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January 21, 2013

Weekend Thoughts

What an emotional weekend for Iowa fans as the Hawkeyes marked 20 years since the passing of Chris Street with a beautiful halftime ceremony and finished the evening with the biggest win of the season on the basketball court. Mix in another in-state football commitment on Sunday and a career milestone for Lisa Bluder and you have a jam packed edition of thoughts on this past weekend in Iowa athletics.

Buckle up, here we go.

1. What an emotional night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday night. It's hard to believe that Iowa fans were marking 20 years since the tragic passing of Chris Street. As Tom Davis said during the week, it seems like only yesterday, but it seems like so long ago. Seeing all the Iowa players come out in the white t-shirts with Street 40 on the back was something special. Seeing them on the bench wearing those shirts was touching. Seeing Jerry Strom pull out a Chris Street jersey and put it over the first chair on the bench…an amazing moment. Kudos to all involved. You did a tremendous job honoring one of the all time greats to wear the Iowa uniform.

2. The halftime ceremony to honor Chris Street was also very well done. It was great to see many of the players who have been honored with the Chris Street Award back in Carver-Hawkeye on Saturday night. Wade Lookingbill wearing the white Chris Street shirt was really special. So many former Hawkeyes back at Carver-Hawkeye and every one of them just honored to be there to remember Chris Street and to cheer on the Hawkeyes. Guys like Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska, two Street Award winners, were thrilled to be part of the ceremony. I spoke with several other players afterwards, including Jess Settles, and they couldn't stop talking about what a great evening it was for the Iowa Basketball family. It didn't hurt that Iowa beat the Badgers.:)

3. Speaking of the actual game, the Hawkeyes saved their best performance of the season for this night. Who had the Hawkeyes up 30-10 at one point in their predictions before the game? I certainly didn't. I've kind of had my doubts about Iowa's ability on the defensive end of the court, but they are getting better. The Hawkeyes have improved their overall points per game average on defense by nearly three points a game thus far in league play compared to a year ago. That might not seem like much, but last year they lost three games by five points or less in Big Ten play. The most important development for this Iowa team on Saturday night was they won. They beat a good team and made the plays down the stretch to win the game, which is something they failed to do against Indiana and Michigan State. It a nutshell, I think this team took a big step in the growth process.

4. The next step in that growth process starts Tuesday night when the Hawkeyes travel to Columbus to face Ohio State. The Hawkeyes have four of their next five on the road and this stretch will tell us a lot about this Iowa team. The larger point is none of them will be easy. Iowa hasn't won in Columbus since 2004. You have to go back to 2006 since Iowa has won at Purdue, where they will play on Sunday afternoon. After a home game against Penn State, Iowa travels to Minnesota, where they won last year, but prior to that, wins were few and far between. Then they wrap up this stretch with a trip to Madison, where Iowa won last year, but you can bet Bo Ryan and Company will be ready to end a three game losing streak to the Hawkeyes.

5. One last note from Saturday night's game. It's really refreshing to see how much this current group of Iowa Basketball players have embraced the history and tradition of the Hawkeye program. From wearing the Street shirts, to running over to the student section to celebrate big wins, this group gets it. While most of them weren't even alive when Chris Street wore the Iowa uniform, they were all moved by his story. Aaron White has heard more than once from Hawkeye fans how he reminds them of Chris Street and he played like him on Saturday night. Eric May, who was barely a year old when Street passed away, talked with great emotion about how much winning this game meant to him and the entire team. Fran McCaffery has gotten the Iowa Basketball story from the day he arrived on campus and his players get it too.

6. One last basketball related note. I had a chance to say hello to former Hawk Jeff Horner after the halftime ceremony and he filled me in on an outstanding performance on Friday night by future Hawkeye Peter Jok. Horner is Jok's high school coach at West Des Moines Valley and on Friday night they played Urbandale, which includes 2014 football prospect Allen Lazard. While his future is in football, Lazar is 6-foot-4, crazy athletic, and a pretty good basketball player. Jok matched up with Lazard and scored 41 points in a big win for Valley.

7. Speaking of 2014 football prospects, for the second straight weekend, the Kirk Ferentz received some good news on the recruiting front. As we hinted during the week, there were strong signals all week that 2014 in-state prospect Jay Scheel was close to pledging to the Hawkeyes. His decision to pick Iowa over Nebraska, Minnesota, and others wasn't much of a surprise. Scheel grew up an Iowa fan, so the Hawkeyes were always considered the clubhouse favorite. Once fellow 2014 prospect Ross Pierschbacher jumped on board last weekend, Scheel felt comfortable enough to join him. Now the Hawkeyes have two big time prospects who have said they will begin working on other prospects in their class.

8. Hats off to Lisa Bluder. On Sunday the Hawkeyes knocked off their fifth ranked opponent of the season when they defeated #11 ranked Purdue at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The win marked the 600th career victory for Bluder. Only 42 other coaches in women's hoops history have accomplished that feat. You always like it when good things happen to good people and Lisa Bluder is just that. Bluder and her staff are tremendous representatives of the University of Iowa on and off the court and congratulations to her on this great achievement. Now on to getting 700 wins…or more.

9. Tom Brands and the Iowa wrestlers completed a successful trip to the state of Michigan with pair of dual meet wins over the Wolverines and Spartans. Iowa dominated both meets, winning 33-10 on Friday night in Ann Arbor and picked up a 27-12 win on Sunday afternoon in East Lansing. Brands likes bonus points and he saw more of them this weekend. Next up for the Hawkeyes is a trip to Minnesota on Saturday afternoon in what should be one heck of a meet between two evenly matched squad.


10. Last, but certainly not least, while the recruiting focus this weekend has been on the 2014 class, next weekend will be all about wrapping up the Class of 2013. Currently, Iowa sits at 15 verbal commitments and with signing day just a few short weeks away, Kirk Ferentz and his staff are looking to use some of the 2014 momentum to land a few more prospects next weekend. While spots are limited, it looks like Iowa would like to add one more wide receiver, at least one linebacker, and perhaps a defensive back before calling it good in 2013. There may be one or two more spots beyond that yet to fill, but Ferentz has said that he expects this class to top out in the high teens.


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