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Archive for February, 2013

Uncomfortable fit

Thursday, February 28th, 2013
Mike Gesell wore a smart suit and tie tonight as the watched the Iowa basketball team beat Purdue 58-48. It was an uncomfortable fit, the first time the Hawkeye freshman guard had ever missed a game at any level because of an injury. He'll miss a few more before he returns. What has been labeled a stress reaction injury in his right foot forced Gesell to watch the Hawkeyes avenge an earlier loss to the Boilermakers in a walking boot. Coach Fran McCaffery said following the game that Gesell will not likely be running the floor for the Hawkeyes in a game again at least until March 14, the opening day of the Big Ten tourney. The Iowa coach carefully measured his words as he discussed the injury to a player who has meant plenty to the Hawkeyes in his freshman season. Gesell has started 27 games, averaged 9 points and been a steadying influence in the Hawkeye backcourt. He is also just the third Iowa freshman ever to collect 240 points, grab 75 rebounds and dish out 75 assists in a season. Dean Oliver topped those numbers in 1998 and Cully Payne did as well in 2010. McCaffery offered one-sentence answers to many of the questions about Gesell's situation. Asked if the injury was a stress fracture, he said, "No.'' Asked if he would be back for the Big Ten tourney, McCaffery responded, "Yes.'' As for the length of time he should miss, he said, "He should be down for a couple weeks.'' McCaffery said the injury had nothing to do with the left ankle Gesell tweaked Saturday in the second half at Nebraska. He said it likely is something that has been an "ongoing issue'' for him. "He hurt his foot. That's all I'm going to say. I don't want to get into particulars,'' McCaffery said. McCaffery started Josh Oglesby in Gesell's place, but praised the team effort it took replace the freshman's contributions. "It can't be one person,'' he said. "(Anthony) Clemmons was great. Oglesby was great. (Gabe) Olaseni was great, (Patrick) Ingram gave us quality minutes, and I think that typifies our team.'' McCaffery said that type of collective effort must continue as Iowa works through its remaining Big Ten games, first at Indiana on Saturday before Illinois and Nebraska visit Carver-Hawkeye Arena next week. "We feel bad for Mike, we're going to get him back, we'll be happy when he comes back, but right now we've got other guys who can play, let's go play,'' McCaffery said.

Challenging his team

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013
This one should hurt. After giving away a 19-point lead and watching Nebraska take a 64-60 win this afternoon against his Iowa basketball team, Fran McCaffery was angry. The Cornhuskers, who trailed 41-22 late in the first half, earned the win with 62.5 percent shooting and a starting lineup which never left the floor in the final 20 minutes of their 10th home win of the season. McCaffery credited Nebraska's Dylan Talley for knocking down the contested 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining that handed Iowa its sixth loss by four points or less in Big Ten play this season. When it was over, McCaffery wanted his team to feel some pain. "I hope they feel as badly as I do right now,'' he said during his postgame news conference. "We're all in this together, and I'm not finger pointing at anybody, but can you say 'What about this?' or 'What about that?' We'll break that down, what the players could have done and what the coaches could have done differently. We'll get up tomorrow and get back to work.'' McCaffery said he challenged his players, collectively and individually, following the loss which severely impacted Iowa's chances of reaching the NCAA tourney this season barring either a sweep of the final four regular season games - including next Saturday's test at Indiana -or a four-game run through the Big Ten tourney. McCaffery accurately felt many of his players became tentative offensively as Nebraska worked its way back into the game. It was as frustrating of a loss as Iowa has experienced under McCaffery, in part because of the way the Hawkeyes built their first-half lead. The energy and intensity which allowed Iowa to take control vanished, allowing the Cornhuskers to get others involved offensively and ultimately, seize control of the game. Nebraska coach Tim Miles saw in his team in the second half what McCaffery saw from Iowa in the first. "It looked to me in the first half like Iowa was playing with a purpose,'' Miles said. "You could see this discernible we're coming in here and kicking your butt attitude. I thought our guys showed up at 1 in the afternoon because they thought it was a good time to play a game. We just looked discombobulated. I thought at halftime we got our self's right and played a much better second half.'' In the end, it was the Hawkeyes who found themselves out of synch, as frustrating as that might have been. "I'm getting tired of hearing people say that we're too young or not talented enough to do anything this year,'' forward Aaron White said. "I don't think that's the case at all, but we have to keep learning through these tough experiences.''

A March situation

Sunday, February 17th, 2013
If the Iowa basketball team isn't careful, it could have a "March situation'' on its hands to borrow a phrase frequented by former Hawkeye coach Steve Alford. As much as anything, Iowa sent the Big Ten a message Sunday as it took Minnesota out of anything it hoped to accomplish at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. From rallying from 16 points down to finishing off a 72-51 victory over a Golden Gophers team which has failed to play to its talent level in the Big Ten season, the Hawkeyes are positioning themselves to be part of the postseason discussion IF they continue to take care of business as they did Sunday. Now 17-9 following a win which assures Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes of a second straight winning season, Iowa has five games remaining on its Big Ten schedule. Of those five, it appears at this point the Hawkeyes will be favored in no fewer than three and possibly four of those games. It's not unrealistic to think that this team could finish with 20 or 21 victories before it takes the court at the United Center for Big Ten tourney play. Iowa will likely have some work to do once there as well, but to the Hawkeyes' credit the only thing they were interested in discussing following today's win over the Gophers was Thursday's road game at Nebraska. "We're not getting ahead of ourselves,'' guard Mike Gesell said. "The next game is the only thing we're worried about. That can't change. We can't look too far down the road.'' McCaffery likes the way his team is playing now. February is a month which tends to separate NCAA contenders from pretenders and Iowa has looked more like a contender with its recent work than the latter. "We're playing better. We've got a lot of individuals contributing to what we're doing,'' McCaffery said following today's game. This is the time of the year when teams tend to tire and feel pressure.'' McCaffery believes the Hawkeyes' depth is now keeping fresh bodies on the floor against tiring opponents. Normally a coach who has used a short bench, the 10-player rotation that McCaffery has relied on seems to be giving the Hawkeyes an edge as the season has progressed. It's allowing them to defend aggressively and rebound with authority. "On the nights when the shots aren't falling, and we've had our share of those nights, we're doing the other things we need to do to give ourselves a chance to win,'' McCaffery said. "That's giving this team a chance.'' Over the next three weeks, everyone will learn if Iowa can make the most of the chance that is in front of a young team and if they can find themselves with a March situation.

Making strides

Friday, February 15th, 2013
An update posted early this morning on the Brett Greenwood Foundation's website indicates that the former Iowa football player is making strides in his long recovery from an anoxic brain injury. Greenwood, who suffered the injury while training on the field at Pleasant Valley, his prep alma mater, in September of 2011, is working on making gains in short-term memory, fine motor skills and improving his vision. The update indicates that Greenwood continues to spend nearly six hours daily in therapy and has regained the vision necessary to recognize a person when they walk into the room. Gains are also reported in his short-term memory skills. "It's hard to put into words all the changes Brett has gone through. True, he has suffered a significant injury, and yet he's the same witty guy he has always been,'' the update reads. "Sometimes the progress seems vague and the time seems to drag on, but today on February 14th, 2013, Brett is considerably ahead of where he was 17 months ago and we celebrate each step in his progress.''

A different level

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013
When Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has not been encouraging his "more is better'' philosophy when it comes to growing the amount of conference competition on league football schedules, he has been encouraging schools to upgrade their schedules in any other way possible. Delany tried unsuccessfully to establish a scheduling alliance with the Pac-12, but has now turned his attention to growing the conference schedule to nine or 10 games. That will be discussed in meetings later this spring. His push would provide with a larger inventory of quality match-ups to pitch to TV networks as the Big Ten prepares to renegotiate deals with its television partners. In theory, that would lead to greater revenue opportunities for institutions. Also, with the cost of guarantee games - the dollars spent to bring an opponent to a Big Ten stadium without a return game - on the rise and a strength of schedule component part of the new qualification procedures for the FBS-level playoff, athletic directors are giving Delany's message a deserved ear. They are also hearing from fans who are looking for better non-conference match-ups while being asked to pay more and more dollars almost annually for tickets. Apparently, those feelings are being addressed. Wisconsin director of athletics Barry Alvarez said Tuesday on his monthly radio show on WIBA-AM that "the nonconference schedule in our league is ridiculous. It's not very appealing,'' he said. To change that, he said Big Ten administrators have agreed to stop scheduling games against FCS programs. While some of those games have been anything but easy for Big Ten teams - ask anyone who has scheduled Northern Iowa recently how much of a gimmie that game has been - the landscape is also littered with blowouts. Alvarez did not say when the new agreement would take place although it it is likely all existing contracts will be honored, and plenty of those games are already on the books. Iowa, which has played an FCS opponent in seven of the last eight seasons, has one scheduled annually through 2016. In addition to a home game against Missouri State this fall, the Hawkeyes are scheduled to host UNI in 2014, Illinois State in 2015 and North Dakota State in 2016. Western Illinois has announced future games against Northwestern and Illinois as well. That's not unsual, over the past seven seasons, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern have played seven FCS teams and Iowa, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin have played at least five. Northern Iowa, which played at Iowa and Wisconsin last fall, has a long-term deal in place for games against Iowa State. Those games traditionally provide the UNI program with needed dollars to help fund a multitude of athletic programs at the school. But, with the landscape of the game changing, the time is probably right for Big Ten schools to strengthen their products as much as they can and that starts with playing stronger schedules that can help make the league stronger on a national basis.

The right seats

Saturday, February 9th, 2013
Recruits aren't the only ones looking for the right fit. Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz is also looking for the right fits for his 2013 coaching staff. The application deadline for assistant coaching positions on the Hawkeye staff was Wednesday and Ferentz indicated then that he hoped to have his coaching staff in place for the upcoming season in 10-to-14 days. Iowa has announced the departure of Erik Campbell from the staff, but Ferentz did not eliminate the possibility of other changes taking place. He said he does not believe Campbell's exit impacted Iowa's recruiting efforts, particularly in regards to the receivers it landed. "Change is part of college football, and that happens,'' Ferentz said. "It's part of football in general and I think, again, the (recruits) looked at what we're trying to do, what we're trying to accomplish and probably saw opportunity.'' A football coaching website, FootballScoop.com, indicated in a post early Saturday morning that Bobby Kennedy and Jim Reid "will likedly join the staff'' at Iowa. It reported one day earlier that Earnest Wilson had interviewed for the Hawkeyes' vacant receivers coaching position. Kennedy is also a likely candidate for that spot. The 45-year old spent the past two seasons coaching receivers at Colorado after working for seven years beside Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis at Texas. Kennedy earlier worked as a graduate assistant under John Mackovic and Lou Tepper at Illinois. Wilson, currently the offensive coordinator at Hampton, coached receivers and tight ends on a Maine staff headed by Ferentz in 1992. Reid's experience is on the defensive side of the ball, indicating that a change in coaching responsibilities could be coming to that side of the ball as well. Reid worked as the defensive coordinator and associate head coach at Virginia for the past three seasons until he was fired in December following the Cavaliers' 4-8 season. He worked with the Miami Dolphins prior to that. Much like a year ago when Reese Morgan moved from the offensive to defensive side of the ball, Ferentz indicated Wednesday that his search for assistants wouldn't necessary be a position for position search. "We'll do what's best for the team and I've given it a lot of thought certainly,'' Ferentz said. "We've been been busy with recruiting, but now we'll return our attention to that. Hopefully, in 10, 14 days we'll be able to have everybody in the right seats and go forward.''

Steadying influence

Thursday, February 7th, 2013
Internally, Fran McCaffery is as frustrated as every player he coaches on the Iowa basketball team. Every hard-to-take loss gnaws at him, just as it does at his players. But after the Hawkeyes came off the floor following Wednesday's 74-70 double-overtime loss at Wisconsin - Iowa's seventh Big Ten loss in 10 games and its fifth by four points or less - McCaffery maintained an even keel. "I don't get emotional one way or the other. I just don't,'' McCaffery said in his postgame comments at the Kohl Center. Hawkeye senior Eric May said McCaffery simply encourages his players to stay positive, stay with it and stay firm in their commitment to doing things that will eventually help the Hawkeyes win. "I want it for (the players). I'm hurting for them,'' McCaffery said. "But for me, it's a very business-like approach. If we had won in two overtimes, if we had won Sunday (at Minnesota), if we had won at Purdue in overtime, nothing changes for me. It's on to the next game.'' McCaffery believes that is the approach he must take as he works with a young group that is experiencing a rough ride through a rugged Big Ten this season. "It's locked in and getting these guys ready to play the next game,'' McCaffery said. "I fully realize that for them the emotional ups and downs are going to be a little different.'' But for the coaches, there is a need to be a steadying influence of sorts, a constant support to push the team forward to its next game.'' McCaffery said that failure to execute in critical moments again cost the Hawkeyes, particularly the breakdowns which came as Wisconsin trimmed a 51-42 Hawkeye lead to three points in less than a minute with just over five minutes left in the game. "It was unfortunate,'' he said. Iowa found itself with plenty of chances, including one in the final seconds of the second overtime, but McCaffery indicated he did not ask Aaron White to intentionally miss a free throw in an and-one situation with 5.5 seconds remaining. White was fouled by Wisconsin's Sam Dekker as he scored at that point, trimming the Badgers' lead to 72-70. White missed the free throw, Zach McCabe fouled Wisconsin's Ryan Evans and the Badgers' forward hit a pair with 4.6 left to provide Wisconsin its margin of victory. "I told White to make the free throw,'' McCaffery said. "It's a tough call. We talked about it, but with 5.5 left, you make the free throw, you foul and then (Wisconsin's player) has to hit both. That's a tough call, but we had two big guys in there to try to get a tip or a rebound. It didn't work out.''

Bo knows

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013
Iowa's Big Ten basketball record may be the opposite of the 6-3 start Wisconsin has enjoyed this season, but Badgers coach Bo Ryan finds a lot to like about a Hawkeye team which handed Wisconsin a 70-66 loss last month. As he prepares for Wednesday's game at the Kohl Center, Ryan talked about the Hawkeyes and just where they fit in to a talented conference this season. "They certainly can play,'' Ryan said. "They have the guys with experience. THey have depth. So that's - that's what you need in this league, and then you can compete with anybody if you have that.'' Ryan characterized Iowa as "another team trying to make a move, like some of the teams projected to so well this year.'' "Iowa was given a lot of credible backing by a lot of people because of the way they play,'' Ryan said. "So that hasn't changed in my mind, and it might be your record is what it is because of who you played, when you played and where you played them. Iowa is as good as any team I've seen in the league.'' The Hawkeyes will take the court at the Kohl Center at 8 on Wednesday with a three-game win streak over the Badgers. It's the longest string of success Iowa has had against the Wisconsin program since winning three straight during the 1992-93 seasons. The Hawkeyes haven't won more than that in a row against the Badgers since winning six straight from 1986-89.