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Something very strange has been happening to me lately. Nothing seems to end when it should.
This began a week ago Saturday when the Iowa men’s basketball team defeated Penn State in double-overtime. After I filed my column from that game in Iowa City, I drove to St. Louis, where Northern Iowa would play Illinois State the next day in the Missouri Valley Conference final.
On the way down while tooling around the dial on my trusty XM Satellite Radio, I saw the Ohio Valley Conference title game was winding down. Austin Peay and Morehead State.
The Hlog tries to make your life better, and you know it. Today, we invite you to join a live blog from the Iowa-Michigan game at the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament in Indianapolis.
We’ll comment. You’ll comment. We’ll be working. You’ll be … at work.
You can’t see the Hawkeyes tangle with the Wolverines from Conseco Fieldhouse? It’s OK. Gazette sportswriter Scott Doctherman and I, your faithful servant who manages this site, will put you inside the arena. Or at least in the arena’s parking ramp.
Look, this could be Iowa’s last game of the season. Do you want to spend it alone in your cubicle, or with many of the best friends you’ll ever have who you’ve never met? Talk about a no-brainer.
We understand the point, but also understand that this is likely an economic decision based on projected supply and demand. Michigan might have had its worst record in its history, but it still has more fans than Northwestern. The game is also homecoming, which always counts for something.
Rovell is, of course, right. More people want to see a Michigan team coming off a 3-9 season than a Northwestern club coming off a 9-4 year.
But that doesn’t mean the Hlog can’t stir the already-turbulent water between Northwestern and Iowa fans by manufacturing a tempest in a teapot.
And, just because more people would rather see Michigan than Northwestern doesn’t make it right. Ozzie Davis’ character Da Mayor said it best for all of us many years ago in Spike Lee’s movie “Do The Right Thing.”:
Northwestern and Iowa have a history of football animosity for each other, and this week just aggravated it.
Maybe the rivalry began in earnest in 1995 when Northwestern center Rob Johnson said “I don’t want to just beat that team, I want to hurt Iowa.”
That wasn’t nice. It also was just before the Hawkeyes’ 21-game win streak over the Wildcats ended, so you could see how some of the purple guys may have had their fill of all things Iowa.
Gary Barnett supposedly chose Iowa as his model when he took over the Northwestern program in 1992. His guys beat the Hawkeyes in 1995 and went on to the Rose Bowl that season.
While the Wildcats have had just four winning records since that 1995 season, they’ve won seven of their last 12 games against the Hawkeyes.
Harsh feelings cropped up again last December when Iowa got the Big Ten’s Outback Bowl slot instead of Northwestern even though the Hawkeyes were 8-4, the Wildcats were 9-3, and Northwestern beat Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa fans laughed, Northwestern fans griped, and snarky Internet wars of words between the two weren’t hard to locate.
Why bring this up in March? Because there’s a fresh diss to discuss, one that came from the Hawkeyes’ camp.
Iowa announced its football ticket prices for 2009. Season tickets, wisely, are being held at $339. Single-game tickets for the Oct. 10 Michigan game will go for $70. Single-game seats for the Sept. 9 Arizona game will go for $65. All others will be $52. The Nov. 7 Northwestern contest is among the others.
Is that such an insult? Absolutely.
Michigan went 3-9 last season. Northwestern was 9-4. But the Iowa organization deemed Hawkeye fans’ interest in seeing a rebuilding Wolverines program is higher than watching a Wildcats team that beat Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2008!
You would think Iowa might at least consider jacking up the price of the Northwestern game instead of the Sept. 19 meeting with Arizona.
Arizona? Iowa and Arizona don’t have a rivalry. The don’t share a climate, let alone a conference. They haven’t met in 11 years. It’s just a game.
Other than the fact the Arizona game is a lot more likely to be played in nicer weather than the Northwestern clash two months later, what’s the hook?
With Northwestern, it’s a ready-made sale. Those smarty-pants from Evanston got us here last year, the promotions could say. But this time it’s personal.
OK, it’s not an original line. Still, it will be personal. For both sides.
Those Iowa hicks took our Outback Bowl spot, Northwestern can say. Those Wildcats didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves with turnovers, the Iowa side can say.
Run a reverse, Iowa ticket office. Sell $70 tickets for the Northwestern game, and $52 seats for Michigan.
Seventy bucks for Michigan is overpriced nostalgia, like charging $70 to see the remnants of ‘70s rock bands. People may pay it, but that doesn’t make it right.
Is this not a premium logo?
Folks, Michigan lost to Toledo last season. It got flattened by Notre Dame and Illinois. It got outscored by 104 points over the season.
Some year, the Wolverines may be powerful once more. That year isn’t likely to be this year.
Michigan is Iowa’s “premium” game? It’s more like unleaded.
If the Northwestern men’s basketball team wins at Ohio State Sunday and other games this weekend break the right way, Northwestern could have the seventh seed in next week’s Big Ten tourney and meet 10th-seed Iowa in Thursday’s first round.
With is “premium game” snub in football, the Wildcats basketballers may carry the water for their insulted football brothers, and take it out against the Hawkeyes in Indianapolis.
See what you’ve done, Iowa ticket office. It’s like a pebble in a lake. Even the fish feel it.
The Michigan men’s basketball team plays Iowa today, giving us hope.
Maybe one or both of the teams will crack 50, 55, or — dare I say it? — 60 points in the game.
The Wolverines did tally 74 in their 12-point home win over Minnesota Thursday. Perhaps the momentum of that effort will send Carver-Hawkeye Arena back in time, when teams sometimes traded scores on consecutive possessions.
Living here, we think offense appearing to be played in quicksand is a Hawkeye thing. Yes, Iowa does rank 304th of the 330 Division I teams in scoring with 60.6 points per game. That’s 31 less than North Carolina averages.
But the Hawkeyes reside in a conference that plays different ball than most other American leagues.
“The Big Ten puts a huge emphasis on defense,” said Big Ten Network studio analyst Tim Doyle. “The ACC and the Big East, they’re more willing to give up a hoop thinking they’ll get a hoop on the next possession.”
OK, Doyle’s a Big Ten Network guy and a former Big Ten player. He played very well for three seasons at Northwestern after transferring from St. John’s, near his hometown on Long Island.
But he doesn’t sound like a Big Ten puppet on the air, or off it.
“I don’t know if it’s in the water,” he said, “but it does seem like guys on the East Coast and maybe the SEC are more athletic. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s what the farmers are feeding us here.”
Through Thursday’s games, these were the points per team in conference games of the six BCS leagues: 1. ACC 73.1, 2. SEC 72.0, 3. (tie) Big 12 and Big East 71.0, 5. Pac-10 67.1, 6. Big Ten 63.4.
“But look at the defensive production,” Doyle said. “Look at points-per-game allowed, field goal percentage defense. Look at the assist-to-turnover ratio. They aren’t gaudy or sexy categories, but the Big Ten dominates them.”
If you like that kind of ball, it’s great. But take the names off the uniforms and which do you think would get more of a following, the Big 12 or Big East with seven teams apiece averaging over 76 points per game, or the Big Ten, with only Michigan State (79th at 73.8 ppg) among the nation’s top 145 teams in scoring?
Seven Big Ten teams are among the country’s top 45 in scoring defense. Iowa is 12th at 58.9 points allowed per game. Even as short-handed as they’ve been lately, the Hawkeyes play good defense.
But the only time defense-dominated ball captures the public’s fancy is when it leads to lots of wins.
Nothing makes Penn State’s 38-33 win at Illinois last Wednesday satisfying. Had that score been posted in a Big East or ACC gym, America would have howled in disgust. But since it occurred in Big Ten play, it’s more amusing than shocking.
Ultimately, though, can Big Ten teams cut through the NCAA tournament? Doyle says yes, and he has history on his side.
Since Michigan State was the last Big Ten team to win it all, in 2000, five more conference teams have been to the Final Four. Illinois and MSU went in the same year, 2005.
In those same eight seasons only the ACC (seven) and Big 12 (six) had as many Final Four representatives.
“I know this is hard to believe,” Doyle said, “but I think the Big Ten is poised to have a nice NCAA tourney.
“Look at the non-conference season. Purdue lost to Oklahoma in overtime, Oklahoma is No. 2 in the country, and Purdue gave that game away. I think Oklahoma shot 50 free throws (46, actually) and Purdue had five.
“Illinois beat the crap out of Missouri (75-59), for lack of a better word, in St. Louis.
“Nationally, the league doesn’t have the sexy rankings or five teams in the Top 25. But it has the strengths-of-schedules, the RPIs that the tournament committee looks at.”
None of which changes the facts the ACC and Big 12 and Big East tournaments will be more enjoyable to watch than the Big Ten tourney.
Nor does it change the fact Michigan-Iowa isn’t likely to be as entertaining as today’s Syracuse-Villanova or Wake Forest-Duke games.
But Doyle says better days are coming for the Hawkeyes. He calls himself a big fan of Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter, and likes Lickliter’s nucleus of young players.
“Jeff Peterson’s improved his game,” said Doyle. “If he and (Cyrus) Tate are healthy, and if (Anthony) Tucker was there, they’d have seven or eight wins in the conference.
“Jake Kelly and (Matt) Gatens, I really like them. Gatens is going to be one of those guys who are rock-solid, and Peterson will be a rock-solid point guard.”
But we live in the present, and Doyle doesn’t pretend the Hawkeyes will wow their Big Ten Network audience with offensive artistry today.
With the confirmation Wednesday that Illinois will close its season with a game at Cincinnati, all the Big Ten football schedules are set for 2009.
First off, while Illini fans sound irritated that their team will play Fresno State at home and Cincinnati on the road — both capable squads – after the Big Ten season is over, at least they’re real opponents.
Good for the Illini. It may mean another 5-7 season or, worse, a trip to the Motor City Bowl at 6-6. But it at least shows some willingness to play competition.
Either that, or Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther failed miserably at finding a patsy to squeeze into his schedule. I hope it’s that deal about wanting to play someone.
If only every Big Ten AD and coach had the same attitude. Hey, the Big Ten isn’t winning BCS titles anyhow and flops miserably every time it sends Ohio State to slaughter in the championship game. So why not make the regular-season more meaningful with actual ballgames?
Only 14 of the 44 nonconference games in ’09 are against BCS conference teams or Notre Dame. That’s ridiculous.
Are you the Big Ten or just the Ten? Actually, you’re the Eleven, but that horse has been beaten to death.
Only three league teams — Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota — are playing two BCS conference teams among their four non-league games. Wisconsin isn’t playing any.
Before noting the cupcakes, let’s give some kudos to the proud and the few who are at least playing interesting games.
Ohio State gets the return date on its home-and-home series with USC.
Purdue heads to Oregon after hosting the Ducks last fall.
Indiana filled out its schedule by taking a game at Virginia, thus becoming the only Big Ten team to play two of its nonconference games on the road.
Cal is playing at Minnesota and Arizona is at Iowa, so those are 2008 bowl teams from the Pac-10 coming into Big Ten lairs.
But by and large, Big Ten non-league slates are another big pile of bleccccch.
Nine games are against FCS (I-AA) opposition. Purdue and Ohio State are the only Big Ten teams not devouring FCS prey. A few are among the cream of the FCS crop, like Northern Iowa and Wofford. But …
Delaware State (5-6 last year) at Michigan?
Towson (3-9) at Northwestern?
Eastern Illinois (5-7) at Penn State?
Penn State is playing all four of its nonconference games at home, against Akron, Syracuse, Temple and mighty Eastern Illinois. That’s absurd. Are you a football power or not? If you are, act like one and schedule somebody.
Playing two Mid-American Conference teams, an FCS squad and Syracuse, the Least of the Big East, is great for wins. It won’t work too well in those BCS computers, though.
Ranking the non-league schedules by toughness is difficult, because most are lousy. But here goes:
1. Illinois: Vs. Missouri in St. Louis, Illinois State, Fresno State, at Cincinnati (The series with Mizzou is a good one, and Cincinnati is fresh off an Orange Bowl appearance.)
2. Minnesota: at Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota State (Air Force and Cal went to bowls, Syracuse is on the road, and S.D. State is one of the better FCS teams a Big Ten team is playing.)
3. Purdue: Toledo, at Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame. (Toledo was lousy in ’08, but the other three went to bowls and Oregon won 10 games.)
4. Wisconsin: Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii (The three FBS teams went to bowls, and Wofford won nine games and played South Carolina to a 10-point game.)
5. Ohio State: Navy, USC, vs. Toledo in Cleveland, New Mexico State (The USC game goes a long way here, obviously.)
6. Michigan State: Montana State, Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, Western Michigan. (Doesn’t look like much, but the three FBS teams went to bowls, the two MAC teams are in-state clubs that will be motivated, going to South Bend is no picnic, and Montana State was 7-5)
7. Iowa: Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas State. (UNI’s a terrific FCS team, and Arizona’s legit. If Iowa State were just a little stronger …)
Now it gets bad.
8. Indiana: Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, at Akron, at Virginia. (Western Michigan is a good program. Playing on the road twice should count for something, though all it really means is Indiana is a Big Ten football program without much clout.)
9. Michigan: Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State. (Four home games. Not a Top 25 team in the bunch. This isn’t the Michigan scheduling we’ve known for the last half-century. Bo Schembechler would never have scheduled Delaware State.)
10. Northwestern: Miami (Ohio), Towson, at Syracuse, Eastern Michigan. (Not a good opponent in the foursome. Only playing Syracuse on the road keeps the ‘Cats from being ranked below … )
11. Penn State: Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois. (What, Slippery Rock, Swarthmore, Susquehanna, and Scranton/Dundler-Miffin weren’t available?)
(Note to readers: I changed the title of this post because one of you good e-mailers politely let me know Iowa had a 3-game stretch that produced just 147 points in the 1983-84 season. It’s been corrected in the words that follow, too, and I appreciate the head’s up.)
Going into Wednesday night’s home game against Wisconsin, the Iowa men’s basketball team has three straight defeats.
There have been longer stretches of losing.
But as far as putting the ball in the basket, it has rare over the last 60 years when the Hawkeyes have endured a 3-game stretch like the one they’re enduring.
Iowa’s totals of 49, 49 and 53 in games against Minnesota, Michigan and Purdue add up to 151, an average of 50.3.
Topping 50 Sunday at Purdue prevented the Hawkeyes from their first three-game streak of being held under that mark. The last time that happened was the 1948-49 season, when they had four consecutive games in the 40s.
No shot clock or 3-point line existed then, of course.
Iowa had back-to-back games in the 40s once last season, too, and seven overall.
This season, things looked better. The Hawkeyes actually topped 70 on four occasions. They didn’ t plummet under 50 until a 60-43 loss at Drake on Dec. 20. It was a harbinger of bad Big Ten things to come.
A 52-49 home loss to Minnesota. A 64-49 defeat at Michigan. And the most recent indignity, a 75-53 whipping at Purdue.
Now comes Wisconsin, which isn’t exactly a go-go outfit. Iowa scored 51 and 54 in losses to the Badgers last season.
There was a time when when the Hawkeyes were interesting on offense.
Maybe again some year. Maybe next year.
But not now.
I’m not trashing Todd Lickliter, not when he inherited a shell of a roster when he got to Iowa, and not when injuries have stopped this season’s team from maximizing its potential.
But when he doesn’t have the personnel to play his style of basketball, it’s hard to watch. And the way the Hawkeyes are playing right now is hard to watch.
The men’s basketball budgets of Northern Iowa and Drake are roughly half that of those at Iowa and Iowa State. So who has the two best teams in the state right now?
Northern Iowa, for sure, and probably Drake despite getting blasted by the Panthers the way it did last weekend.