IOWA CITY, Iowa – If you’re looking to end a losing streak, a trip to Hilton Coliseum isn’t a desirable destination. Yet, that’s the challenge facing Iowa.
The Hawkeyes, losers of three in a row and five of their last six, head to Iowa State for a Thursday tilt (7 p.m. CT., ESPN2). The Cyclones have won five consecutive games after starting the season at 0-2.
Iowa (4-5) last won at Hilton in March of 2003 as part of the postseason NIT. It’s previous regular season win in Ames came two years before that.
Hilton features one of the toughest road environments in the country. ISU is 90-11 in the last eight seasons at home, including a 43-3 mark against non-conference opponents.
Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery owns an 0-3 record in Ames during his tenure, which includes an 83-82 setback two years ago despite owning a 20-point, second-half lead. Iowa is hoping to build off of last year’s upset of the Cyclones at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa State looks a lot different than it did last December. Gone are mainstays Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Deonte Burton and Naz Mitrou-Long.
The Cyclones still feature a strong backcourt, something that’s bothered Iowa this season. Nick Weiler-Babb (13.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 7.4 APG) returns after scoring 10 against Iowa last season. He’s joined by fabulous freshman Lindell Wiggington (15.1, 4.3, 2.7) and holdover Donovan Jackson (17.0, 1.7, 1.1), whose game has advanced significantly since serving as a reserve a year ago.
The explosive ISU backcourt certainly has caught McCaffery’s attention.
“The thing that I like about those guys is they give it up easy, they can put it on the deck and they make threes. They all do everything,” he said. “They move the ball really well. They’re unselfish.”
McCaffery said getting back in transition will be key along with helping and recovering in the half-court defensively. Iowa can aid itself in those areas by playing more efficiently on offense, he added.
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The Hawkeyes have appeared disconnected during their slide. They’re not executing a game plan, instead freelancing through the action.
“Well, I mean, they’re not following it. That’s obvious,” McCaffery said. “I think it’s guys trying to make plays. They’re kind of going on their own. They’re trying to be aggressive. They’re trying to do something positive. I don’t look at it as a complete negative like they’re just dismissing something.”
Turnovers have hampered the Hawkeyes in their most recent losses to Penn State and Indiana. They turned the ball over 18 times in each game, leading to 22 points in both contests.
McCaffery said the giveaways are resulting from forcing passes into the post, not recognizing weak-side help and not moving the ball enough to open things up before tossing it inside.
“I think we have to settle down a little bit and understand that we want to go in but we have to have a mixture of in and out,” he said.
Sometimes when teams struggle, a starting lineup change is utilized to shake things up.
“I’m not sure about that. It’s possible. We’re evaluating practice these next couple of days,” McCaffery said. “I liked the lineup (Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Jack Nunge, Tyler Cook, Luka Garza) we started the other night, but it’s a possibility.”
Iowa played without backup point guard Connor McCaffery (mono) and Ryan Kreiner (concussion), a reserve center, Monday at Indiana. Fran McCaffery listed his son as doubtful for Thursday and Kreiner as questionable.
Neither player had participated in contact drills during practice this week as of Wednesday morning. Kreiner suffered his head injury Saturday against Penn State. McCaffery has yet to play this season.
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“Connor is so far behind physically right now with where his body was. It’s going to take a little bit of time,” Fran McCaffery said.
PREDICTION: It’s interesting how quickly things can change. Following Iowa State’s 0-2 start, which included an 18-point home loss to Milwaukee, it was looking like the Hawkeyes stood a good chance of ending the Hilton drought. Now, Iowa is the team trying to find its footing and a clear underdog Thursday.
It’s a great opportunity to show it’s fixed things like turnovers and defensive lapses. There should be plenty of motivation. The question is, can the Hawkeyes get it together? They are trying.
Iowa holds a depth advantage with the Cyclones likely only having eight players. It needs to exploit that edge, especially in the post. It also must value each possession.
The Hawkeyes turned things around last season after a 3-5 start and now is the time to make a move. It’s just hard to see that happening in such a hostile environment where they’ll be playing their third game in six days.
Iowa State 80, IOWA 72