By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa men’s basketball team has lost its last two games, so it’s time to dismiss it as being a fraud or mediocre at best because isn’t that how it works?
It’s time to call Iowa’s 11-0 record in nonconference play fool’s gold and time to start ripping Jordan Bohannon for not being a true point guard and Fran McCaffery for not having what it takes to make Iowa elite.
And it’s time to start saying the team is better without Tyler Cook on the floor.
That isn’t me saying all of those things because I don’t agree with any of it, but that’s what I’m being told over and over and over again on Twitter, at the grocery store and about everywhere else.
Back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Michigan State has completely switched the narrative about this Iowa team, which is 16-5 overall and 5-5 in the Big Ten heading into Friday’s game against Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The same Iowa team that had won five Big Ten games in a row, and was showing signs of being special, is now suddenly garbage again because it’s lost two games in a row.
The same point guard who has scored in double figures in 12 games this season, and in three of the last four Big Ten games, is now suddenly a liability on offense because he failed to create his own shot during the 92-87 loss at Minnesota this past Sunday.
The same power forward who leads Iowa in scoring and rebounding should now play a reduced role because he hurts the offense more than helps it due to his inability to play away from the basket.
And the same head coach who has led Iowa to a postseason tournament in four of the previous five seasons, including three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament from 2013-16, should now suddenly be on the hot seat because it’s clear that the next level is beyond his reach.
Again, this isn’t me saying these things, but they’re being said as part of the over-reaction to losing back-to-back games.
To suggest that Iowa is better without the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Cook playing a key role is just silly and unfair to Cook.
To criticize Bohannon for his inability to create his own shot ignores the fact that he is well on his way to becoming Iowa’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals, and that he already has scored 1,035 career points with half of the Big Ten schedule still remaining in his junior season and another full season after that.
And you’re just fooling yourself if you think that McCaffery is on the hot seat because it’s just not true, and that's based solely on his body of work at this point and has nothing to do with his buyout or this belief that Iowa Athletic Gary Barta is in no position to make a coaching change.
There seems to be no middle ground with this Iowa team. It is either the Final Four or the sky is falling as described to me by a reader.
But in fairness to the fans who have tendency to overreact, Iowa hasn''t a won a Big Ten regular-season title in 40 years and hasn't advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 39 years or to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 20 years.
So there is a deep-rooted frustration with the men's basketball program due to years of achieving little of significance, and some fans deal with it by overreacting to what happens during the course of a season.
And some fans just overreact.
It's that way with every fan base, not just at Iowa.
Should Iowa beat Michigan on Friday, the narrative would switch back to Iowa being a team on the rise, and a team that is dangerous due to its size and experience, and its ability to score inside and on the perimeter.
But if Iowa should lose to Michigan on Friday, it’ll be more of the same with Iowa being criticized for the inability to defeat elite opponents.
Now with all that being said, it would be foolish and naïve to think that Iowa doesn’t have problems as a team, or that Bohannon and Cook are above being criticized for poor play.
It’s hard to know for sure who to blame for Bohannon only taking three shots against Minnesota, but somebody besides the Minnesota defenders were responsible.
Bohannon either has to work harder to get open or Iowa has to run more sets in which he works off screens to get open, or both, because it defeats the purpose to play Bohannon when he only takes three shots.
His biggest strength by far is the ability to make 3-pointers, but he needs help to do it and opportunities to do it.
Cooks’ biggest strength is his ability to overpower defenders near the basket, but he is also on a mission to play in the NBA and wants to expand his game on offense in order to meet that goal.
The challenge for Cook is to work on expanding his game without hurting his current team.
Cook has brought the ball up the court more frequently this season, but it backfired against Minnesota when he had a costly turnover late in the second half.
I admire that Fran McCaffery empowers his players and allows them to make mistakes without yanking them from the game.
But wouldn’t it have made more sense under the circumstances for Cook to have raced down the court and established his presence in the low post instead of bringing the ball up the court?
I’m certainly not ready to give up on this Iowa team because it has too much talent and experience to dismiss.
One of the positive narratives to take away from the Minnesota loss is that sophomore center Luka Garza is emerging as a force on offense. The 6-11 Garza scored 25 points against the Gophers and has scored at least 20 points in each of the past four games.
It’s hard to think of an Iowa enter who was more established on the offensive end than Garza at this stage of their careers.
Garza can score near the basket with power and finesse and he can shoot from 3-point range. That is a rare blend for somebody his size.
Junior shooting guard Isaiah Moss also continues to shine on offense and is developing into a force from 3-point range. The Chicago native made six treys against Minnesota.
Garza and Moss both have to improve on defense, but who doesn’t on this Iowa team?
Iowa is better on defense than it was last season, but that’s not saying much, considering Iowa allowed nearly 80 points per game last season and finished 14-19 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten.
Minnesota shredded Iowa for 55 points in the first half on Sunday, and McCaffery called it unacceptable afterwards.
Iowa now has four days to rest and recover before facing the Wolverines.
It is only the midway point of the 20-game conference grind, so it still is too early to reach any conclusions, good or bad, about this Iowa team.
But at some point, Iowa will have to defeat a team from the upper half of the conference because to not do so is the definition of being average.
Iowa's five Big Ten victories have come against Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois. Those five teams have a combined record of 11-33 in conference play.
It is time for this Iowa team to take the next step, but it's not time to give up on the team for being inconsistent.
The Big Ten can be brutal on teams that are trying to climb back to the upper half of the conference. It takes patience, persistence and poise to stay the course, from the players and coaches and from the fans.