Could the Hawkeyes surprise in March?

Fran McCaffery has turned around the Iowa Hawkeye men’s basketball program. After four painful years under Todd Lickliter, McCaffery has the Hawkeyes on the edge of back-to-back tournament appearances.

The Hawkeyes snuck into the NCAA Tournament last March, but lost a play-in game to the Tennessee Volunteers. They finished with a record of 20-13.

This season, the Hawkeyes are 20-10 and figure to add another win to that total when they play a Northwestern team on Saturday that is downright bad.

There was a stretch during the middle part of January through the middle part of February where the hopes of returning to the Big Dance didn’t look too promising. The Hawkeyes lost their last three games in January, but rebounded to beat Michigan and Maryland. Then, they regressed again by losing to Minnesota and Northwestern.

Losing five out of seven games in the middle to latter part of a conference schedule is extremely detrimental to any team, much less a team that suffered losses to in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa State. Add losses to Texas and self-imposed-postseason-banned Syracuse only decreased the Hawkeyes’ chances.

However, the team has regrouped and has enjoyed a spirited sprint to the finish line. The Hawkeyes have won five games in row with three of those wins coming on the road. They are in a four-team tie record-wise in the Big Ten, but are listed fifth behind Ohio State and Michigan State. Iowa holds the tiebreaker over the Buckeyes because they have already beaten them twice this season.

I don’t think there is any way the Selection Committee can leave the Hawkeyes out of the tournament. They won at North Carolina earlier in the year, and North Carolina has shown it is a very solid team. Even a decent showing in the Big Ten Tournament should get the Hawkeyes a favorable first round matchup in the tournament.

The Hawkeyes are a team that isn’t going to “WOW” you. They are a very good rebounding team, solid defensively, and are led by two good seniors.

Coming out of high school in Ohio, Aaron White wasn’t even a top prospect in the Class of 2011. After earning MVP honors in the Kentucky/Ohio High School All-Star Game, all of that changed.

After having a solid freshman season at Iowa, where he averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, White never made the jump to the “next level,” as college basketball analysts say.

For two years, his numbers basically leveled-off and mirrored each other.

This year has been a different story, especially the last five games.

White has put up career numbers in his final season as a Hawkeye. He is averaging 15.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while shooting over 51 percent from the field. Over the last five games, White has averaged 20.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, and has connected on 55.5 percent of his field goal attempts.

White isn’t the only player responsible for the Hawkeyes’ turnaround.

Junior Jarrod Uthoff has been a stat-stuffing machine. He has averaged 11.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, two assists, 1.8 steals and 2.6 blocks per game over the five-game winning streak.

As a team, the Hawkeyes rank in the top 50 in the country in the following categories: free throws made and attempted, free throw percentage, offensive and total rebounds, and blocks.

One thing that really troubles me about Iowa is that it doesn’t shoot a high percentage from the field. The Hawkeyes have managed to connect on just 43.3 percent of their field goal attempts this season, and that ranks them 192nd in the country. They are shooting nearly 17 three-point attempts per game while only converting 5.6 of those attempts into makes.

I’m not sure how long Iowa will last in the Big Dance if it is unable to get easy baskets. Settling for three-pointers only seems to hurt teams in March.

I think the Hawkeyes are a “sleeper” in the tournament, but I wouldn’t bank on them to pull off a major upset.

My prediction is that they’ll win one game in the tournament.

We’ll have to wait to find out, though.

Is it time for March Madness yet?


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