I'm hitting the road for home this afternoon, and should be gone until Saturday or Sunday. I will get to watch the game against North Carolina tonight, but I won't get a chance to post about it for a while. I'm meeting up with a crowd of old classmates right after the game, then there's the big family gathering tomorrow, so hopefully I can write something up on Friday.
Enjoy the game tonight, and have a great Thanksgiving!
Jon Miller at Hawkeye Nation wrote a great recap of the Texas game, which includes several criticisms of Pierre Pierce that I strongly agree with. I think you need a registered user account to access the article, but registration is free, and Hawkeye fans will find it a worthwhile read.
There's been plenty of talk that fatigue will be a major issue in tonight's matchup between Iowa and North Carolina, as it will be each team's third game in three days. Iowa might be especially spent, having leaned heavily on its starters to knock off two favored opponents. Judging by the players' minutes played in the past two days, UNC would appear to have the fresher squad.
Here are UNC's top six's minutes, against BYU and Tennessee:
Raymond Felton - 26, 33
Rashad McCants - 22, 30
Sean May - 23, 24
Jawad Williams - 23, 22
Marvin Williams - 20, 24
Jackie Manuel - 24, 19
And Iowa's, against Louisville and Texas:
Jeff Horner - 39, 39
Pierre Pierce - 34, 34
Greg Brunner - 34, 30
Adam Haluska - 31, 25
Erek Hansen - 22, 29
Mike Henderson - 19, 19
Iowa 82, Texas 80
They did it again! Iowa improved its record to 3-0 with its second upset of a top-15 team in as many days. Things don't get any easier Wednesday, when they face #11 North Carolina in the championship game of the Maui Invitational, likely without the help of last year's leading scorer Pierre Pierce. ESPN will televise the game at 8:30 CST.
The news on Pierce:
On the last play of the game, when Texas' P.J. Tucker missed a chance to tie it,
Pierce stepped on another player's foot and hurt his left ankle. He was on the
floor in pain while his teammates celebrated, then they ran to him and helped
him to the locker room.
He left the Lahaina Civic Center on crutches and was
taken for X-rays.
Pierce hit the biggest shot of the game against Texas, which will probably overshadow the rest of his poor play (OK, poor play probably isn't how you describe 18 pts, 7 reb, and 7 ast, but this guy's decision-making and shot selection really irritate me sometimes). True to his form, he launched a deeeep three that had Hawk fans yelling at their TVs, "What the hell are y....WHAT A SHOT!" It seems like whenever I get frustrated with this guy's questionable decisions, he'll get a big steal and a layup or make a shot where he was double-teamed that just leaves me dumbfounded. In this situation, Iowa was down 2 points with under a minute to go, and a long three from Pierce was about the last shot I wanted to see go up. Honestly, the guy is shooting 38% on the year (but has still taken 48 shots in three games). Meanwhile, Horner was on fire and Brunner had been effective inside against two ranked opponents. So with 45 seconds left, you launch a 25-footer? That shot clearly was a huge one for Iowa early in their season, and maybe it will help me deal with Pierce's other shortcomings throughout the year.
I guess the point I want to make is that I won't be devastated if Pierre isn't able to play Wednesday. You obviously don't ever want one of your best players out of the lineup with an injury, but this team has a few other scoring options, like Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska outside and Greg Brunner down low. Some of you might point out that Haluska hasn't been all that steady so far (just 2 points against Texas), but it's not like there's a lot of shots to go around when Horner is hitting for over 18 a game and Pierce is chucking 16 shots each night. If Pierce is out of the lineup, I'm fine with Haluska handling the ball more and taking the extra shots. He's got a better outside shot, and I think some people would be surprised by his ability to take his man off the dribble. If nothing else, there would at least be another test point for the Sports Guy's Ewing Theory.
In other news, Iowa was again terrible at the line. How do you go from 20-20 against Western Illinois to 24-38 against Louisville and 21-33 against Texas? And even more puzzling, how do you shoot 63% from the line while beating two top-15 teams? I figured Iowa would lose some close games to their tougher competition this year because of their foul shooting, and they would have already if they weren't bailed out this week - their opponents were also afraid to make their freebies: Louisville shot just 20-29 and Texas was 13-22. Can we hope for the same kind of handouts from North Carolina? The Tarheels are only 69% at the charity stripe through three games, so I wouldn't rule it out.
While we're on the topic of free throws, what's up with Horner? He was an 86% shooter at the line last year, and I think the ESPN guys noted that he missed 5 FT during last year's conference schedule. In the two games in Maui, he's already missed 4 of 14. I guess that's the only aspect of his game I can find fault with. This guy is the main reason Iowa is playing for a championship Wednesday. If he can at least keep Iowa close against UNC, he should have tournament MVP wrapped up. (I say that without much research...I know Rashad McCants put up 27 tonight, but, c'mon, Horner is averaging 22.5 pts and 6 ast so far, and has carried his team to two upsets).
On to the UNC game - does Iowa have a chance? Well, I thought they'd have their hands full with Louisville, and I figured the magic would run out against Texas, so what do I know? First, UNC is a lot more athletic than either of those teams, and features some of the most talented players in the country at several positions. Sports Illustrated picks UNC #1 overall (the SI cover curse already toppled them last week against Santa Clara), and they have McCants first team All-America and PG Raymond Felton second team. Carolina's 260 pound center, Sean May, averaged 15 pts and almost 10 reb per game last year, and should be a tough matchup for Iowa's (not-so-)big guys. UNC also picked up one of the nation's top (Athlon Sports says #2 nationwide) freshmen recruits in Marvin Williams. Hopefully Iowa can surprise me one more time by keeping up with UNC, but I'm not holding my breath. Horner put the team on his back so far, but he's already played 39 minutes in each of the first two games. If Pierre can't go, Mike Henderson and Carlton Reed will have to take up his 34 mpg. Even if they can't pull another upset, you have to figure Iowa can slip into the top 25 next week, and the first two wins should look pretty nice come March when the tournament selection committee is making its decisions.
I plan to check out Carolina Basketball Update a couple times Wednesday. Its author should get a recap of Carolina's 94-81 win over Tennessee, and will hopefully look ahead to the Iowa game.
Oh, in case anyone wants to argue with my selection of Jeff Horner as tonight's player of the game, I'd like to hear from you. I saw that Yahoo! made Pierce their pick. Let's compare:
- Horner - 27 pts, 4 reb, 6 ast, 1 stl.....3 FT in last 0:25
- Pierce - 18 pts, 7 reb, 7 ast, 4 stl.....3-ptr to put Iowa up 1 with 0:45 to play
I'll be heading back to my hometown Wednesday, which means good news and bad news for me. Good news - I can watch the game on TV without having to resort to a noisy bar (woo DirecTV!). Bad news - I'll have to deal with Jurassic era dial-up on my parent's computer when I attempt to post here. Should be interesting.
Iowa 76, Louisville 71
Hawks win! Iowa upsets a ranked Louisville team for the second straight season. I can't say I saw that one coming. They'll get #16 Texas tomorrow night - Texas knocked off host school Chaminade 84-62.
I really have no insight to offer tonight - I was late getting to the Vine to watch the game, and with the food, beer, and conversation there I had my hands full trying to take in the game.
Iowa goes for two upsets in a row tomorrow night at 6 CT.
I think that was the longest stretch this season without a post. I drove to Des Moines after the game Friday, ran the Living History Farms cross country race Saturday, then settled in to watch two great football games - ISU's comeback rout of K State and Iowa's domination of Wisconsin. That was a nice diversion, but I'm ready to get back to basketball. What a better way then three games in three days in a tournament loaded with talented teams and players?
Iowa tips off with Louisville in just a couple hours. I'm guessing most Hawk fans are as excited as myself to see how this year's team will fare against a quality opponent. Most Hawk fans are of the opinion that this year's team is an improvement over last year's, so this game will be a good test to see where we're at.
Unfortunately I have yet to order cable since moving to my new place, so I'll either be catching the game on the radio or at a local sports bar. Stop back after the game for one fan's overview of Iowa's performance.