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Archive for March, 2008

Trend setting

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
Iowa's latest men's basketball commitment continues a trend. Devan Bawinkel of Highland Community College adds to the Hawkeyes' collection of mid-sized shooters who bring a strong shooting touch and plenty of versatility to the mix. Those are the type of players who thrived in the system Iowa coaches used when they were at Butler and it is clearly the direction that the Hawkeyes are moving as they work toward the future. Bawinkel will be one of at least two players to sign with Iowa in April, joining a collection of four players who signed letters of intent in November. Stay tuned... there could be more.

No peach of a pairing

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008
Iowa drew one of the most experienced tournament teams for its opening-round match in this year's NCAA women's basketball tournament. Overshadowed only slightly by Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference, the Bulldogs have been one of the nation's top programs during the 28 seasons Andy Landers has been Georgia's head coach. He's led his program to 25 NCAA appearances in 27 years, the third-highest total of any school in the nation. The Bulldogs finished as an NCAA runner-up in 1985 and 1996 and have played in the Final Four five times, the Elite Eight 10 times and the Sweet 16 16 times while averaging 24.3 wins per season during Landers' tenure. Iowa has faced Georgia once previously in NCAA play, ousting the Bulldogs from the tourney in 1987 by a 62-60 score in a Midwest Regional semifinal played in Monroe, La. The Hawkeyes are 2-2 all-time against the SEC team, but have not played Georgia since a 1995 loss in a tourney in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Iowa is in the NCAA field for the 17th time. The Hawkeyes are unbeaten against the other two teams it could face this weekend in Norfolk, Va. Iowa is 2-0 all-time against North Carolina and 1-0 vs. Bucknell. Iowa's No. 9 seed is shared by two of the three other Big Ten teams to reach the NCAA tourney. Purdue and Minnesota were also given No. 9 seeds. Ohio State, the team Iowa shared the Big Ten regular-season title with and the league's only ranked team this season, received a No. 6 seed. The No. 9 seed is familar territory for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has been a No. 9 seed in three of its last four NCAA appears. On the fourth occasion, in 2006, the Hawkeyes were a 10 seed.

The second season

Friday, March 14th, 2008
The Iowa women's basketball team is expected to receive an NCAA berth when pairings are announced Monday night. Although Iowa ended up in the WNIT as a 20-9 team three years ago, Iowa's 21-10 record is expected to be more than enough to earn the Hawkeyes a berth. The difference? Iowa went 8-8 in the Big Ten three years ago, but shared the league regular-season title with a 13-5 record this season. Don't expect the Hawkeyes' seed to be all that flashy. There hasn't been a lot of love thrown the Big Ten's direction this season and most projections list Iowa as an 8 or 9 seed. Pairings for the women's tourney are now announced on Monday night and they will be unveiled at 6 p.m. on ESPN.

The madness of March

Friday, March 14th, 2008
The season came to a merciful end for the Iowa men's basketball team on Thursday in the opening round of the Big Ten tourney. Iowa 55-47 loss to Michigan was a struggle from the start and in some respects, the Big Ten Network did fans who can't yet receive the fledging operation a favor by keeping this match-up off of mainstream TV. The loss mirrored Iowa's issues throughout the season in many respects. Long scoring droughts, untimely turnovers, missed chances at the free-throw line, this game had them all. The Wolverines proved equally inept at times, one reason the mood in the locker room ranged from frustration over another missed opportunity to relief that a new season will provide the Hawkeyes with a fresh start. I'll share comments from some of the returning players both in the QC Times and at hawkmania later this weekend. Talking with the freshmen, most found it surprising how quickly the season went and talked about how they now have a better understanding of what it takes to compete in the Big Ten. Iowa coach Todd Lickliter shares that understanding as well. Although his Butler teams regularly played an occasional Big Ten team during the nonconference portion of the season, the week-to-week grind that is an 18-game Big Ten schedule is a beast of its own. Lickliter said he believes his team made progress, but conceded it wasn't enough to help Iowa compete during the second half of the Big Ten schedule. The Hawkeyes won just two of their final nine games and both of those wins came against cellar-dwelling Northwestern. An influx of at least six recruits should change the face of Iowa's team next season. Iowa's Mr. Basketball, Matt Gatens of Iowa City High, is among the players who will suit up for the Hawkeyes next season. When asked earlier this week if Gatens could help the Hawkeyes, Lickliter deadpanned, "Can he go with us to Indianapolis?'' Gatens will be a good fit for what Iowa likes to do and Lickliter and his staff continue to court additional talent on the recruiting trail.

Maize and Few

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008
Iowa's first-round match-up in the Big Ten tourney with Michigan is an interesting one for a number of reasons. Both teams have first-year coaches, both have a limited number of scholarship players to work with and the two played a strange set of games against each other that were both decided by eight points. Iowa shot the ball extremely well in the second half of its 68-60 win at Michigan in January, while the Wolverines returned the favor with a strong shooting effort in the second half of a 60-52 win on the Hawkeyes' home court in mid-February. "It's tough to make a lot of sense out of either of those games,'' Wolverines coach John Beilein said. "I'm not sure I've ever been a part of something like that where the games were so different and the road team won both.'' Both coaches say they will have to be careful in choosing what areas from the past games to emphasize, both in terms of areas that need improvement and areas of success that potentially can be built upon. "I think in the end it goes back to seeing if we can do a better job of affecting their shots,'' Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. "Give them credit, in the second game they did a good job of what they do to get themselves open looks. We have to do a better job with that.'' Beilein said it will be a matter of "putting the bad and good together to see what we need to emphasize in this game.''

Decent exposure

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008
A chance to watch his son play in Iowa's Class 4A state basketball tournament gave first-year Iowa coach Todd Lickliter a first-hand view of the event and the son of a high school coach who spent 12 seasons on the bench himself came away impressed. "It was a great environment, great competition and in a great setting,'' Lickliter said. Lickliter said his two older sons drove in from Indianapolis to join he and his wife in the stands while watching Iowa City High top Davenport Central for the state title on Saturday night. "It was a terrific weekend,'' he said. Lickliter doesn't see a lot of difference between the level of high school basketball being played across the country any more. "It's cyclical, no question, but there is good basketball played at the high school level in a lot of states. I do think this City High team could compete anywhere,'' Lickliter said. "I've enjoyed watching them play, the way they share the ball and work together. They're what a team is about.''

A brief intermission

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008
A nine-day break between games at the end of the regular season and the start of the conference tournament isn't necessarily a great thing. Iowa finds itself coping with that this week for the first time since the Big Ten began tourney play and coach Todd Lickliter will attempt to find a balance between needed practice time and a little free time at the end of a long regular season. "When these situations come up, I like to give the players a couple of days off during the actual school week. It gives them a chance to be students and I feel like that is important,'' Lickliter said. "We'll get our work in, but I want to give them a break, too. The timing is a little different, but we'll try to make the most of it.''  That shouldn't be a problem for Lickliter. He spent Wednesday afternoon watching his son, John, compete in the Iowa Class 4A state quarterfinals in Des Moines for Iowa City High. He expects to be in the stands for any game the Little Hawks play this week, doing what he can to blend into the crowd. 

Out of gas?

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008
Todd Lickliter refuses to buy into the notion that his Iowa basketball team may be suffering some fatigue from the rigors of a long season. "They're 19 and 20 years old. They get a two-minute break every four minutes of every half (because of media timeouts). They should be able to play all day,'' Lickliter said. Still, a lack of depth has forced the Hawkeyes to play younger players longer than Lickliter would prefer. He said during his weekly news conference Monday that ideally, freshmen in his system are spoonfed playing time to give them a chance to learn as they adjust to the game at the college level. Pointing to Jake Kelly as an example, he said he would prefer that Kelly would average fewer than the nearly 26 minutes per game he has played in Big Ten games. "Ideally, you would like to be able to play him, bring him out when he makes a mistake and coach and teach and then put him back in for more minutes,'' Lickliter said. That luxury doesn't exist this season. Lickliter has played seven players consistently through the final weeks of Iowa's season. In Saturday's loss to Illinois, four players -- Cyrus Tate, Tony Freeman, Justin Johnson and Kelly -- were on the court for at least 38 minutes. At least one Hawkeye will take as many minutes as he can get. "I don't think we're fatigued. That's just an excuse,'' Freeman said. "We just haven't gotten the job done or played at the level we need to play at to win games. That's what hurts. We're better than we've shown.'' Iowa's depth issues are expected to take care of themselves next season. The Hawkeyes added a commitment from a fifth recruit late Monday night when forward Aaron Fuller of Mesa, Ariz., announced his intentions to sign with Iowa during the April signing period.

In the house

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008
A pair of potential future Hawkeyes were among the 15,500 on hand for Saturday's Iowa-Illinois basketball game. Recruits Aaron Fuller, a 6-foot-7 forward from Mesa, Ariz., and 6-5 shooting guard Chris Babb of Arlington, Texas, joined prep sophomore Harrison Barnes of Ames, Iowa, in the seats directly behind the Hawkeye bench. Fuller averages 23 points and just under 11 rebounds per game for his high school team. He is being heavily recruited by a number of West Coast schools, but lists Washington State and Iowa at the top of his list currently. Babb originally committed to New Mexico but has re-opened his recruitment. A Kansas native, he is regarded as one of the top shooting prospects in the talent-rich state of Texas. He led The Oakridge School to a 30-6 record this season, averaging around 28 points per game. He will visit Penn State this weekend and made a previous recruiting visit to Oral Roberts.  Iowa signed four players in November and has two remaining scholarships for its 2008 recruiting class. One of the nation's top prep basketball coaches was in attendance Saturday as well. Gene Pingatore, who recorded over 800 wins while coaching at Westchester St. Joseph in suburban Chicago was there to watch two of his former players, Iowa's Tony Freeman and Illinois freshman Demetri McCamey, compete against each other in their first collegiate match-up. The list of standouts who have played for Pingatore is a long one, including for Indiana all-American Isiah Thomas.