Another week has come and gone and the Iowa Hawkeyes have added two more photo finishes to their growing list of heart palpitation-inducing incidents from this season. These last two weeks, really, have been an incredible ride and not one for the faint of heart. The result of such a rise has been two diverging narratives.
On the one hand, Iowa has struggled mightily against what has been, for the most part, mediocre competition at best. With 24th ranked Maryland the exception, each of the Hawkeyes’ other three opponents during this stretch sits in the bottom 5 of the Big Ten standings. Combined, Northwestern, Indiana and Rutgers have fewer conference wins than any of the top 3 teams in the conference and the same as Marysland, who’s currently in 4th.
On the surface, it’s a group Iowa should have done well against, especially with only one of the matchups on the road. Yet Iowa needed late game heroics from Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp In all three of the wins. A simple conclusion could be that Iowa also isn’t that good, hence the struggles for large swaths of those games.
Frankly, “struggles” doesn’t really begin to describe how putrid Iowa’s offense was in those games. After trailing by 6 at the half to last-place Northwestern, Iowa’s offense went scoreless for a nearly 5 minute stretch in the early part of the second half. That wasn’t an indication of the defensive prowess of the Wildcats, rather an indictment of the Hawkeyes’ ability to get a bucket. Thus, they found themselves trailing by 15 with 4:30 to go.
Against Rutgers, it was much of the same. There were two stretches in the first half of nearly 3 minutes each where Iowa went without a basket. Then, after building up a 4-point lead, the Hawkeyes went dry again in crunch time. They went nearly two minutes without a basket in the final three. The result, like with Northwestern, was the need for another miracle for Iowa to win against a sub-.500 team.
While those two games had stretches of major struggle, the overall output wasn’t half bad. Despite the long drought in the second half that nearly pulled the Northwestern game out of reach, Iowa actually shot 53% from beyond the arc and over 47% from the field. While quite as good, the Hawkeyes still shot close to 40% from three against Rutgers and more than 45% from the field. Those are OK numbers.
The story was not the same in Iowa’s two games that followed. In what seemed like the biggest opportunity of the season against Maryland, with the chance to all but seal up a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament, the Hawkeyes came out and shot under 31% from beyond the arc and less than 33% from the field. Those are shockingly bad numbers. They’re the kind of numbers that lose you games. After a pair of miraculous wins, Iowa did just that against the Terrapins.
For a fair amount of Iowa’s game on Friday night against Indiana, it looked like they were dead set on doing the same. With less than a minute left to go in regulation, the Hawkeyes were shooting an abysmal 16% from beyond the arc. That’s not a misprint. For more than 39 minutes of basketball, the Hawkeyes made fewer than two of every ten shots they took from deep.
Bohannon added 12% onto Iowa’s 3-point % in the final :45 + OT, nearly doubling it.— JP in IC (@JPinIC_BHGP) February 23, 2019
Put bluntly, the Iowa Hawkeyes have been bad offensively for the last four games. They haven’t looked like a team deserving of a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament. They haven’t looked much like a team that deserves to get in at all. And that’s a narrative that’s out there - that this team is actually bad and have simply played an easy schedule.
But here’s the thing: the Hawkeyes aren’t bad. For all but a few exceptions, those last few games included, they’ve been quite good. So good, in fact, they rank 8th nationally in offensive efficiency per Kenpom.com despite those putrid performances. Imagine where they’d be if the last few had been even decent.
It’s not just about the efficiency rankings though. The real takeaway is that in four games where this team, this team built on being good offensively with defense often treated as an afterthought, was broadly abysmal offensively, the Hawkeyes managed to go 3-1.
ALL TIME MEAN MUG (Wait for it) pic.twitter.com/sQqkNVrhHu— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) February 23, 2019
That should be the real story here. This team is clearly in the midst of a midseason struggle. All teams go through it, sometimes more than once. Typically that leads to uncharacteristic losses. When the tournament committee reviews resumes on Selection Sunday, one thing they’ll review for almost every team is bad losses. They’re a given. It’s something that comes about during a midseason struggle and every team has them.
Every team except Iowa. Iowa has gone through their midseason struggle and found a way to fight through. They’ve upped the ante on the defensive side of the ball, holding three of the four opponents to 70 or fewer points. And they’ve found not one, but two players to come up in a huge way when the game’s on the line.
Those are the things that can make a season special. The Hawkeyes are on the precipice of such a season. The last time this program saw a team win 23 or more games in the regular season was 1986-87. They will almost certainly get there this year.
That doesn’t happen without the ability to fight through the midseason slump and pull out wins. In most seasons, last especially, Iowa would have lost three or even four of those close games. Most wouldn’t have been within double digits. This team has a different mental makeup.
That mental makeup, the fight, and the confidence they’ll now have after being in those close games ahead of March Madness will pay major dividends down the road. And while they’re a talking point right now for why the Hawkeyes find themselves dropping steadily in the rankings, they still show up in the win column. When the people who matter look back at the season and Iowa’s resume, they won’t see the bad losses they’ll find on others’.
What they will find, is a whole lot of wins, including a few signature ones. They’ll find a team with a solid record in quadrant one. And if this slump ends with the overtime win against Indiana, they’ll find a team coming off a very strong finish to the regular season.
If the Hawkeyes can pull off wins after completely slumping for several games, including shooting an abysmal 16% from beyond the arc for nearly an entire game, they’ll look like the tournament team they are when the offense returns. This next stretch is full of difficulty and opportunity. Iowa finishes with three of their final four on the road. It also has three quadrant one games remaining. If they go 2-2, they’ll finish with 23 regular season wins. Anything better and the 5-seed is a real possibility in the Big Ten Tournament, as well as the NCAA Tournament.
This is a very good Iowa basketball team. Their struggles over the last four games should be viewed as evidence of how good they can be rather than an indictment on their abilities. If they can right the ship over this final stretch, there will be only one narrative to tell: this is one of he great Iowa basketball teams in 30 years.
Happy Monday. Have yourself a “get right” week. There are less than two weeks left to enjoy this team in the regular season.