In the days leading up to the 1999 Creighton-Iowa game in Omaha that I reminisced briefly about in the Primer last Friday, there was a lot of talk from western Iowa Hawk fans that they wished the teams played more often. Omaha is a lot closer drive than Iowa City for folks in Sioux City, Council Bluffs, and other cities along the eastern side of the Missouri River, and the crowd that day at the Civic reflected that. After the Jays 85-76 win, completing a sweep of the home-and-home series, you didn’t hear so much talk about making the games a regular occurrence.
Yesterday, as we waited in a seemingly endless line just inside the South entrance to Wells Fargo Arena, there it was again — rumblings from Hawk fans wishing this was a more regular series. We had lots of time to kill while we waited for 20 minutes in the lobby, so I struck up a conversation with a couple of the people around me in black and gold that were wishing for just such a series. One gentleman was from Shenandoah and said he wished they played in Omaha every other year, as it would give him a chance to see the team without driving 4+ hours. Another was from Harlan, and echoed those sentiments.
After the Jays 82-59 win, I’d imagine that much like in 1999 you won’t hear much about making this a regular matchup for a while, at least not from Iowa fans. It was about as complete a dismantling as a game gets — when Creighton took out it’s starters to a standing ovation with just under four minutes to play, it was 80-48 — and most of the Hawk fans weren’t around to see the final.
I grew up in Iowa as a Hawkeye fan, but shed my allegiances to their basketball program 15 years ago upon enrolling at Creighton — and thoroughly enjoyed ribbing my friends back home over the past couple of weeks about this game. At least the Jays (and by extension, me) have bragging rights until the next time they play, which given the way the game turned out, will probably be sometime after Fran McCaffrey is no longer coaching them, and some new coach without a memory of losing to Creighton is on their bench.
Las Vegas oddsmakers had the Hawks a two-point favorite on Sunday, which was a surprise. As I wrote in our pregame piece, Iowa was likely to be without center Andrew Brommer, who at 6’10″ was really their only hope of containing Echenique and McDermott. They opted to put Devon Archie in the middle to begin the game, and pieced things together from there after he had a predictably mediocre game. The Jays dominated the glass 43-28, including a ridiculous 32-18 edge on defensive boards, and the only thing keeping the margin that close was the fact that Creighton made nearly 60% of its shots, leaving very few offensive rebound opportunities.
It wasn’t just on the glass where Creighton’s superior post play was evident, though. They held Iowa to 38% shooting inside the arc, and the combination of a suffocating defense and a huge deficit by the midway point of the first half forced Iowa to take their offense behind the arc. As often happens when a team is forced to do that, the struggles — and the deficit — mounted.
McDermott and Echenique combined for 40 points and 18 rebounds, combined with 12 points and 12 rebounds from Iowa’s primary post players. Without Brommer, everyone knew where the huge advantage would be, and Creighton exploited it. Numbers alone don’t do it justice. McDermott and Echenique’s points seemed easier to come by, either because they were in better position to score or because they were simply bigger and better than whoever Iowa threw at them. It was the kind of performance you often see when a BCS team plays a mid-major…except it was the mid-major doing the bruising, and the BCS team that was undersized.
Compounding their problems inside, point guard Bryce Cartwright was sick and played just 20 mostly ineffective minutes, and the Hawks were cold from three-point range after making a school-record 31 three pointers through their first three games.
Meanwhile, the Jays scorched the nets from outside, making 9-19 three pointers including 7-12 in the first half alone. Creighton won the battle at every position, had the bigger, more athletic team, shot well but not unsustainably well, and proved over the course of 40 minutes to be the vastly superior team. All of which makes it incredibly frustrating to hear Melsahn Basabe, a good player for the Hawks, say this after the game:
“We’re a Big Ten team,” Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe said when asked about the three blowout victories to start the season. “You’re supposed to beat all those teams by 40 to 50 points. We’re supposed to beat them by more, honestly. Think about it. You’re supposed to kill teams like that. It gets tougher. We’re in the Big Ten. That was a Missouri Valley team.”
Yeah, the Jays are just a Missouri Valley team. A Missouri Valley team that led by as many as 33 points, and won by 23, convincing everyone who the better team was except, apparently, for Melsahn Basabe.
Individually for the Jays, there were lots of standout performances. Freshman Avery Dingman played just about the most efficient 11 minutes I’ve ever seen out of a first-year player in just his fourth game; in those 11 minutes, he scored 14 points on 4-4 shooting from behind the arc, 2-2 at the free throw line, and grabbed two rebounds. Doug McDermott had 25 points and 9 rebounds, and had 17 points in the first half when the game was still in doubt. He could have scored 40 if not for easing up in the second half. You’re nodding your head in agreement, you know you are. Gregory Echenique had 15 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks. Great performances, all.
And then there was Grant Gibbs. If you look only at points scored as your measure of a player’s contributions, you miss a lot –and in the case of Gibbs, you miss everything. He had five points and was 2-7 from the field, which are pedestrian numbers. But look further down the stat sheet and you see 6 assists, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals. Look away from the stat sheet entirely, and you see a playmaker who either makes the pass that leads to a shot, or makes the first pass that leads to an assist from someone else. Watching him create opportunities for other players is nothing short of astonishing.
UAB lost at home to Murray State over the weekend, lessening the impressiveness of the Jays’ win there earlier in the week, and Iowa is not going to contend for a postseason bid this year (at least not in the big two tourneys, anyway). But that doesn’t take away from what the Jays accomplished this week. They went on the road in a tough environment, and proved they could win a game. Then they went to a neutral floor and blew a team out in front of 7-8000 fans cheering against them.
The wins themselves may not be impressive, RPI or resume-building-wise. But taken as steps on the journey to a March run, they’re hugely impressive.