Iowa looks to avoid troubling pattern on defense when it faces No. 4 Ohio State on Sunday
What happens on offense never should impact what happens on defense
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Perhaps the most concerning thing about the Iowa men’s basketball team, besides Jack Nunge’s season-ending knee injury, is that it sometimes struggles on defense when shots aren’t falling.
Every team has stretches where the basket seems tiny and shots don’t fall.
It’s just part of a game in which making 50 percent of your shots is considered to be successful.
The best way to counter the cold stretches is to lock in more on defense, but that’s where No. 9 Iowa, which plays at No. 4 Ohio State on Sunday, sometimes struggles.
Iowa’s defense unraveled after shots stopped falling in the second half of Thursday’s 79-57 loss at Michigan, and Fran McCaffery addressed it afterwards.
“I think what we have to do is a better job of locking in defensively when we have a few shots fall out on us,” McCaffery said. “We had some really good offensive possessions and the ball didn’t go in. Now you’re always in transition in that situation, so it’s not easy as opposed to if the ball goes in you can get your defense back a little easier.
“Our defense has to really, really be, and it was for most of the game really, really good. But it has to be at its best when a couple offensive possessions don’t go our way.”
Iowa’s problem with struggling on defense when shots aren’t falling has been ongoing, but there was hope that the current team would break the trend due to its experience.
Defense has always sort of taken a back seat to Fran McCaffery’s fast-paced offense, or so it seems. But a lack of defense is usually the main reason Iowa comes up short in key games.
Transition defense seems to be where Iowa struggles the most.
It starts with somebody for Iowa missing a shot and then two or three players struggle to get back on defense and that often leads to an easy basket in transition for the opponent.
Some of the Iowa players almost seem to let up on defense when shots aren’t falling when it should be just the opposite.
Defense is the one thing that never should fluctuate because so much of it is effort and awareness.
This isn’t to say that the Iowa players are lazy, or that they lack the discipline or desire to play defense.
There isn’t a player in college basketball at any level who works harder than Iowa center Luka Garza on both ends of the floor.
But Garza is much better on offense than defense, and the same could be said about most of his teammates.
Iowa isn’t the most athletic team in the Big Ten, but that’s even more reason to stay locked in on defense because effort and execution help to compensate for a lack of athleticism.
Should Iowa struggle to get back on defense against the Buckeyes on Sunday, the result could be similar to the Michigan game.
Ohio State overcame an 11-point second half to defeat Iowa 89-85 on Feb. 4 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and Iowa’s inability to get defensive stops down the stretch was a key factor.
Nunge’s loss will be felt on both ends, but especially on defense where his length and versatility made the 6-foot-11 sophomore a valued defender.
Defense will never be a strength for this Iowa team. But it also doesn’t have to be a weakness, as it was in the second half against Michigan when Iowa allowed 47 points.
Playing offense and making shots, of course, is more fun than playing defense.
Winning is the most fun, however.
But winning doesn’t happen without being locked in on defense.
Iowa vs. Ohio State
When: Sunday, 3:05 p.m.
Where: Columbus, Ohio, Value City Center
Records/rankings: Iowa is ranked ninth in the Associated Press poll and 17-7 overall and 11-6 in the Big Ten; Ohio State is ranked fourth and 18-6 and 12-6.
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
All-time series: Ohio State leads the all-time series, 82-81. The two teams have split the last 10 meetings, dating back to 2014. Ohio State holds a 50-28 advantage in games played in Columbus. Sunday will be Iowa’s first visit to Value City Arena since Feb. 26, 2019. The Buckeyes have won the last three meetings in Columbus, with the last Iowa win coming in 2014. The Hawkeyes were the first opponent to win at the Value City Arena (1999).