Last Thursday, Iowa rattled off a Big Ten Tournament-record 112 points as part of an easy 112-76 win over Northwestern, the first of four consecutive wins in the Big Ten Tournament that ended with Iowa hoisting a trophy and dancing under confetti. A week later, Iowa scored barely half of that total in a dispiriting 67-63 loss to Richmond in the first round that sent them crashing out of the NCAA Tournament just hours after it had started. Last week Iowa exorcised painful demons from over 15 years of Big Ten Tournament failures. The hope, after that triumphant display in Indianapolis, that the Hawkeyes would finally be able to do the same in the NCAA Tournament and end a 23-year Sweet 16 drought . They did not. Those demons continue to bedevil Iowa and show no signs of stopping.
What do you want to blame for this five-alarm fire of disappointment? The officiating? They certainly made some egregiously bad mistakes in the final few minutes, swallowing their whistles on seemingly blatant fouls against Kris and Keegan Murray. The players? They looked tight and uncomfortable and were never able to find a comfort level in the game; their hesitancy only got more pronounced as Richmond continued to hang around (and take the lead) later and later into the second half. The coaches? They seemed ill-prepared, struggled to make adjustments or use timeouts to slow Richmond's surges, and generally couldn't seem to figure out how to light the spark that Iowa needed. The hype gods? Iowa was the belle of the ball heading into this NCAA Tournament, with no shortage of observers and analysts picking them to make deep runs in the postseason. The ball? Apparently no one likes the basketball being used for this year's NCAA Tournament. Anyway: take your pick, there's plenty of blame to go around.
There's no doubt that this was an epic failure for Iowa and a gigantic missed opportunity. Richmond was a good team, certainly, as well as a team entering this event with plenty of good vibes after their surge through the A-10 Tournament -- but surely no more good vibes than Iowa had, after their own conference tournament title capped off a sensational six week surge through the Big Ten ranks. Iowa was a heavy favorite to beat Richmond, and would have been favored against Providence on Saturday as well. This was the best path back to the Sweet 16 that Iowa has had in decades. And they threw it all away with a tentative, shot-clanging disasterpiece of a performance.
Shot-clanging is maybe all you need to know about the game. Iowa started off missing shots -- they whiffed on their first four attempts and opened up 2/9 in the first minutes -- and just never really stopped missing shots. This was unquestionably one of the worst shooting performances of the season -- only the unmitigated brickfest that was the regular season game against Rutgers and the Iowa State no-show effort were lousier than this -- and it came at the worst possible time. For the game, Iowa shot 36% overall from the floor (24/66) and an eye-poppingly, preposterously terrible 21% (6/29) from 3-point range. Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley carrying Iowa out of the NCAA Tournament. Keegan and Kris Murray were a combined 0/8 from 3-point range, while Payton Sandfort, Tony Perkins, and Connor McCaffery were a combined 0/7 from deep. Jordan Bohannon went 2/7 from outside, while only Patrick McCaffery was remotely effective at shooting threes -- he finished 4/7 from outside.
The younger McCaffery was the only Iowa player with a halfway decent offensive game today, really. He finished with 18 points on 7/17 shooting and there were stretches when his offense was the only thing keeping Iowa in the game at all. Keegan Murray, in perhaps his final game in an Iowa uniform, had a... weird game. He led Iowa with 21 points (on 7/15 shooting) and had 9 rebounds, 2 assists, a block, and a steal; on a surface level, those seem like perfectly solid (or downright good) numbers. And yet I don't think anyone who watched this game would come away from it thinking that Keegan had a good game. Part of that is the remarkably high standard that he's set this year -- when you perform at a stellar level night after night for five months, the expectations get a bit higher -- but this also just wasn't the type of performance that we've come to expect from Murray... or that Iowa needed from him today. His touch was off for most of the game -- he was consistently short on three-point tries and and struggled with shots around the rim early on, too. He seemed overly passive at times and didn't get enough touches on offense for long stretches of time. He seemed to roll his ankle at one point -- did that have an impact on the rest of his game? Perhaps.
For Iowa, their gameplan all year has been pretty simple: they need Keegan Murray to be the best player on the court. They've been able to win a few games this season when that wasn't the case, but not many. Today, Keegan Murray wasn't the best player on the court. Richmond guard Jacob Gilyard was the best player on the court today -- he had a game-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists, hit several clutch shots, made key passes, and generally just directed the game for Richmond in exactly the way they needed him to do. Props to him.
Outside of Keegan and Patrick McCaffery, Iowa couldn't get production from anyone else. The bench had just seven points total and no other starter and more than six points (Bohannon and Perkins). Filip Rebraca had five points, nine rebounds, two blocks, and a steal and was probably Iowa's third-best player today.
This one stings. It burns. It's going to ache for a very, very, very long time. Because an incredibly fun Iowa team with a tremendous opportunity to end years of NCAA Tournament futility wasted that chance today by producing one of their tamest, least effective games of the season. Game over, man.