College Basketball Nation: Melsahn Balabe

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During Roy Devyn Marble’s “He Got Game” moment Saturday, ESPN’s cameras caught him yelling something as his teammates surrounded him following another 3-pointer -- he hit 50 of them, it seemed -- in the middle of No. 17 Iowa’s 85-67 victory over No. 10 Michigan in Iowa City.

It was something about Carver-Hawkeye Arena. There was a word that began with the letter ‘F’ and a mention of a house. The audio was off so viewers had to lip-read.

“This is my frigid house!” Maybe. It is cold this time of year in Iowa City. And four of Michigan’s starters, not named Caris LeVert (6-for-12, 22 points), shot a combined 5 for 19 from the field. Maybe that’s what he was referring to.

Or maybe Marble (22 of 26 points, six 3-pointers in the first half) said, “This is my fortified house!” That would make sense. Carver-Hawkeye has undergone some impressive renovations in recent years.

[+] EnlargeDevyn Marble
Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY SportsIowa guard Roy Devyn Marble scored 26 points on 17 shots in the win over Michigan.
Whatever he said, it was clear that Marble owned the place. Former Big Ten leader Michigan -- the Wolverines are now a half-game behind Michigan State, which will play at Wisconsin on Sunday -- entered halftime down 43-29. Had Saturday’s contest been a UFC fight, Michigan would have tapped and ended the punishment.

The Hawkeyes should celebrate the win. They’d lost three of their last five prior to Saturday, including home losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. They were losing grip on their dreams of making a late run at the Big Ten title and earning a high seed in the Big Dance.

Iowa halted its slide with a fantastic effort. Marble was the catalyst. Everything flows well when he’s in a rhythm.

Melsahn Basabe gets dirty buckets and rebounds (eight points, 10 rebounds, two assists). The floor opens up for Mike Gesell (10 points, eight assists, one turnover, three steals). Aaron White can just be Aaron White (11 points, eight rebounds, two steals and one block). Iowa’s bench (24 points total; nine points, four rebounds, three blocks for Gabriel Olaseni) blossoms, too.

The Hawkeyes benefited from their relaxed demeanor. That’s always more prominent when you’re up by double digits. But it was also the byproduct of Marble’s early success.

Soon, however, coach Fran McCaffery will remind his team that this thing is not finished. Not even close.

Four of Iowa’s final seven Big Ten games are road games. The Hawkeyes will see Wisconsin in Iowa City and Michigan State in East Lansing. They understand the stakes. They've had their hearts broken and broken those of their supporters many times under McCaffery.

But this season should be different. Right now, the NCAA tournament shouldn't be the only prize for the Hawkeyes. Sure, it would be a notable achievement for a program that hasn't participated in March Madness since 2006. Iowa hasn't won an NCAA tourney game since 2001. So a bid would be commendable, considering the history. That shouldn't be the only goal, though. The Hawkeyes can compete with the best teams in America and do more than just smile on Selection Sunday.

They can survive and advance -- if Marble is the assertive, efficient playmaker he was against Michigan.

On Tuesday, Iowa suffered a 76-69 home loss to Ohio State, the same Ohio State team that had lost five of its last seven entering that matchup. Marble went 4-for-11 in that game. He missed his three 3-point attempts. He committed four turnovers and three fouls. On Jan. 22, Michigan secured a 75-67 victory over Iowa in Ann Arbor. Marble recorded 13 points (3-for-9), four turnovers and four fouls.

The same Iowa team that registered just 1.02 points per possession in the first meeting with Michigan recorded 1.32 PPP in the second matchup with the Wolverines. The Hawkeyes made 52.2 percent of its shots outside the paint and outscored the Wolverines 22-8 in transition, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Michigan's Nik Stauskas, a Big Ten player of the year contender, and Glenn Robinson III scored 12 points combined.

So Marble can’t take full credit for Iowa’s win. He had help. A lot of it.

But he can accept the responsibility that the Hawkeyes need him to play with the confidence and aggression he displayed Saturday. That’s the only way that they’ll go as far as they’re capable of going. That’s the only way that they’ll stay in the Big Ten race. That’s the only way that they’ll thrive in the NCAA tournament.

Yes, Carver-Hawkeye -- albeit, right now -- might be Marble’s house. But Iowa is his team. And with that declaration comes the expectation that Saturday’s effort will be closer to the norm than an anomaly throughout the rest of the season.
Despite the fact that his name is "Brennan" and he hails from Iowa, I am sorry to say that Iowa forward Brennan Cougill and yours truly have no relation. Despite what some of the more confused and less friendly commenters on this here blog may think, my last name is Brennan, not my first. Close, but no cigar.

Still, that doesn't mean I can't empathize with the common Iowa basketball fan, who just got another bit of bad news -- the latest mile of a four-year bad news marathon -- that Cougill has been deemed academically ineligible for next season. Instead of playing for the Hawkeyes, Cougill will enroll in nearby Kirkwood Community College. Cougill says he still hopes to rejoin Iowa in the future.

It's another blow for a program mired in a brutal rebuilding phase, and it's especially tough for Iowa fans to swallow. Cougill's departure leaves "the interior of Iowa's team comically thin," in the words of always-excellent Black Heart Gold Pants scribe Adam Jacobi. Jacobi, like most Iowa fans, was hoping Cougill's size and three-point shooting touch would make him a unique weapon in new coach Fran McCaffery's uptempo offense. Instead, the Hawks will likely roll with senior Jarryd Cole, who's rehabbing from an injury and managed a mere 8.1 points per game in 2009-10. He'll be joined by true freshman Melsahn Basabe, the No. 63 overall power forward in the class of 2010. After that, there's not much there. Comically thin, indeed.

Yes, the state of affairs in Iowa City is depressing. But there is some hope on the horizon. Our own Dana O'Neil profiled McCaffery today, and the good news for Iowa fans -- besides the truckloads of dollars currently being pumped into the previously decrepit Carver-Hawkeye Arena -- is that McCaffery isn't backing down from his promises of an up-tempo, fast-paced offensive attack.

Despite what Malcolm Gladwell might think, up-tempo hoops isn't always the best strategy for undersized, under-athletic teams. But Iowa's going to lose games anyway. Until the talent level improves, McCaffery might as well lose those games in style. Winning will really bring the fans back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. In the meantime, aesthetics will have to do.

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