If someone were to attempt to describe the Iowa basketball team in recent weeks, a puzzle would provide a fairly apt description of the 20th ranked Hawkeyes. An often exciting, but sometimes frustrating puzzle.
Unfortunately for fans and the program alike, late February is usually a time when teams hope to reaffirm their identity and put their best foot forward as the conference schedule comes to a close and postseason play begins.
So what should college basketball observers make of the Hawkeyes?
The case for
Iowa can score.
The Hawkeyes are the 7th highest scoring team in the country, checking in at just over 83 points per game. They have only failed to top the 80 point threshold on eight occasions in 26 games. Led by senior guard Devyn Marble (16.6ppg), Iowa sports a balanced and diverse attack on the offensive end of the floor.
Head coach Fran McCaffery also has one of the deepest rotations of players at his disposal of any coach in America. The Hawkeyes frequently go ten deep, and have multiple options at every position that can make a big impact on any given night.
By the numbers, this team is proficient in numerous facets of the game. As previously mentioned Iowa ranks seventh in scoring offense, while also coming in at fourth in rebounding margin, 13th in assists, 32nd in blocks, 16th in field goal percentage defense, and 12th defending the 3-point line.
Finally, in examining Iowa’s seven defeats this season you won’t find a “bad loss” anywhere among them. Each one came to a team that currently sits within the top 22 teams in the country, and the sum margin of the defeats is a measly 34 points (about 4.86ppg).
By all accounts, the Hawkeyes are a dangerous squad capable of competing with any team in the country, but have suffered a few misfortunes against a schedule littered with talented opponents.
The case against
For all of the gaudy statistics Iowa still has seven losses on its résumé. As much as fans or players might try and twist it, the facts are the facts. The Hawkeyes are a seven loss basketball team, effectively sitting fourth in the Big Ten standings at the present time.
They have struggled at times down the stretch of games with their execution, and early in
the season, with free throw shooting. As you can see by their aforementioned average margin of defeat, the Hawkeyes have been in every game they have played this year to essentially the bitter end. It’s a tad worrisome that Iowa hasn’t eked out just a few more wins in those close encounters.
In recent weeks inconsistent play has been somewhat prevalent up and down the Iowa lineup. Other than Marble, point guard Mike Gesell, and back-up center Gabe Olaseni, multiple Hawkeyes have been more cold than hot with their play. Forward Aaron White in particular has not performed to his usual efficient and energetic standards, and needs to get back on track for the team to reach its potential.
A final troubling occurrence has been a recent tirade on twitter by senior forward Zach McCabe against Hawkeye fans who criticized his performance this past Saturday via social media. While the argument from said “fans” would be that McCabe was awful against Wisconsin (he was), it’s about time for those same people to get a grip and leave these kids alone.
In a world increasingly overrun by anonymous critics on the internet, it’s crucial going forward that this Iowa team closes its inner circle even tighter to eliminate any and all outside distractions. Coach McCaffery has taken an initial step by asking his players to refrain from using twitter until the end of the season.
Hopefully this team will grow closer in the face of adversity, rather than allow outside criticisms to fracture it.
All in all I’m not one to believe that the sky is falling on this Iowa team as some in its fan base are beginning to worry about. This is still a squad that is ranked within the top 20 in the country, and has been for roughly the past three months. Such a feat is in itself unprecedented for the program in recent memory, and fans would be wise to remember that.
Iowa still has time to get its act together, and to expect the team to do otherwise would seem premature based on the masterful turn-around job the program has undergone under the leadership of coach McCaffery. I would be willing to bet my non-existent salary that despite their recent struggles, the Hawkeyes will be a team come March that nobody is too thrilled about seeing in their portion of the bracket.