Iowa wrapped up the 2020-21 men's college basketball season on Sunday with a win over Wisconsin in what can, if we're feeling extremely charitable, be called a basketball game. The last 34 seconds of the game took 13 minutes of real time because of a few fouls and more video reviews than we could count. It was an interminable slog, but it was an all-too-fitting way to end the game because "interminable slog" is one of the most accurate ways to describe the two hours of time Iowa and Wisconsin spent on a basketball court today.
You know a game was a truly miserable experience when none of the main takeaways have anything to do with any actual on-court happenings. The main takeaways from this game were definitely the officiating and, unfortunately, an injury. Worst news first: Joe Wieskamp suffered an ankle injury in the first half. He appeared to be in a lot of pain, had to be helped off the floor, went immediately to the locker room, and was later seen in a walking boot. That all looked really bad. With Jack Nunge out for the season, Iowa can ill-afford another major injury and a loss of Wieskamp, Iowa's second-best player and a key scorer, rebounder, and defender, would be especially damaging.
There was no official word on the severity of his injury nor any sort of official timetable for his return, but the comments from some of the players and coaches suggested some cautious optimism that his ankle injury wasn't too severe. Iowa's win today locked up the #3 seed and means that they don't play in the Big Ten Tournament until Friday night (against either Wisconsin, Penn State, or Nebraska), which gives him several days this week to heal up. And if he's still not ready by Friday, so be it; the NCAA Tournament is set to begin a week from Friday (March 19), so he's got a little under two weeks to heal until then.
Seeing a player go down with an injury is always awful, but it was especially tough to see it happen to Wieskamp today because he looked like he was in the midst of putting together a career-best performance. Wieskamp had 12 points on 5/5 shooting in 12 minutes of action in this game before stepping on the foot of a Wisconsin player and rolling his ankle. He was absolutely locked-in today and it seemed like he might light Wisconsin up like a Christmas tree. Alas, that didn't happen and now we just hope his ankle injury isn't as bad as it looked in the moment and that he'll be healthy for the big games to come for Iowa over the next few weeks.
The other takeaway from this game was the officiating because it was one of the biggest REF SHOWS in a long, long time. And given the standard of officiating in the Big Ten lately, you know that's saying something. To say that the officiating in this game made very little sense would be an understatement. It was mind-numbingly bad and wildly inconsistent. After letting a lot of contact go in the first half, the officials did a 180 at half time and started calling all manner of contact in the second half. Sometimes the calls favored Iowa. Sometimes the calls favored Wisconsin. Often incidents went unpenalized that seemed worse than the fouls that were called. It was, to put it simply, a fucking mess. In all 24 fouls were called in the second half alone (14 on Wisconsin, 10 on Iowa) and there were at least half that many video reviews, either for the fouls themselves or some other incident (or imagined incident). This game, and the second half in particular, had all the flow of a badly clogged toilet. It was an absolute garbage show and the best thing we can say about it is that at least Iowa didn't lose the game.
All of that nonsense did obscure the fact that some Iowa players performed really well in this game. Luka Garza and Jordan Bohannon both balled out in the final games of their careers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Outside of the hot-shooting Wieskamp, Garza was the force that kept Iowa ticking on offense in the first half. He had 11 points on 4/8 shooting and 9 rebounds and was the reliably dominant presence we've come to love and rely upon over the past two seasons. He finished the game with 21 points (9/18 shooting, just 1/6 from 3-point range), 16 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 assists. That was an impressive all-around performance and a pretty good closing argument in his case to be Big Ten (and National) Player of the Year. Garza also learned after the game that his number #55 would be retired by Iowa after the season, which is a fully deserved honor; more on that in another post.
While Garza was a steady presence for Iowa in both halves, Bohannon really lit up the second half and was essential in closing out the victory for Iowa. He had four rebounds and five assists in the opening 20 minutes, but no points. He got on the scoreboard in a big way in the second half, though, going off for 16 points on 4/8 shooting from the floor (3/6 from long range) and a perfect 5/5 showing at the free throw line. 10 of Bohannon's 16 second-half points came in the final four minutes as he came up with clutch play after clutch play to drag Iowa over the finish line with a victory against the Badgers. He drilled a three-pointer to tie the game with 3:24 to go, then made a layup to cut Wisconsin's lead to one on Iowa's next possession.
He had a pivotal possession with just over a minute to go, hauling in a rebound off a D'mitrik Trice missed three-pointer, then tearing down court and drawing a foul at the basket. He made both free throws to give Iowa a 70-69 lead. On Iowa's next possession, Connor McCaffery split a pair of free throws, but Keegan Murray hauled in an offensive rebound on McCaffery's miss to extend the possession. After a timeout, Iowa ran a series of ball screens and got the ball to Bohannon, who nearly drained an off-balance three -- but did draw a foul from Trice (his fifth of the game). Bohannon went back to the line and drained all three free throws to give Iowa a 74-71 lead with 34 seconds to play. There was nothing in this game as poetic as the game-winning three he made at Wisconsin as a freshman in 2017, but he made a slew of clutch plays to ensure Iowa came away with the win.
Outside of Garza, Bohannon, and first-half Wieskamp, Iowa's best player was Keegan Murray. With no Nunge or Wieskamp, Iowa leaned on the true freshman heavily (he played 27 minutes today) but he delivered in a big way, with 13 points on 5/6 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks. But even those numbers undersell how impactful he was, because he made plenty of smart, meaningful plays, like the offensive rebound he snatched off of Connor's missed free throw -- and the immediate timeout he called. He came through with a pair of made free throws with Iowa up just one with 21 seconds to play, too. Murray has delivered so often this year that we're no longer surprised when he comes up with another big play or big game -- but we are very, very grateful. This season would look a lot different without his emergence as a key part of Iowa's rotation.
No other Iowa player had more than six points. Fredrick had six points on 2/5 shooting but had no rebounds or assists. If Wieskamp does have to miss time (such as the Big Ten Tournament next weekend), Iowa is going to need some more production out of Fredrick to fill that void. Iowa also got six points and two assists from Joe Toussaint in 12 minutes of action today, which was a nice boost off the bench.
There was a lot to dislike about this game, starting with Wieskamp's unfortunate injury and the absolute officiating shitshow of the second half. But at least the good guys won in the end. In doing so they secured a 20-win regular season and a #3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, their best-ever seeding in that event under Fran McCaffery. Jordan Bohannon and Luka Garza got to go out as winners on Senior Day and both played well in their final games at CHA. So let's focus on that and hope that Weezy heals up rapidly. The last three months of the season have been fun, but now it's March and it's time for the main event: TOURNAMENT SZN is upon us.