You ever wake up in a bit of a panic, not knowing what day it is? What time it is? Where, exactly, you are? That’s kind of what it feels like this morning as an Iowa basketball fan. Yeah, we’re pretty sure we’re in our bed. It certainly feels like Monday. But what time is it, exactly? Why am I in a cold sweat again? Where the hell did our defense go??
I’ve said more than once these past few weeks that things can change a lot in a week. This Monday, it’s déjà vu all over again.
In this week’s edition of how much can things change in only 7 days, Hawkeye fans rode the roller coaster over the edge and came crashing down into oblivion as Iowa got housed at home by Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans and nearly got run out of Williams Arena last night by a Minnesota team that got destroyed at Illinois only 10 days ago.
Any Iowa fans unfortunate enough to be standing near a ledge (or a rope, sharp objects, etc.) have likely jumped off by now. The one major theme throughout the last week of games was the Hawkeyes’ defense was about as tough as a wet square a single-ply Charmin.
One of the staples of last year’s brutal basketball season was a porous defense. For a good portion of this season, we’ve seen a vastly improved team on the defensive side of the ball. That’s been one of the biggest drivers (though there are certainly others) of this season’s win/loss improvement over last.
Now, in the most difficult stretch of Iowa’s schedule, we’re watching a version of last season’s team rather than the one we watched a good portion of this season. For Hawkeye fans, it’s maddening.
And it’s not just the defense driving us all nuts. There’s been the head-scratching plays, like Tyler Cook’s decision to dribble the length of the floor into traffic in the final minutes last night, trailing by 4 and a wide open, white hot Isaiah Moss sotting up from 3. That won’t get it done.
There’s also been the relative disappearance of key contributors like Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp. Both have been critical to Iowa’s success this season and both coming into the week averaging in double figures. But in the two losses, the pair combined for only 13 points. That won’t get it done
There have been massive scoring droughts, like the 24-2 run the Hawkeyes endured from the Spartans on Thursday. Entering the run, Iowa was up 50-42 coming off some of the most inspired basketball we’ve seen them play. Then it seemed as if they simply ran out of gas. The offense disappeared and that Swiss cheese defense allowed those 24 points over a 5:47 span. That won’t get it done.
And there’s been a return to some questionable lineups and rotations. There was a stretch of almost 5 minutes last night where the Hawkeyes played Connor McCaffery, Maishe Dailey, Riley Till, Nicholas Baer and Ryan Kriener. All great people I’m sure and all fine basketball players when playing a role within an offense. But that group, together, in a big time road game during this difficult stretch? That won’t get it done.
The fact that none of these issues over the last week are unique to just the last week has many a Hawkeye fan waking up this Monday morning saying that Fran McCaffery won’t get it done. These are themes we’ve seen at one time or another in nearly all of Fran’s 9 seasons at Iowa. And that says nothing of the February slide we’ve all grown accustomed to.
So is it time for a change on the Iowa bench? Maybe. Is that change the head man? Possibly. Is the time now? Definitely not.
These themes are undeniably there. And frankly, it could be worse. The injuries and redshirts in the post have forced Fran’s hand into shortening his rotation or we’d have another point of contention. But they are themes that can be worked through.
It’s unlikely we’ll see McCaffery start actually calling timeouts to kill opponent runs this season. He’s probably not going to start actually drawing up set plays to close out halves that don’t involve killing the clock to 10 seconds and then squandering those remaining 10. He’s not going to stop Tyler Cook from trying to prove himself to NBA scouts by dribbling the full length of the floor when he shouldn’t. And he can’t will Bohannon and Wieskamp into the scoring column.
Some of those changes are out of his control and the ones that are will need to come in the offseason. But we have at least seen with the improved defense most of this season that he has a desire to make some adjustments during the offseason. Because of that, he’s likely deserving of another season regardless of how this one ends.
But anyone who thinks this one is headed for disaster is caught up in the roller coaster. This team is in a slump, for sure, but there is a point in every season where almost every team in America slumps. This one just happens to be doing in during their most difficult stretch of the season. On one hand, that leaves little likelihood they take advantage of the opportunity to pick up some quality wins. But on the other, they aren’t likely to fall much because of some road losses to decent teams and home losses to great ones.
None of this happens in a vacuum. Other teams are dropping games too. Just this week, 13th ranked Maryland fell victim to Illinois and that same Michigan State team that pummeled the Hawkeyes lost by 10 at Purdue. There’s still a third of the season to go and this team has shown they can rack up wins when they get rolling.
They aren’t likely to get many over the next two weeks, but beyond that they are in good shape. As of Saturday, they were still sitting inside the top 25 of Joe Lunardi’s bracketology. And we saw for little more than a half that Iowa can hang with and even beat one of the best teams in America (excluding that 5:47 minute stretch were the Spartans went on a 24-2 run, the Hawkeyes outscored Michigan State 65-58 Thursday).
We may see a repeat of that Michigan State game with Michigan coming to town this week, but that won’t mean the season is off the rails. This team is still 16-4 and in the top half of a very good conference. The schedule does get more friendly and this team is likely to pick up some more wins. If guys like Wieskamp and Bohannon can get it going and the defense can show back up on a regular basis, it’s likely to be several more wins, including some big ones.
And that’s really what we should be expecting out of this group. This is a good, not great team. We’ve seen tremendous improvement from a season ago, but to take the next step as a program, we need to see a number of things. We need the addition of more than one player who can create his own shot at any time. That’s critical in a motion offense (and I think we’re getting one in Joe Toussaint and if Wieskamp and Moss can continue to develop, we may have a few already on the roster). We need this defensive improvement to be permanent and consistent. There should be no nights off like we saw last night. And we need to see the staff take steps to overcome the shortcomings we’ve seen over the last 9 seasons.
Whether they can do that remains to be seen. If not, then the answer to the question of Fran being the right guy is likely a resounding no. If yes, perhaps not. Regardless, the answer to whether this is the time to make a change is pretty clearly no. So step back from the ledge, grit your teeth and struggle through this difficult stretch in the schedule.
There are more bumps to come in this road, but the season has a long way to go. This is still a good team and we’re likely to see them in the NCAA Tournament come March. It’s unlikely we’ll see prolonged offensive struggles from Iowa’s top weapons and there are too many for opponents to truly shut Iowa down for an entire game. If the defense returns this is a team capable of making some noise. With some tweaks from the bench, perhaps they could be great.
Happy Monday Hawk fans. Take a few minutes to reflect on how things are going for you this week and make one minor adjustment for the better. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll wake up next Monday knowing you’re not an Iowa State fan.