By Pat Harty
There was at least one encouraging sign after the Iowa men’s basketball team’s discouraging loss to Penn State this past Saturday.
It might not be enough to propel 4-4 Iowa to a much-needed win against Indiana on Monday in Bloomington, Ind,, but it gives hope for the future.
Instead of making excuses or pointing fingers, the Iowa players held themselves accountable after the 77-73 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten opener at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Sophomore forward Tyler Cook blamed himself for missing two free throws near the end of the game and for committing five of Iowa’s 18 turnovers.
Junior forward Nicholas Baer said he has to play better, while sophomore guard Isaiah Moss said it’s important for the players to stay positive and to just keep working.
They made those comments just minutes after Iowa coach Fran McCaffery had told the media basically the thing when reminded that his team was 3-5 at this stage last season.
“I think you've got to stay the course,” McCaffery said. “We'll tweak some things. But, ultimately, I think you have to build some confidence in your guys. At the same time, those guys expect you to hold them accountable. They know if they didn't play well, they know if they made mistakes.
“So, you might point it out, you might show it to them, but then you've got to move on. You can't just keep beating the same kid up for the same one mistake he made. Hopefully he won't make that mistake moving forward.”
McCaffery was asked after the Penn State loss if his players needed a hug or the tough-love approach.
"A little bit of both," he said. "I think you have to be honest. You know, I think you have to challenge them. But I don't think you can beat them up. I definitely don't think you can point fingers. You start playing the blame game and then don't take any responsibility for yourself, that's me, then I think you lose the locker room.
"So I love these guys. They'll get it. It's frustrating, but they're good people. They have character, and we'll get it figured out.
Iowa’s 4-4 record points to the biggest thing that is hurting the team right now, according to McCaffery.
“Consistency,” McCaffery said of his biggest concern at this stage. “We're really good at times, and we're really not very good at times at both ends. So our offense looks really good at times and we have 18 turnoves and we make four threes.
“Our defense is really good at times, but (Penn State) scored 11-2 to start the game. You can't get that 11-2 at home to start the game. We were not aggressive enough. We were not connected together. So I think the word is consistency. We're really good at certain things, and we're not good at all at others.”
The same could be said about Indiana under first-year coach Archie Miller.
The same Indiana team that lost to Indiana State 90-69 in the season opener at home kept it close for most of the game against top-ranked Duke, losing 91-81 last Wednesday at home.
The Hoosiers then started Big Ten play with a 69-55 loss at Michigan this past Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich., falling to 4-4 overall.
So both teams are in serious need of a victory. It probably is too early to say both teams are desperate with 16 conference games still remaining after tonight, but things are moving rapidly in that direction.
Iowa has to figure a way to get sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon more shots. He shot .50 percent in the loss to Penn State, but only had six attempts.
Bohannon should take at least 10 shots per game if the Iowa offense is functioning properly. He led the team with 175 3-point baskets last season.
“They're chasing up on him,” McCaffery said of the 6-foot Bohannon after the Penn State loss. “We've got to screen more for him. Whether we're running sets or running motion, we've got to free him up, no question about that. He's got to get more shots.
“We're a team that is bigger so we typically want to throw it in But (Jordan’s) got to get more than six shots.”
The 6-9 Cook is coming off a game in which he scored 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Penn State. But he also had the two big misses at the free throw line and was careless with the ball at time.
“Points and rebounds I did well,” Cook said. “But I felt like I could have done lot more to help the team.”
That is exactly what a team needs its star player to say after a difficult loss.
Cook’s individual success loses much of its glow with Iowa having lost four of its last five games.
Tonight’s game at Indiana is the first of three games for Iowa this week. The Hawkeyes will play at Iowa State on Thursday before hosting Southern on Sunday.
This could be a week in which Iowa takes a big step forward or continues its slide.
It would be easy to give up on the team, just like it would have been easy give up when Iowa fell to 3-5 last season.
The one big difference between this season and last season, besides not having Peter Jok to make key shots anymore, is that fans’ expectations are higher this season.
Fans watched as Jok and a bunch of freshmen and sophomores almost made the NCAA Tournament last season and they assumed this season would be even better.
But so far, it hasn’t been.
That’s a concern, but isn’t reason to assume the worst.
At least, not yet.
Iowa at Indiana
When: 7:03 p.m.
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Ind.
TV: Big Ten Network
Records: Iowa is 4-4 overall and 0-1 in the Big ten; Indiana is 4-4 and 0-1.
Series: Indiana holds a 101-76 edge in the series, which began in 1909. The teams split their meetings last year, with Iowa taking a 96-90 win in overtime in Iowa City, while the Hoosiers kept the Hawkeyes from earning a NCAA Tournament berth with a 95-73 win in the Big Ten Tournament.