.
ROSS: Sparty. Probably by 6-8 points at least. I'd love to pick Iowa -- I really would. But Iowa hasn't won in East Lansing since Bush was President. The first Bush (EDIT: Well, almost -- it was 1993. (Ross's edit, not mine - Pete)). That's a lot of bad juju to overcome. East Lansing is just a house of horrors for Iowa. But even if we assume that the past is not prologue and that Iowa's miserable history in East Lansing has no bearing on tonight's game (and, honestly, it doesn't), I would be terrified of this game anyway, just based on the way that Iowa has been playing of late. I know the Spartans have plenty of issues of their own, but Iowa's defense has been chicken soup for some pretty under the weather offenses lately, so it certainly wouldn't surprise me to see MSU have a breakout performance here. Especially when they've got the added motivation of Senior Night and the desire to wipe away the taste of that awful loss to Illinois last weekend. I certainly hope I'm wrong and that Iowa plays brilliantly tonight... but my head says the Spartans will continue their mastery of Iowa.