Harty: History says Iowa men’s hoops will rebound
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Few things are worse for an Iowa fan than losing to Iowa State and vice versa.
Throw in the circumstances from Thursday’s men’s basketball game in which Iowa blew a 20-point lead in the second half before losing 83-82 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames and the loss cuts even deeper.
Fans unleashed on social media after the game, saying it was inexcusable that a veteran Iowa team, which has four senior starters, including fifth-year senior forward Jarrod Uthoff, would fold down the stretch like it did.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was criticized for not calling a timeout and for losing yet another close game as Iowa’s record fell to 3-8 in games decided by three points or fewer since the start of the 2013-14 season.
Some even went as far as to say that Iowa was destined for failure this season if the players can’t learn to stay more composed during crunch time.
My first reaction was, wow, the Iowa football team’s magical ride to the Rose Bowl has spoiled some fans.
My second reaction was to remember that the situation has improved in each of McCaffery’s first five seasons as head coach, but not without some maddening and strange defeats.
And my third reaction was to remember that Iowa State had whipped Iowa 90-75 last season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score. Last Thursday’s 1-point loss to the Cyclones was actually an improvement from the year before.
But still, Iowa’s inability to finish the Iowa State game was especially frustrating for fans because one, the opponent was fourth-ranked Iowa State; and two, the Hawkeyes led by 20 points in the second half; and three, Iowa is a veteran team that should know how to protect a big lead, even against a force as powerful as Hilton Magic.
Iowa’s other two losses this season also were close scores against Dayton (77-72) and Notre Dame (68-62) on neutral courts in Orlando, Fla.
So I get the frustration with the Hawkeyes not being able to finish.
I just don’t get the gloom and doom in the wake of Thursday’s loss.
The players on the current Iowa team, along with the coaches, have accomplished enough during their time as Hawkeyes for us to still have faith in them.
The current Iowa team is unselfish and the players understand what’s important. That was apparent when Uthoff was asked after Thursday’s loss to describe how it felt in the first half when he scored 30 of his career-high 32 points.
“It doesn’t matter the first half, we lost the game,” Uthoff said.
Uthoff wasn’t rude, but he made it abundantly clear that the team is all that matters to him. He was being a leader.
I thought Iowa would make the NCAA Tournament heading into the season and still feel that way despite Thursday’s meltdown in Ames.
McCaffery is being criticized for not calling a timeout at the end of the Iowa State game when the Hawkeyes had 8.9 seconds to advance the ball past mid-court and attempt a potential game-winning shot.
It’s being portrayed as if Iowa settled for a desperation 3-point shot by Uthoff when that’s not the case. Iowa ran a play in which Uthoff used a screen to get open from 3-point range near the top of the key. He just missed the shot.
McCaffery probably would’ve been praised for not calling a timeout and for having faith in his veteran players if Uthoff had made the shot.
I have no problem with McCaffery not calling a timeout because there is no guarantee it would’ve led to a better shot. Uthoff shooting a 3-pointer in which he is open for the most part, as was the case Thursday, is about as good as it gets for Iowa.
I would want either Uthoff or junior guard Peter Jok taking a potential game-winning shot for Iowa, and that’s what happened Thursday in Ames. The ball just didn’t go in the basket.
Iowa also was its own worst enemy, committing 17 turnovers against an Iowa State team that plays well in transition. That many turnovers is a concern, considering Iowa’s experience.
So I’m not saying there isn’t work to do. Iowa has to value the ball more and develop more reliable depth, which is strange to say because depth often has been one of Iowa’s biggest strengths under McCaffery.
The Iowa State loss will sting for a while, especially with Iowa not playing its next game until Saturday against Drake in the Big Four Classic in Des Moines. The players will have had more than a week to stew over the defeat, but also to move on, which I’m sure they will do under McCaffery.
Say what you want about McCaffery’s quick fuse, but he is also a master at staying level-headed after wins and losses. He doesn’t get too high or confident after a win or two low or desperate after a loss. He just takes it one game at a time, much like Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz does.
McCaffery deals with adversity by just forging ahead. And so far, his approach has worked with each of his first five teams at Iowa having accomplished more than the previous team.
There was concern in McCaffery’s second season after Iowa lost back-to-games to Creighton and Campbell by 23 and 16 points, respectively. Iowa had finished with a losing record in McCaffery’s first season, so it was important to see progress in the 2011-12 season.
The Hawkeyes rebounded from those two sobering defeats to make the National Invitation Tournament. Iowa also finished with a winning record (18-17) for the first time in five seasons.
In McCaffery’s third season, Iowa lost back-to-back games in November to Wichita State and Virginia Tech by 12 and 16 points, respectively. The Hawkeyes also lost seven of their first 10 Big Ten games in the 2012-13 season, but still finished 9-9 in conference play, runner-up to Baylor in the NIT and with 25 victories.
McCaffery’s fourth season will be remembered for the meltdown at the end in which Iowa lost seven of its last eight games. The Hawkeyes still made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, but the joy was tempered by the late-season collapse.
Any concerns about the collapse having a lingering effect were washed away last season as Iowa won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2001, while also finishing in third place in the Big Ten at 12-6.
There were a few low points last season, none lower than the back-to-back losses to Minnesota at home and at Northwestern in mid-February. Those two losses left fans scratching their heads.
Iowa then rallied behind senior forward Aaron White, winning its final six Big Ten games and defeating Davidson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa certainly could’ve used White’s experience last Thursday in Ames. But having four seniors should be enough and I’m predicting will be enough in many games this season.
I guess what I’m saying is don’t read too much into Thursday’s loss or assume the worst. Because history has shown that the situation ultimately gets better under McCaffery.