Leistikow: The good, bad and ugly Minnesota controversy

Chad Leistikow

MINNEAPOLIS — There was good news and bad news that came out of Iowa’s double-overtime loss at Williams Arena on Wednesday night.

I’ll get to both in a minute.

But first, a few more thoughts about the controversial finish to regulation of what turned out to be a 101-89 Minnesota victory …

Fran McCaffery didn’t go there publicly.

But he could have.

He could've channeled Lute Olson, circa 1982, and Iowa fans would’ve had his back. Heck, they probably would’ve started a GoFundMe page to pay the $10,000 fine for criticizing officials.

Many of you remember (or at least know of) Olson’s famous postgame tirade after Iowa’s 1982 regular-season finale at Purdue, when referee Jim Bain called a loose-ball foul on Kevin Boyle — who Olson contended was “8 feet away” from the play — just before time expired with the score tied. The resulting 1-and-1 free throw was good, and Purdue won, 66-65.


Minnesota's Nate Mason, left, shoots over Iowa's Jordan Bohannon during the first half of the Gophers' 101-89 win.

Olson lost it.

“Jim Bain and his crew deserves to be in jail, not officiating,” Olson famously said. “It’s an absolute disgrace to steal a basketball game like that, and I told him so.”

There must not have been $10,000 fines looming then.

So on Wednesday, McCaffery restrained himself in the postgame press conference.

“I can’t. I can’t,” the seventh-year Iowa coach said to my questions about his viewpoint on the late controversial ruling — an indication that he would love to air his thoughts if he could. “Just don’t do it.”

I wasn’t trying to egg him on. I just wanted to know his perspective. He and his assistants had stormed the court with outrage.

They were mad because Iowa guards Brady Ellingson and Jordan Bohannon both yelled (audibly, according to the Big Ten Network broadcast) to any of the three referees that would listen for a timeout with 22 seconds left and Iowa up, 77-75. The timeout wasn’t granted, and Minnesota was awarded a jump-ball (and possession) despite also having its player who made the defensive reach-in standing out of bounds.

I didn’t witness the Bain game — only heard it on the radio as a kid. But I know the consensus feeling of Hawkeye fans is that referee Chris Beaver, who whistled for the jump ball, stole Wednesday's game from Iowa’s clutches. (By the way, the Big Ten on Thursday night said it "doesn't comment on judgment calls in officiating, and won't be issuing any statements" on the situation.)

McCaffery probably did the right thing by not saying anything publicly critical of the refs.

National media love to pounce on McCaffery for his sideline antics, like when he instructed his players not to shake hands with North Dakota players in December after a feisty finish to that game.

So if he had spoken out, they probably would’ve found a way to label him a whiner — even though the call (like in 1982 with Boyle, Bain and Olson — with postseason implications) directly led to an Iowa loss.

If the timeout was granted, as it obviously should’ve been, McCaffery draws up a play to get the ball to Bohannon, Ellingson or Peter Jok, who all shoot 87.5 percent or better from the line. And we’re probably talking about an Iowa team that’s riding a four-game winning streak and owning a 7-5 Big Ten record, good for sole possession of fifth place heading into Saturday’s game at Michigan State.

And that leads to the bad news …

This was a major, major missed opportunity for the Hawkeyes.

I’ve gotten this question a lot lately from hopeful fans: Can Iowa find a way to the Big Dance?

I always answer: I doubt it … unless it can get some signature road wins.

This would’ve — and maybe should’ve — been one such win. Iowa (14-11 overall, 6-6 Big Ten) came into the game with an RPI of 97. That’s not even close to NCAA Tournament bubble turf. But Minnesota (now 17-7, 5-6) came into this with an RPI of 25, because of its perceived strong schedule and having beaten Purdue and Northwestern on the road.

Had Iowa won, I’d probably be writing about a team with an RPI in the 80s with a chance to run the table at home and with three road opportunities (Michigan State, Maryland and Wisconsin) plus the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C., to build on the resume. Hawkeye fans would've been refreshing the NCAA's RPI daily.

Instead, I’m writing about bad officiating. And thinking that an NIT berth is no guarantee unless the Hawkeyes can finish strong.

OK, so I did promise good news …

After halftime Wednesday, Peter Jok looked like Peter Jok.

He scored an incredible 24 points in the final 12 minutes of regulation. And even more encouraging than that production was what he said afterward.

Jok, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, pumped in 28 points in 40 minutes on two days’ rest while treating a back that forced him to miss two games recently.

“My back feels great. I’ve been going pretty hard the past few practices,” Jok said. “It’s not really hurting. I’ve just got to keep icing it so (the pain) doesn’t come back.”

Jok always speaks candidly. So for him to say that, it means something.

A bad back can be a crippling injury.

But from the sounds of it — and looks of it — Jok might be past the worst of the pain.

Still, he had a giant ice pack taped around his lower back as he exited The Barn.

“I can go all day. When I took that week off, it re-energized me both mental- and physical-wise,” Jok said. “So I’m ready to go. I’m not even tight right now.”

When healthy, Jok gives Iowa a chance to beat anybody, anywhere.

Jok scored 19 first-half points in East Lansing last year as Iowa stunned Michigan State, 76-59. Once he catches fire, there’s not much that can be done to stop him.

It’s the big reason why Wednesday’s game, while discouraging in some ways, still offered encouragement that this team isn’t done yet.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.