Howe: Way Too Early to Judge This Iowa Basketball Team

December 4, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – It was ugly.

No doubt about it.

Michigan State mashed visiting Iowa once again at the Breslin Center. Monday’s 90-68 mauling represented the 18th time in 19 trips to the venue that the Hawkeyes have left with a loss. Quite a few of them were lopsided.

The blowout shouldn’t be dismissed as meaningless. Iowa needs fixing. It’s also not an indication that this season circling the drain.

The Hawkeyes sit at 6-2. Yes, they’re 0-2 in the Big Ten. But losing at Michigan State and to a resurgent Wisconsin outfit in close fashion isn’t the end of the world. Vegas saw them as underdogs in both contests.

It’s certainly disappointing after the promising 6-0 start and rising up to No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25. Wins against Oregon and Pitt don’t look as strong considering they suffered a few bad losses.

That’s the bad news. The good is that 18 Big Ten games remain for Iowa and it’s likely played two of its toughest games. And that’s not to say there won’t be others. It’s a strong league.

This team still looks better than most people thought it would be following last year’s 14-19 disaster. For the most part, it’s improved defensively, a glaring shortcoming in 2017-18 when it allowed the most points in the conference.

No question Michigan State exposed the Hawkeyes on that end. Hall of fame coach Tom Izzo designed an excellent game plan for attacking their zone. And, this just in, he’s recruited pretty good players to carry things out.

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The Spartans’ aggressiveness saddled the visitors with foul trouble, especially to key players Connor McCaffery and Luka Garza. As per usual at Breslin, the referees called the game in a manner that favored MSU’s physical style.

Coach Fran McCaffery and his staff must adjust to the holes the Spartans shot into their strategy. Iowa can’t allow the other team’s big men to isolate smaller defenders in the zone. On the plus side, other teams aren’t going to be able to do what the tenth-ranked team in the country did.

There’s still plenty to like about these Hawkeyes. They’re getting to the foul line at the highest rate in the country after attempting 30 on Monday. That’s a really important statistic, especially since they lead the conference in free throw percentage (76.1).

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It’s an experienced team with one of the conference’s best offensive players in junior power forward Tyler Cook. A veteran lineup can serve as an advantage with so much turnover in the sport. It should be better prepared to deal with adversity.

Iowa has hit a tough patch. Jordan Bohannon has struggled with a usually reliable outside shot and Garza, another key cog, has looked out of sorts the last few games. He did have a nine-pound cyst removed a few months ago.

Chances are good that those two guys bounce back. Joe Wieskamp, who could miss some time with an ankle injury suffered at MSU, is one of the conference’s top freshmen.

The Hawkeyes need consistently good play from those guys along with Isaiah Moss, Nicholas Baer, Connor McCaffery, Ryan Kriener and Maishe Dailey. All but McCaffery are upperclassmen.

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Iowa gets a chance to get things going back in the right direction Thursday against dangerous Iowa State. It should be plenty motivated to show the 6-0 start wasn’t an aberration.

It’s really up the coaches and players. Teams are adjusting to what worked well earlier this season and they must counter. Shake up the lineup, try different things and don’t get caught in a rut like last year.

These guys worked really hard this offseason in hopes of turning things around. They’ve shown they can do it. They look much more connected than a year ago.

Adversity has hit. It was inevitable.

Time to respond. There’s talent and opportunity.

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