Thursday, February 4, 2010

Iowa’s Loss to Illinois No Help to NU: Avoiding Bad Losses Could be Key in Battle for Big Ten’s Last Tourney Spot

Iowa hosts NU next week. They just missed helping NU when they lost a close battle to Illinois.

Right now there are four teams in the Big Ten that are sure bets to make the NCAA Tournament: Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. There are also four teams that are surely out of the NCAA Tournament: Iowa, Indiana, Penn State, and Michigan. In between stand Northwestern, Illinois, and Minnesota. Right now none of those three teams are clearly better than the other. In fact, the teams are really very evenly matched. NU split its two meeting with Illinois and has a very good chance to split with Minnesota as well. As a result, what might be most critical to these teams in distinguishing themselves from each other will be avoiding bad losses, say losses to teams with sub-100 RPIs. NU hasn’t done this yet. Iowa almost handed Illinois their 3rd such loss, but the Fighting Illini escaped. If NU can continue to be immune to bad losses they might get picked ahead of Illinois and Minnesota even if the Illini and Gophers don’t pick up any more bad losses, but it’ll be a tough task for NU when they face Indiana and Iowa this week. Iowa didn’t beat Illinois, but came very close. Indiana didn’t beat Purdue, but looked for a long time like they would. No game in the Big Ten is easy.

On a related note, recaps and breakdowns of the Illinois-Iowa game are on various websites devoted to those teams, so I won’t break it down in detail. I do want to make a few observations. First off, I wonder if Iowa regrets running Steve Alford out of town. He certainly had his problems, but despite having fans dissatisfied, he did make regular runs in the Big Ten Tournament which lead to NCAA appearances. Todd Lickliter looks like he’ll still be looking for his first NCAA-bid in Iowa City after this year. Not that you can totally blame Lickliter (though I’m sure most Iowa fans do). He’s been somewhat snake bitten due to transfers and suspensions. Losing Jake Kelley to transfer hurt Iowa’s offense and then losing Anthony Tucker (who could have stepped in for Kelley) to a suspension hurt even more. Now, Iowa is a team with virtually no inside game and only Cully Payne and Matt Gatens can do much with creating their own shot.

Iowa also looks like they have issues with visiting fans just like Northwestern. It might not be to NU’s level in terms of numbers, but yesterday a group of Illinois students were seated right behind the basket. Without a doubt, I would have considered those prime seats, but nobody in black and gold must have wanted them. Even more amazing, the basket they were behind was the goal Iowa was shooting at in the second half. In other words, every time a Hawkeye player went to the line late to try a free throw, he saw a horde of orange-clad visitors staring him in the face. Even when NU was beating the Alford teams regularly, they still struggled in Iowa City. Part of the reason is was the Hawkeye fans made wining in Carver-Hawkeye Arena really tough. Now, I’m not guaranteeing a win in Iowa City (and NU’s team should just focus on Indiana), but it does seem Carver-Hawkeye will be significantly less intimidating this season. Hopefully, that’ll make it easier for NU to win in a place they’ve struggled and avoid their first bad loss.


macarthur31 said...

Lindsey Willhite wrote about this on his blog. Apparently those Orange Crush fans came in wearing black shirts, and then come game time they revealed their Illini colors. The Illini players definitely got a boost from it, from Willhite's perspective.

Loretta8 said...

Alford got run out of town as much for his terrible off the court behavior (namely letting a sex offender back on the team because he was the leading scorer), than his won/loss record.

Ryan said...

@macarthur31...I didn't see that from Willhite. Iowa's probably prety upset, but it sounds like a pretty smart ploy by the Illinois fans.

G1000 said...

Loretta8... I love mid-majors, but come tourney time New Mexico's the one Cinderella squad I will be rooting against. Steve Alford = Jerk. I remember how happy I was when he lost that opening round game to Northwestern State. Anyone else remember? Great game, great upset.