February's almost over, but Iowa's still breaking new ground in this season. Hadn't lost back-to-back games? Got that monkey off our backs Tuesday, so Thursday they decided to make it back-to-back-to-back games and a full-fledged losing streak. No bad losses? Indiana's a bubble team... for the NIT. So, yeah, I think we can probably check that box, too.
Iowa's in a funk, a slump, a tailspin, a full-on meltdown -- use whatever phrase you like. Iowa is a mess right now. Or, at least, they're a mess on the defensive end -- that's hard to deny after a second-straight torching. Iowa gave up 95 points Tuesday... and 93 tonight. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... When Minnesota erupted for 95 points on blistering shooting, we could write it off as a bad defensive day, yes, but also an otherworldly offensive performance for the other team. When it happens again, though...
The most maddening thing -- well, aside from the whole GIVING UP 90+ FREAKING POINTS aspect -- is that Iowa's defense has been getting absolutely annihilated by offenses that couldn't shoot straight to save their lives before playing Iowa:
Indiana came in averaging 59.5 points on 41.6% shooting over last 10 games. Scored 93 on 51.7% shooting against Iowa tonight.— Jordan Garretson (@jordangarretson) February 28, 2014
You might recall that Minnesota was struggling to crack 50 points in a game before playing Iowa, too. Iowa's defensive generosity also extends to individuals. PROTIP: If you want to score a career high, pray that Iowa is coming up on your schedule.
Five opposing players have career-highs against Iowa over the last three games. Koenig, Austin Hollins, Buggs, Sheehey, Robinson.— Mike Hlas (@Hlas) February 28, 2014
It's been most notable the last three games, sure, but it's secretly been going on all year.
I mean... Will Sheehey lit Iowa up for 30 points. Will Sheehey. Sheehey isn't a bad player (hateable yes, bad no) or a scrub, but 30 points smoked his previous career high. Dude is averaging 10 ppg this year for a reason. Yogi Ferrell had one of his quietest games of the season (8 points on 2/6 shooting, 4 assists, 2 rebounds) and Noah Vonleh was a ghost (4 points, 5 rebounds in limited action)... if you'd told me before the game that Yogi and Vonleh would combine for 12 points, I'd assume Iowa won by 15-20 points. Instead, Indiana got career-best performances from Sheehey (30 points on 13/20 shooting) and Stanford Robinson (17 points on 5/6 shooting from the field... and 7/10 shooting from the free throw line).
Iowa's defense is certainly the poster boy for tonight's loss, but the offense deserves its share of blame too, even though Iowa managed 86 points. The first half was good -- 52 points, 62.8 eFG%, 1.21 PPP. The second half -- 34 points, 0.74 PPP, and an 8:28 stretch without a field goal. Melshan Basabe made a tip-in with 9:50 to go in the second half, giving Iowa a 66-64 lead. That was Iowa's last lead of the game. It was also Iowa's last made field goal until Marble made a layup with 1:22 to go, which cut Indiana's lead to 82-75. Iowa scored nine points in that span off free throws (7/11) and went 0/7 from the field in that span.
Obviously, not many players covered themselves in glory with numbers like that. Aaron White might be one of the few exceptions to that -- he posted 19 points (on 6/8 shooting and 7/10 free throw shooting) and 10 rebounds. Marble had 20 points, but just six in the second half. Melsahn Basabe made a definite impact on his return to the lineup -- 14 points (on 7/11 shooting) and 2 rebounds -- but he was quiet after a strong start to the second half. Mike Gesell had a good night in terms of assists (7), but he also had several turnovers (5) and a very poor shooting night (6 points on 3/12 shooting). Iowa also suffered from a common bugaboo in their losses this year -- poor 3-point shooting. Iowa shot just 21.1% (4/19) from deep tonight. Oh, and 18 turnovers. That's not good, right? (No, no it is not.)
But one of the biggest problems with Iowa's offense was the utter disappearance of the bench. Iowa's much-lauded second unit had 26 points... but almost none of them in the second half. At one point in the second half Indiana's bench was outscoring Iowa's bench 22-1. Brutal. Depth is supposed to be Iowa's calling card this year, but when the bench isn't productive, that depth dries up in a hurry.
What a difference a week makes. Just a week ago, Iowa was 8-4 in the Big Ten, solidly ensconced in the top 15, and still dreaming of a regular season Big Ten championship. A week -- and three painful losses -- later and things feel much different. Iowa's 8-7 in the league and the only reason they're still able to entertain any thoughts of still earning a bye in the Big Ten Tournament is because Nebraska and Ohio State also tripped up this week. Their stay in the top 25 is almost certainly over and the Big Ten championship dreams are... well, let's not go there.
Iowa's probably not quite yet on the bubble for making the NCAA Tournament... but it would sure as hell behoove them to win a game or two as soon as possible. Even if they make the NCAA Tournament, though, it's not easy to have confidence in them making a splash in the postseason with the way they're playing.
But there's a more optimistic viewpoint to take, too. As we've said repeatedly -- and has been driven home incessantly by results all year -- the Big Ten is full of blood and spiders. It's nuts. Everyone can beat everyone else. Every single team in the league has at least five wins. Even the top teams in the league have had trouble getting separation. Michigan State's gone 5-5 in their last ten games, while Michigan had a 3-3 stretch of their own just a few weeks ago. Wisconsin lost 5 of 6 games in January and looked utterly adrift -- they've won six games straight since then. Ohio State lost 4 in a low and 5 of 6 themselves (also in January), but has gone 6-2 since then.
Lots of teams have had rough streaks in the Big Ten this year when very little seemed to be going right and the losses piled up. Maybe Iowa just picked an extremely inopportune time for their slump. That's not to say Iowa doesn't have some real issues to address -- in particular, the defense has been in shambles for most of the last three games and, honestly, has been trending downward for the entire month of February. That has to get fixed for Iowa to have any hope of turning things around. Purdue on Sunday afternoon is their latest chance to stop the bleeding -- let's hope they find a few answers between now and then.