Iowa loss to Richmond an indictment on Hawkeyes and Big Ten as a whole
It’s late March, which means the word “choke” can reliably be spelled I-O-W-A.
Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes did their usual thing Thursday afternoon, bowing out of the NCAA Tournament before the second weekend. Again.
The 5th-seeded Hawkeyes, Big Ten Tournament champs, were stunned 67-63 by a 12th-seeded Richmond team that barely made it this far.
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McCaffery is now 0-for-6 in getting Iowa to the Sweet 16, but that’s nothing new.
The Hawkeyes have failed to advance more than a game in this Tournament since 1999. It’s become increasingly evident that Tom Davis earned a doctorate because it required that level of education to make Iowa do anything in March.
This is Iowa’s 3rd time losing as a favorite in its past 8 Tournament appearances, but this one hits differently than the rest.
The Second Round is typically Iowa’s poison pill. This is only the second time McCaffery has pulled a 1-and-done, with the other being a First Four loss to Tennessee in 2014. In classic Iowa March Madness fashion, the Hawkeyes were outscored 14-1 in overtime to lose that one.
But that was a First Four team. This was supposed to be a Final Four team. And there was little reason to think Iowa would not at the very least be a Sweet 16 team.
The Hawks came into this Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. They won 12 of their last 14, including a blistering run through the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa never scored fewer than 71 points in that stretch, and were only held under 75 twice.
But that was before running into the nation’s 220th-ranked 3-point defense.
Going broke from deep
The Spiders — the 6th seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament — did what few opponents were able to accomplish.
Shut down Iowa’s outside shooting.
The Hawkeyes found the worst possible time for their 2nd-worst 3-point performance of the season, going just 6-for-29 (20.6%) from long range. In terms of shooting percentage, the Hawkeyes were only worse in a 73-53 December loss at Iowa State, which was easily this team’s worst overall performance this season.
Richmond’s defense does deserve some credit, of course.
This is the 8th time this season the Spiders held an opponent under 25% from 3-point range. But they’ve also allowed 11 opponents to hit better than 40% from deep, and there was every reason to believe Iowa would be next. Richmond was 11th in the Atlantic 10 in 3-point defense.
But instead of getting torched, the Spiders were the first team to hold the Hawks under 1 point per possession since Rutgers back on Jan. 19.
A big loss for the Big Ten
Iowa laid a First Round egg that splattered over the faces of the entire Big Ten.
The B1G sent a nation-high 9 teams to this tournament, but desperately needed to save face after last year’s humiliation.
Only 1 Big Ten team reached the Sweet 16 a year ago despite the league having 4 of the 8 top-2 seeds. Iowa was one of those 2-seeds, falling to Oregon in the Second Round — and still faring better than Ohio State, which lost to 15-seed Oral Roberts in the First Round.
In 24 conference games, only 1 Big Ten defense shut Iowa down the way Richmond did on Thursday. That was Rutgers, which limited the Hawkeyes to 46 points back in January. But that looked very much like an anomaly — Iowa poured 84 on the Scarlet Knights in the Big Ten Tournament.
If the 9th-best defense in the Atlantic 10 can lock Iowa down better than anyone in the Big Ten, that does not give much hope the rest of the league will avoid Iowa’s fate.
Which would be another fitting throwback.
The last time Iowa won the Big Ten Tournament was 2006. The 3rd-seeded Hawkeyes promptly lost to 14-seed Northwestern State in the First Round.
That loss was a harbinger of bad things to come for the entire league. Despite the Big Ten having 6 teams in the Tournament, none of them reached the Sweet 16.
As of this writing, there are still 7 teams left alive who can help the Big Ten avoid a similar fate as 2006 in the next 3 days.
But when the B1G team that entered this Tournament looking most capable of a Final Four run is not among them, there’s good reason to think we won’t be seeing much more Big Ten basketball this season.