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2017-18 Iowa Basketball Recap: Please Not Again

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Iowa couldn’t keep many games close last season and when they did, too often they were on the wrong side of victory

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan vs Iowa Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Last season was one to forget for the Iowa Hawkeyes. It feels like that’s been said about this team hundreds of times throughout the offseason. It didn’t have that aura about them going into the season, however. They were conducting the Iowa Hawkeyes hype train after outperforming expectations in a totally fun 2016-17 season which saw Peter Jok lead the league in scoring and the team finish at least .500 in conference play for the fifth straight year.

There was reason for hope and even a case to be made (hilariously incorrect in retrospect) for them to be better without the first team all-Big Ten player. That was not the case as early season injuries exacerbated roster imbalance, as Nicholas Baer and Connor McCaffery were sidelined, and Christian Williams left the team. Fran McCaffery was forced into playing oversized (Jack Nunge) or inadequately skilled (Ahmad Wagner) players on the wing.

Iowa’s defense was slow. The offense didn’t have enough shooters. Early season malaise never really departed the team. But, there were some bright spots and it’s worth remembering them as we look back at the 2017-18 season for, hopefully, the last time.

Empty Calories

Chicago State, W, 95-62
Alabama State, W, 92-58
Grambling State, W, 85-74

3 sub-300ish opponents, 3 wins. Iowa was tied with Grambling State as late as ~10 minutes left in the game so some cracks were forming, as Iowa allowed 1.10 points per possession to a team who was in the bottom 5 of KenPom’s ratings at the time. To Grambling’s credit, they were the best of these three by the end of the season.

Cayman Mayhem

Louisiana Lafayette (N), L, 80-71
South Dakota State (N), L, 80-72
UAB (N), W, 95-85
@ Virginia Tech, L, 79-55
Penn State, L, 77-73
@ Indiana, L, 77-64
@ Iowa State, L, 84-78

Not all of these games took place in the island nation of Cayman, but this is where the season absolutely started going off the rails. Many thought the tournament setup of Louisiana Lafayette-Wyoming/South Dakota State-Cincinnati would offer a glimpse into their potential and really, it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment after seeing how the rest of the season turned out.

Louisiana used their athleticism to hold Iowa to 17 first half points. SDSU’s guard play attacked Iowa throughout the game on both sides of the court. Iowa avoided a sweep after relinquishing a double-digit first half lead before holding on against UAB. They were never tested by Cincinnati, but they didn’t need to be.

Things didn’t get better after Iowa faced a Virginia Tech team which ran Iowa up and down the court. Penn State’s athleticism exposed Iowa up and down the roster and forced 18 turnovers. Turnovers continued to foil Iowa against Indiana and Iowa State – 18 in both – with many of them being steals which led to runouts. It was barely December and Iowa was 4-6 and 0-2 in conference.

Eye of the Hurricane

Southern, W, 91-60
Drake (N), W, 90-64
Southern Utah, W, 92-64
Colorado (N), W, 80-73
Northern Illinois, W, 98-75

It was a brief respite for Iowa, as they closed out December on a 5-game winning streak. The highlight of this stretch was probably the Colorado game in Sioux Falls, SD. Not only did the game reignite the Sioux Falls/Sioux City rivalry, but the Hawkeyes showed some resilience in getting the win after exchanging body blows in the second half. It seemed as if Iowa had turned the corner.

Yeesh, Pt. 1

Michigan, L, 75-68
Ohio State, L, 92-81
@ Maryland, L, 91-73
@ Illinois, 1st Half L, 54-41

It was an ugly restart to Iowa’s conference schedule. The Michigan game was not really that close, as John Beilein’s squad had two shot clock violations within the last couple minutes. Iowa had no one who could stop Keita Bates-Diop and foul trouble did the Hawkeyes in against Maryland, as they outscored Iowa 28-7 in the last 10 minutes to turn it into a laugher. Things were really hitting the fan when Iowa went to fellow cellar dweller, Illinois, and saw many of the same ills throughout the first half as they had all season.

Luka Show

@ Illinois, W, 104-97 (OT)

But Iowa clawed back into the game by maximizing their points from about the 10-minute mark of the first half until the end of regulation. Defense remained optional for them, as they still yielded 1.17 points per possession. The offense was just too good as Jordan Bohannon and Luka Garza combined to go 19-19 from the foul line. Garza lit the fire and finished with 19-11 (7 offensive boards) in a game his father attended.

Yeesh, Pt. 2

@ Rutgers, L, 80-64
Purdue, L, 87-64

This was Rutgers’ second biggest conference win since joining the Big Ten. If that wasn’t rock bottom, it might have been against a Purdue team who literally couldn’t miss from three in the first half.

Quadrangle of Hate

Wisconsin, W, 85-67
@ Nebraska, L, 98-84
Minnesota, W, 94-80

Nebraska was a surprise team so the loss there wasn’t a huge disappointment or surprise. Beating Wisconsin and Minnesota by 32 combined points was fun and a reminder that Ethan Happ is entirely overrated.

Just Let It End

@ Penn State, L, 82-58
Michigan State, L, 96-93
@ Ohio State, L, 82-64
@ Michigan, L, 74-59
Indiana, L, 84-82
@ Minnesota, L, 86-82
Northwestern, W, 77-70

Defense continually failed Iowa, though, they did play in some objectively enjoyable games. The Michigan State game showed fans just what this group could achieve, and the losses to Indiana and Minnesota, were high-scoring affairs but all were marred by horrible defense and slow starts. They closed out the season with a win, which was nice. Jordan Bohannon tied Chris Street’s consecutive free throws made streak in the home finale.

Monkey off the Back?

Illinois (N), W, 96-87
Michigan, L, 77-71 (OT)

Because of scheduling the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden, the conference was forced to end the regular season a week early. Thank goodness. They finally got a win in the conference tournament, the first since 2013, even though it was against a putrid Illinois team. The loss to Michigan was a sort of high note for the team to go out on, especially considering the way the Wolverines finished their season.

Though the season ended with a sorta successful conference tournament performance, it was hardly a consolation for the season at large. They finished tied for 11th in the conference at 4-14 and finished 14-19 overall. KenPom rated their offense, adjusted for opponent, 116.6 points/100 possessions (19th in the country) and had their defense at 108.4 (242nd).

So yeah, 2017-18: decidedly not good. It was arguably the worst in Fran’s career with 2011 (11-20) and 2003 (6-22 at UNC- Greensboro) being the two other stinkers on 21st century resume.

Hopefully it was an aberration. If Fran’s record is any indication, it should be.