Iowa basketball: Close game issues

The 20th ranked Iowa basketball team currently holds a 12-3 record. Unfortunately, that record could and probably should have an additional three tallies in the win column, and subsequently a zero on the loss side.

There is no shame in losing three games against the current 4th, 8th, and 9th ranked teams in the country. Especially when those losses took place twice on the road (at Iowa State and Wisconsin) and once at a neutral site (vs. Villanova in the Bahamas). Upon closer examination the defeats are even more revealing when one considers that Iowa controlled the majority of each game prior to losing significant leads. In fact, the average margin of defeat against these three top 10 opponents is four points.

Had the Hawkeyes closed out these contests they would undoubtedly find themselves sitting among the top six or seven ranked teams in America.

On the bright side, Iowa fans should take solace in the fact that their team has proven itself capable of playing with some of the nation’s best in hostile and unfamiliar environments. However, it’s also fair to pose the question as to what has caused the Hawkeyes to struggle in their closest and biggest games thus far.

The first point of concern resides with Iowa’s free throw shooting. Strangely enough, if someone were to ask me if the Hawkeyes are a poor free throw shooting team I would give them a resounding “No” for an answer.

As a team Iowa sits just under 72% from the foul line which is actually a clip above the national average.

In a strange inversion of the norm the Hawkeyes are receiving the most consistent foul line production from their post players. At the present moment Iowa’s six primary interior players are hitting 75.6% from the line, while the five main perimeter contributors are knocking down only 67%.

This hurt the Hawkeyes against Iowa State and Villanova when they were given the opportunity to close the games out at the free throw line. Iowa’s primary ball handlers, specifically Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell, are good free throw shooters. They just need to revert back to their past forms and show their true abilities during crunch time.

In Iowa’s three losses this season they have shot an underwhelming 67% on average from the charity stripe.

The second glaring statistic in Hawkeye defeats has been its three point defense.

Failure to cover outside shooters like Wisconsin's Ben Brust (#1) has been a large part of each Iowa loss. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Failure to cover outside shooters like Wisconsin’s Ben Brust (#1) has been a large part of each Iowa loss. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andy Manis)

For the season Iowa ranks as one of the better teams in the country at guarding the three point line, holding opponents to 28.3%. However, in their three losses the Hawkeyes have given up an average of ten 3’s per game on almost 39% shooting.

Not only has Iowa failed to guard the arc in its defeats, but many of the breakdowns have occurred in the second halves of games. The Hawkeyes built significant leads in each contest, but allowed their opponents to close the gap from downtown.

The third and final impediment to what should probably be an unblemished record has been Iowa’s failure to stop its higher quality opponents from making big runs.

The Hawkeyes have held double digit leads in all three games they have lost, and each time a scoring spree by the opposition or a cold shooting spell by Iowa has led to the cushion being erased. It’s not for a lack of talent or experience on the part of Iowa, but rather an absence of composure to settle down and dig in for a defensive stop or open look on offense.

If Iowa had been more successful in any one of these areas in these three painful losses they might very well find themselves among the company of the college basketball’s remaining undefeateds. Since that opportunity is now gone, it would be wise of the Hawkeyes to turn their attention towards rectifying these issues as the Big Ten schedule continues and tournament play awaits on the horizon.