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February 11, 2013

Weekend Thoughts

It was a busy and eventful week in Hawkeye athletics. From tough road losses for the basketball team to signing day, to rumors of coaching changes on the football team, to another Big Ten title for the Iowa wrestling team, there's plenty to talk about.

We start this week with hoops.

1. Great to see Devyn Marble shake out of his shooting slump on Saturday afternoon. The junior guard was in a funk. The blame can be pointed in several different directions. Whether it was the sprained ankle that kept him out of the lineup against Michigan State or a lingering turf toe issue or missing two late game shots against Purdue, he wasn't playing like he has been most of the season.

Since the Purdue game, Marble had failed to reach double figures. Including the Purdue game, he was 6-33 from the field over the course of four games. More importantly since the Purdue game, he wasn't getting to the foul line. Against Indiana in the Big Ten opener, Marble was 1-14 from the field, but he got to the line 13 times, making 12. The slump ended quickly on Saturday against Northwestern with an 8-13 performance from the field, including a dunk and a three pointer in the first few minutes of the game. Marble finished with 21 points and looked like he had found his scoring mojo once again.

2. One other player that should be highlighted at this point in the season is Eric May. The senior swingman has arguably been playing the best basketball of his career. Early on in his time as a Hawkeye, Iowa needed points from the Dubuque native. Since the first Northwestern game, May has made 19-31 shots (62%) and has 16 assists and just 5 turnovers. Many times he's also been asked to guard the best scorers for the opposing team. The Hawkeye captain has been playing smart basketball, letting the game come to him, and he's shown outstanding leadership.

3. The Hawkeyes now sit at 15-9 and 4-7 in conference play. The good news is the hard part of the schedule is over. That isn't to say the last seven games will be easy because nothing is easy in the toughest conference in the country. But, there are some winnable games left for the Hawkeyes and 9-9 or even 10-8 in the Big Ten seems possible for the Iowa Basketball team. That would put the 2012-13 Hawkeyes over 20 wins in the regular season for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

4. What would that mean for Iowa's NCAA Tournament chances? Well, it's a little bit of putting the cart before the horse because nothing will be given to the Hawkeyes down the stretch. But, a 10-8 record in the toughest conference in the country (by a wide margin) would certainly put the Hawkeyes on the bubble. As far as the Big Ten Tournament, the top five seem to be locked up. The order of the top five is very much up in the air, but I think we are fairly certain that it will include Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State. After that, the 6-10 spots are very much in flux. Iowa has the easiest schedule on paper and could slide into the 6th or 7th spot if they take care of business.

As far as the NCAA Tournament, one thing needs to be noted, the selection committee does not have limits on how many schools they can take from a conference. Heck, the Big East had nine bids last year to the Big Dance. This won't be a choice between Iowa or Illinois or even Minnesota. The conference affiliation doesn't come into play. Having talked to sportswriters who have gone through the mock selection process that the NCAA puts on each year (it's this weekend in Indianapolis by the way), each team is looked at and compared with other individual teams. The selection process has nothing to do with a certain number of slots for one conference.

5. One other hoops note that I think will be investigated in the next few weeks as we all look for something to write about on a daily basis, if Iowa doesn't make the NCAA Tournament, then can they play home games in the early rounds of the National Invitational Tournament. I still need to get clarification on this one, but since Iowa City is a host site for the Women's NCAA Tournament, there is a real chance that the Hawkeyes could be locked out of hosting the first two rounds of the NIT because the NCAA takes over the venue early n the week leading up to the event. Remember last year, Iowa hosted Dayton, even though the Flyers were the higher seed, because they were hosting the First Four games in Dayton. Don't hit that panic button just yet. Iowa still hopes to make the NCAA Tournament and no one has received confirmation yet as to the status of Carver-Hawkeye to host a game in the NIT if needed.

6. Speaking of the Women's Tournament, two weeks ago it looked like the Hawkeye women were a lock to make the field and were simply working on securing a higher seed. Bluder's Bunch were sitting at 16-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten. Since then Iowa has lost three straight contest and now they are firmly headed into bubble territory. The task doesn't get any easier this week when the Hawkeyes host Nebraska and Penn State this week. The Huskers are coming on strong and the Nittany Lions lead the league with a 10-1 mark in conference play. Two wins this week and Iowa's back off the bubble and playing for a seed. Lose two this week and Iowa will need to beat Indiana and Northwestern and probably win a Big Ten Tournament game or two in order to feel any sense of security. The good news is that Iowa already has an impressive resume with six wins over nationally ranked teams.

7. On to football, where signing day has come and gone for another year. There were plenty of twists and turns once again this year from the de-commitments of David Kenney and Delano Hill, to a few off the radar names jumping on board late, and the Hawkeyes winning out in the saga that was Reggie Spearman's recruitment. Iowa finished up with the 52nd ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com and they were tied for 8th in the Big Ten. While many skeptics will say those numbers aren't that impressive, Iowa did change their approach coming into this recruiting cycle and they were able to land 16 commits before the season started and held on to 14 of them. Given that the Hawkeyes finished with a 4-8 record, I think there is something positive in there.

8. I think Reggie Spearman's recruitment was pretty interesting. It was almost like a recruiting version of spin the bottle Spearman's first spin landed on Indiana. The next spin landed on Illinois. What turned out to be the final spin, landed on Iowa. Add in the fact that he regularly engaged fans from Iowa, Syracuse, Illinois, and Minnesota on twitter and the fact that he played the hat game at his announcement ceremony and there was plenty of drama to take in for fans.

9. One final football related note, we finally received official confirmation of the worst kept secret in Iowa City. Receivers coach Erik Campbell left the program in the middle of December and it was officially announced early last week. He won't be the only assistant leaving the Iowa program as it is expected that running backs coach Lester Erb will not be returning. That would mean two spots on the coaching staff that need to be filled. Kirk Ferentz was asked about coaching changes on Wednesday and he basically punted on a detailed answer. I guess the good news for those still seeking more information is that Ferentz said on Wednesday that he expects to make staffing decisions in 10-14 days and he would meet with the media at that point. After being able to sell the stability of his coaching staff to recruits for many years, the past two seasons have been filled with quite a bit of turnover and movement.

As far as the names of new members to the Iowa coaching staff, two names that we have been discussing for quite a while surfaced in a report on the fairly reliable site, footballscoop.com this weekend. They reported that former Texas and Colorado WR coach Bobby Kennedy and former Virginia DC Jim Reid would likely land on the Iowa coaching staff. We've been talking about those two names for a while as potential candidates, so look for more confirmation in the next week or so from Kirk Ferentz.

10. Congrats to Tom Brands and company on winning the Big Ten Dual Meet championship for 2013. Iowa finished the Big Ten dual season with a perfect 8-0 record, including a win over formerly top ranked Penn State. Now it's on to wrapping up the dual portion of the schedule, including the National Duals, and then it's on to March, where individual glory awaits. This year the Big Ten championships will take place in Champaign on the second weekend in March, followed by the NCAA Championships in Des Moines March 21-23.



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