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Commentary: Still learning the lessons

BY BRENDAN STILES | MARCH 12, 2010 7:30 AM

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INDIANAPOLIS — Chaos best describes what took place in Conseco Field House Thursday.

The speculation about Todd Lickliter coaching future cast a dark cloud on what turned out to be a pretty decent Big Ten Tournament game between Iowa and Michigan.

To me, that’s a shame.

I have my thoughts on the situation, just as anyone else does, and let’s be honest, any season in which the basketball team wins fewer games than the football team (11-10 for those keeping score) should be viewed as a debacle.

This season had more losses (22) than any other in school history, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed.

But something that may be overlooked and shouldn’t is the character the Hawkeyes displayed during their final game. Between the off-court distractions surrounding Lickliter’s future and the two previous losses Iowa suffered by combined 62 points, the players could have packed it in — shown up and left.

Despite the 59-52 final, the Hawkeyes showed more on Thursday than I could’ve imagined. At one point in the game, the Wolverines were up 24-8.

Like recent games, it looked like another blowout in the making, but the Hawkeyes managed to cut the deficit to five points with just over a minute left.

Earlier in the week, freshman Eric May said Iowa would need to mix up its defensive strategy throughout the game if the team wanted to win. The Hawkeyes implemented a zone defense it hadn’t really used before against the Wolverines, and for most of the game, it caught Michigan off guard.

Then there’s freshman Cully Payne, who finished with a career-high 25 points — easily the best I had seen him play all season.

Maybe he had extra incentive to play his best given the whole Lickliter situation. After all, he said after the game that Lickliter was his guy.

But then again, maybe his performance really stood as a sign of things to come, assuming Lickliter sticks around Iowa City.

No matter what happens in the coming weeks regarding the coaching staff, one thing became clear: If this current group of players does stay together a year from now, things can get better again — maybe quicker than anyone anticipates.

The Hawkeyes showed they could learn on the fly. They demonstrated a belief in themselves and each other and an ability to not quit.

Yes, a 10-22 record is atrocious, and the coaching situation will overshadow even the smallest positive that can be taken from the first-round defeat, or this season.

Yet a part of me hasn’t completely given up on Lickliter’s players because I feel like they grew up before my eyes.

Who knows? Maybe after all the chaos eventually settles, this could be what we talk about again.


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