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MICHIGAN STATE 86, IOWA 76: OUTRIGHT FAILURE

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Iowa's tenth loss of the season was its most lopsided and its most damning.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Can we say it? We have to say it. Iowa lacks leadership, lacks toughness, and lacks composure. That has been a concern all year long, but tonight, with Michigan State pulling off the second half blowout en route to an 86-76 win, it became painfully, dreadfully obvious.

Iowa has no vocal leader, nobody its players turn to when a game starts to turn. Sure, Roy Devyn Marble is the go-to guy on offense, but it's not like he's commanding the attention of his teammates. The point guard's the other instinctive choice here, but the slides usually begin with Mike Gesell getting flustered, and he rarely plays his way out of it. Aaron White does a lot of things well, but he disappears way, way too often—and it's not like the offense even runs through him to begin with.

And then there's Fran McCaffrey, who plays the bluster card with such frequency that everybody—fans, players, assistant coaches, the refs—might as well just tune it out at this point. He got another technical foul today. Whatever. It's clear that the only way McCaffrey knows how to get a referee's attention is by blowing a gasket, and even then it's only long enough for the referee to make the T gesture.

When was the last time you thought, "man, the refs are really eating out of Fran's hand"? When was the last time you thought, "Fran sure can settle these guys down"?  When was the last time you thought, "When Iowa's facing adversity, the guy you want on the sidelines is Fran"?

And honestly, I don't know what to say about the adversity Iowa finds itself facing more and more these days. It's one thing if teams beat Iowa by scorching defenders to the rim 20 times a game or if it's nothing but open jumper after open jumper. Losing like that is an indictment of a lot of things about your team and your defense.

But this? This isn't just about Iowa's zone. This is about a sustained period of teams canning long jumpers against Iowa at unreasonable, unsustainable-except-when-they're-not rates.

Michigan State's numbers tonight: 58.3% FG, with very little coming at the rim, and a what-is-this-even 10-18 from downtown (it was 9-14 before garbage time). Iowa's perimeter defense was not exemplary tonight, but Michigan State unleashed a demolition from deep, and there's little Iowa can do to combat that.

Remember, Iowa led at the half, 41-39, and had ably weathered MSU's early offense. Granted, it was almost solely on the back of Roy Devyn Marble going bananas, but it was a hard-fought half of ball. And then the bottom dropped out—as it seems to do for the Hawkeyes in every tough situation this season. It's too bad. Marble played great.

So of course Iowa blew the lead in the second half—again. Of course Gesell got rattled. Of course Fran got a T. Of course Zach McCabe went Full On Judo on Travis Trice. What's to stop any of that from happening? Where's the leadership? Hell, where's the character?

Look, I get that it's Senior Night at the Breslin and most teams—even the very good ones—would lose there tonight. Fine. But it' not just that Iowa took the L. It's that Iowa looked like a bunch of stone cold chumps in the process, and that's something Fran McCaffrey and his guys have to answer for. Who's going to step up and do something about it?