To say I was shocked when Iowa beat Michigan State on Saturday night would be an understatement.
I doubt I was alone in my disbelief as I watched Iowa hold Michigan State to 18 points in each half in route to a 43-36 win over the 6th ranked team in the nation.
Chew on this for a minute:
-MSU entered the game with an 11 game winning streak
-MSU’s lone loss prior to Saturday was against then #1 UCLA
MSU’s 36 points was a shot clock era low for the Spartans
Iowa had lost by 31 at unranked Ohio State three days earlier
I could probably find a handful of other statistics or anecdotes that would qualify for the jaw dropping category, but you get the drift.
This year’s Iowa basketball team might be the most undermanned club to wear an Iowa uniform since Dick Schultz was walking the sidelines in The Field House, but this year’s team has the heart of a champion.
On Saturday night in Iowa City, it was Iowa that dictated the tempo of the game. It was Iowa that committed just 10 turnovers while forcing 18 for their opponent. It was Iowa that got to the line 29 times to just four times for its opponent. This is also less than a month after attempting ZERO free throws in a home loss against Drake.
Freaking Iowa, to borrow a line from some guy whose name I can’t remember.
OK, that’s not true. I remember him well.
I even thought about Steve Alford on Saturday night, and not because his New Mexico team played someone with a pulse (barely) and lost (San Diego State).
It’s because in Alford’s first year in Iowa City, his undermanned team, a team that would win just 14 games, beat #1 UConn right out of the gate. It also beat Top 10 foes Ohio State (on the road and on a late shot by Kyle Galloway) and Kansas (with Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison).
Iowa’s cast of characters that year included a junior point guard in Dean Oliver. Tony Freeman is Iowa’s junior point guard this year, and he scored a career best 22 points on Saturday. He showed a lot of poise running Iowa’s offense, too.
The 1999-2000 Iowa Hawkeyes had three scoring options, this year’s team has two. This year’s team is also playing without the services of Jarryd Cole, who was beginning to come into his own as a physical presense, something you can never have enough of once the calendar says its time to play Big Ten basketball.
Speaking of Big Ten hoops, Iowa’s win was certainly not a Mona Lisa or a shining example basketball excellence.
But that doesn’t matter, because, and I need to repeat this, Iowa dictated tempo to the sixth-ranked team in America, and one that is coached by Tom Izzo, one of the best in the business. And they were run off the court in Columbus on Wednesday night.
Ohio State may have scored more points in transition on Wednesday than Michigan State did in total on Saturday, and the Spartans are a better running team than is Ohio State. Iowa assistant coach Chad Walthall said as much on my radio program Thursday.
The Iowa fans stormed the court after the game, and I thought that was appropriate. It was Todd Lickliter’s first Big Ten win. He is now 7-7 lifetime against ranked teams, to which he said, “I haven’t beat any ranked teams. I have been a part of teams that have done that, but it hasn’t been me, that is for sure.”
For those of you that have been reading or listening to his press conferences this year, you already know that the man is selfless and all about team, and winning.
But just how Iowa won the game on Saturday is mind boggling, yet I think it offers a glimpse of things to come over the next several years.
No, I am not saying that Iowa is going to go back to peach basket hoops. But Iowa shot less than 28 percent from the floor against Michigan State, it made less than 24 percent of its three point shots, it attempted 12 fewer shots and missed 13 of its 29 free throw attempts. Iowa also only had nine assists on the game and was outrebounded on the offensive glass by four boards and five overall for the game.
And it still beat #6 Michigan State by seven points, because the Spartans shot less than 31% from the floor, had 18 turnovers, made just three, three-point shots and attempted just four free throws. Iowa played tough-minded defense when its shots were not falling, which is not easy to do. Todd Lickliter said that showed great character, and I agree with him.
I think what it all adds up to is that even when Iowa is scuffling on offense, it can win with defense as long as it doesn’t turn the ball over. Lickliter’s teams have been famous for taking care of the basketball. Can you even imagine what this game might have been like if Iowa wasn’t eight turnovers better than Michigan State? They might have been down 20 shots instead of just 12.
I think it means that if his teams do what they can do and focus on that aspect of the game, they can compete even when they are severely undermanned.
At the end of his press conference on Saturday, Coach Lickliter left us with quite a quote. I think that it pretty much sums up what I believe the Lickliter era will be about, because I think it is a window into the man’s being:
Coach was asked if there was some celebrating going on in the locker room after this win.
”They are allowed to get excited even thought it’s behind closed doors,” Lickliter said. “I have heard mention that sometimes I will express some emotion. That is what this is about. We are a group that has worked together that competes hard, that prepares well, that has pride in wearing a Hawkeye uniform. How could you not be emotional about that?”
”I have had teams in the past where I couldn’t talk about (them) without crying; I loved them. You get to that (point). You have a certain level of expectation for your guys. I think a lot of times my level of expectation for them is higher than theirs. They need to know that I am not going to accept anything less than what I think they are capable of giving. If it happens, they will know I am hurting. Then when this happens, I want them to know how proud I am of them and how much I appreciate them. Not just the win, but playing the game the right way. So we celebrated a little bit.”
Sure, it was just one win in an 18 game Big Ten schedule that will have more L’s than W’s when it’s all said and done. There will probably be another game or two that resembles Iowa’s 31-point loss at Ohio State.
None of that really ever mattered to me before the season began. For me, this year has been about seeing glimpses of hope for the future.
Five years from now, the calendar will say that on Saturday, January 12th, 2008, Iowa won a basketball game.
But for those of us that watched Iowa beat Michigan State 43-36, I get the feeling we will remember this game as the day of the Lickliter era when hope was born.