Iowa basketball: Correcting a lack of confidence

Some teams have tremendous athleticism. Others possess a multitude of deadly shooters. A few outliers may even sport NBA-sized players up and down their roster.

The problem is that a team can have one, two, or even all of those characteristics and still never reach its full potential as a unit.

The reason? A lack of confidence.

As much as sports are the product of physical skill, it can all come crashing down in an instant if the players involved aren’t in the proper state of mind. If you can’t complete your actions with conviction and a belief in yourself, success will be pretty darn hard to come by.

The Iowa basketball team was littered with minor cases of waning confidence in 2013-14, and the cumulative effect of it all played a large part in the way the Hawkeyes faltered down the stretch of the season.

Now of course I’m not suggesting that the team entered ballgames thinking it couldn’t win. My perspective is based on the numerous individual battles different players fought both internally and externally that steadily built to the point that the overall product on the floor was diminished.

The type of confidence that I’m talking about isn’t even entirely based on actions like shooting the basketball. While that is certainly an area in which a player can struggle with confidence, the issues on this Iowa team were for the most part a little more diverse.

In saying all of that, I’ll start off by pointing out a player whose main problem actually was his shooting (my bad). Simply put, Mike Gesell never seemed to regain any sort of confidence at the free throw line following a nightmarish experience on the road against Iowa State near the end of the non-conference schedule.

As a freshman starter just a season ago Gesell shot over 79% from the charity stripe, and was hitting an even 80% heading into the game against the Cyclones. After missing multiple crucial free throws down the stretch that could have helped seal a huge road victory, he floundered through the rest of his sophomore campaign, topping out at 67.1% for the year.

Does it make a lot of sense? Nope. Despite the constant encouragement of teammates and coaches, Gesell never really looked comfortable at the foul line again (a trait that is less than ideal in your starting point guard).

It's likely that Mike Gesell will be spending a few hours this offseason at Carver Hawkeye arena working to regain the stroke and confidence at the free throw line that he had his freshman year.

It’s likely that Mike Gesell will be spending a few hours this offseason at Carver Hawkeye arena working to regain the stroke and confidence at the free throw line that he had his freshman year.

Unfortunately, Gesell wasn’t the only Hawkeye to have struggles.

Though much maligned over the course of his career, senior forward Zach McCabe played outstanding off of the bench throughout the non-conference portion of Iowa’s schedule. But adversity struck during Big Ten, and a twitter rant directed towards fans being overly critical of his slumping play plus another overblown on court incident at Michigan State only expedited problems.

McCabe quickly went from playing the best basketball of his career to just about hitting rock bottom. With the confidence to be himself and play his game out on the court gone, a mere shell of the senior was all that seemed to remain at season’s end.

Somewhat of a reverse case occurred with sophomore center Adam Woodbury in the season finale when he scored a career high 18 points against Tennessee. All of a sudden the big man was finishing the easy interior looks that he had failed to capitalize on during nearly the entire first two years of his Iowa career.

Woodbury didn’t magically grow leaps and bounds as a player overnight, which suggests that in that particular moment he was playing with a level of confidence unlike anything previous. I can’t fathom how that could possibly happen, but a complete absence of past internal belief in his abilities seems like the only somewhat rational explanation.

The last two players that I’ll focus on, Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff, fall into much the same boat as one another in terms of lacking a particular confidence.

The biggest problem with these two skilled forwards was their reservations about playing outside of their comfort zone.

You’d be hard pressed to find another pair of 6-9 players on the same team with such a diverse skill set. Then again, sometimes it was hard to find such a pair of players in games that the Hawkeyes played.

At times White looked like a first team all-conference performer, and other nights he would practically disappear (no this is not a shot at his “ghostly” complexion, although it would have been appropriate). Uthoff would have moments of brilliance in his own right, only to come back the next minute seemingly content with merely being a participant.

Both players lacked the confidence to be the type of aggressive offensive threat that the team sorely needed at times because it isn’t their default nature to do so. Whether they knew it or not, by playing to their strengths to a fault they were actually doing some harm at the same time.

You’ll rarely hear a member of a team admit to having shaky confidence of any kind, but often that’s because they might not even consider the possibility themselves. It doesn’t signify incompetence, nor does it define the individual. Rather, it’s simply another area of one’s game to be improved, just like ball-handling, passing, or shooting.

If Iowa wants up its game another level heading into 2014-15 a comprehensive effort needs to be made by the entire team to overcome the instances of faulty confidence that ultimately contributed to its demise this past season.