IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s not a secret. Iowa’s defense is poor.
It’s the main reason the Hawkeyes (9-9 overall) sit at 0-5 in the Big Ten for the first time since ’10-11. They’ll try to tighten things up Thursday when they play at Illinois. The Illini are the only other team without a conference win.
Maryland shot 56.7 percent from the floor Sunday in downing Iowa, 91-73. Thursday, Ohio State shot 53.0 percent in a 92-81 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. In the two games, the Hawkeyes were outscored 98-48 on points in the paint.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery talked during a Tuesday teleconference about what it takes to play good defense. He mentioned footwork, hand placement, rotations and scouting reports, among other things. Desire is a key ingredient.
“So many things enter into playing good defense,” he said. “Then it comes down to a competitive instinct that’s required of all five people. You can overcome deficiencies in other areas just by your activity level.”
Too often, the Hawkeyes look flat, whether it be man-to-man or zone. Opponents feast, driving through them without much resistance. The points in the paint come from post players but also guys slashing all the way to the hoop.
Iowa plays well on defense at times. Then it’s done in by a poor stretch, like the final 10 minutes at Maryland or first-half lapses in losses to Ohio State and Michigan.
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“What we have to be able to do is to play better for 40 minutes more consistently at both ends,” McCaffery said. “When you’re giving up 56 points it the paint (Maryland), you’re going to have a hard time winning. The defense was bad in the last 10 minutes of the game. It wasn’t as bad in the first 30.”
The Hawkeyes led Maryland 64-61 with 10:59 remaining on the clock. From there, they were outscored 30-9.
Terrapin point guard Anthony Cowan used his quickness to break down Iowa. Other speedy perimeter players have done similar things to the Hawkeyes. Iowa big men then failed to rotate, another issue plaguing the team throughout the season.
McCaffery feels Iowa’s play on offense also can hurt it defensively. He sees too many quick shots and forced plays that result in scramble situations on the other end. The team struggles in those instances and isn’t particularly good with transition defense.
It’s a fine line, however. McCaffery doesn’t want to take away the aggressiveness he encourages. Yet, the Hawkeyes get hurt when speeding up and being overly aggressive.
“Sometimes the best play is no play at all, move the ball, stacked defense, you have no space, there’s still time on the shot clock, get it moving, intelligent screening, intelligent cutting and then maybe get a better (shot),” he said.
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Perhaps Iowa can benefit from playing more guards, like it did against Maryland with Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey in the game together. It makes them quicker against perimeter-oriented opponents.
The problem is that leaves the Hawkeyes with only one reserve guard, Brady Ellingson, and susceptible if there’s an injury or foul trouble. Also, McCaffery worries that it will hurt on the boards.
“When we played the three guards last year, Pete (Jok) was a high-level rebounder,” McCaffery said. “We need someone to step up and rebound if we do go with a smaller lineup.”