By Pat Harty
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about the 2022-23 Iowa men’s basketball team at this stage of the season is that it will fight back and compete until the end.
Okay, with exception to the Eastern Illinois debacle.
Iowa lost to Penn State 83-79 on Sunday in University Park, Pennsylvania and fell to 0-3 in the Big Ten, which is certainly cause for concern.
But it could’ve been worse.
Iowa missed seven of its eight shots from 3-point range in the first half, shot just 32.3 percent as a team in the first half and trailed 34-26 at the break.
It was a carry-over from the 66-50 loss at Nebraska this past Thursday in Lincoln when the Hawkeyes were held scoreless for nine minutes in the first half.
But instead of wilting under the weight of a double-digit deficit on the road, Kris Murray and his cohorts chipped away at the deficit and actually gave themselves a chance to win down the stretch, cutting the deficit to two points in the closing seconds.
Kris Murray finished with 32 points, including 22 in the second half, so that is reason to be optimistic.
Tony Perkins also broke out a mini slump by scoring 17 points, and Filip Rebaca and Connor McCaffery continue to provide veteran leadership and productivity.
On the flipside however, is that Patrick McCaffery only made 1-of-6 field-goal attempts against Penn State and is just 2-for-15 from the field in the last two games.
Starting point guard Ahron Ulis also missed five of his six field-goal attempts against Penn State.
Ever since Fran McCaffery took over as the Iowa men’s basketball coach in 2010, scoring points has been the least of his concerns.
Fran McCaffery prefers to play at a fast pace, and he gives his players a lot of freedom to shoot in transition, and that approach has produced positive results as Iowa has led the Big Ten in scoring in each of the past four seasons.
Iowa also scored more than 100 points in two of its first four games this season, so it was easy to assume that scoring points wouldn’t be a problem this season.
The fact that Iowa scored 53 points in the second half against Penn State is reason to be encouraged, but the lack of perimeter shooting is causing major problems.
Iowa only made 7-of-25 shots from 3-point range against the Nittany Lions, while Penn State made 9-of-19 3-point field-goal attempts.
Payton Sandfort still hasn’t made a shot in Big Ten play, and Ulis has shown no signs of being a 3-point threat.
And then adding to the misery is that freshman guard Josh Dix suffered what appeared to be a lower leg injury, and while that is always a concern, even more so with Dix since he broke his leg in two places in high school.
This is a tough stretch for Iowa right now, and it doesn’t get any easier with Indiana the next opponent Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa played with a sense of urgency in the second half against Penn State, and also made shots.
It’s reasonable to assume that Patrick McCaffery will break out of his slump because he is a proven scorer at this level.
But it’s also easy to question whether Iowa has enough offensive firepower to compensate for its weaknesses.
Defense rarely has been a strength for Iowa under Fran McCaffery, and this season, so far, is no exception.
Offense, on the other hand, has almost always been the guiding force under Fran McCaffery, and it did trigger the second half comeback against Penn State.
But the hole dug from the lack of offense in the first half was too much for Iowa to overcome.
And coming off the offensive meltdown at Nebraska, there is reason to be concerned.