By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – As bad as Wednesday’s 104-68 drubbing at Purdue was from a performance standpoint, it still only counts as one loss for the Iowa men’s basketball team.
That might sound like Captain Obvious, but it’s easy to become a prisoner of the moment after such a sobering defeat, especially with social media helping to fuel narratives.
Iowa didn’t just blow a chance to get a rare Big Ten road win on Wednesday. It didn’t even put up much of a fight, especially on defense.
And that’s what is so disappointing.
But on the other hand, one game doesn’t make or break a season.
Wednesday’s beat-down certainly did damage to Iowa’s fleeting Big Ten title hopes. But the challenge now is to make sure it doesn’t linger and become two losses with a very winnable game against Nebraska up next on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Senior forward Ryan Kriener said after Wednesday’s loss that the message from Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was to make sure something like this never happens again.
Nebraska should be ready to bring its best effort on Saturday because this Iowa team has shown to be resilient and is a force at home where it has an 11-1 record.
Nebraska also defeated Iowa 76-70 on Jan. 7th in Lincoln, Neb., in what was one of Iowa’s worsts performances of the season.
Luka Garza and his cohorts should be chomping at the bit to get back on the court in order to compete.
The Nebraska game is also sold out, so Carver-Hawkeye Arena should be rocking on Saturday.
This is one of those disappointing and deflating moments when the Iowa players have to embrace the grind and stay the course. They have no other choice, at least no other right choice.
The 20-game Big Ten schedule is brutal and relentless in how it just keeps coming for over two months, one game after another, sometimes as many as three games in a week.
You have to flush the losses and move on from the wins. It’s all about living in the moment.
Winning at home in the Big Ten is hard enough, but winning on the road, with exception to at Northwestern, has been close to impossible this season.
That isn’t mean to excuse what happened to Iowa on Wednesday because it was an inexcusable effort, especially on defense.
It’s bad enough when any opponent scores over 100 points, but Purdue barely averages 60 points per game, and had 61 by halftime.
The Boilermakers deserve credit for making 19 3-point baskets because that’s impressive under any circumstance.
But many of Purdue’s 3-point baskets came on wide open shots against an Iowa defense that was slow to react from start to finish.
“We didn't do any of the stuff that we talked about," Fran McCaffery said in reference to defense on the Learfield post-game radio show. “I shouldn't say that. We attempted to, but we were late. Everything was late.
"We were a step slow in reacting. We were a step slow in getting through a screen, and therefore, the passer has a clean look inside and the shooter has enough time to pull the trigger, or drive the close out.
"Multiple mistakes that have to be corrected."
McCaffery might lose his cool at times during a game, but Iowa’s 10th-year head coach is a master at living in the moment. He doesn’t get too high after big wins or too low after bad losses.
McCaffery just keeps grinding and that’s exactly what Iowa needs right now.
A few of his Iowa teams have faded down the stretch, and while that is always a threat, his current team just seems built differently, partly due to Garza’s presence and due to having multiple shooters.
It's also important to remember that starting point guard Joe Toussaint is a true freshman and starting shooting guard C.J. Fredrick is a redshirt freshman. They're both still experiencing things for the first time and that leads to growing pains.
But they're also both splendid talents and key pieces to the puzzle.
Iowa appeared to be an NCAA bubble team at best heading into the season, even with a healthy roster. And yet, it’s more than half way through the Big Ten season and Iowa, despite missing two starters including senior point guard Jordan Bohannon, is nationally ranked, still only two games out of first place in the Big Ten and poised to make the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last seven seasons.
So even with the debacle at Purdue, the good still far outweighs the bad with the Iowa men’s basketball team.
The lack of depth is a concern, but Iowa has enough firepower to withstand that as long as nobody else gets injured.
This team is fragile from a physical standpoint, but strong from a mental, and from an emotional standpoint.
It's bounced back before and will do it again, probably as soon as Saturday.
Iowa vs. Nebraska
When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
TV: Big Ten Network