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Unlucky Number Seven: Iowa Loses Again in Big Ten-ACC Challenge

Of course Iowa lost a Big Ten-ACC Challenge game. That's just what we do. Other things we apparently do? Play terrible defense.


The Big Ten is well on its way to winning its fourth-straight Big Ten-ACC Challenge; after Tuesday's action, they're up 4-2 in the event. For the fourth straight year, Iowa failed to contribute a win to Team Big Ten's cause. The monkey is still on Iowa's back when it comes to the Challenge. Iowa went to Blacksburg to take on the Hokies and came away with a loss. Another freaking loss. That makes seven straight losses for Iowa in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, and 10 overall. Iowa's record in the Challenge is a ghastly 2-10. In related news, Gary Barta is expected to promote the idea of a Big Ten-SWAC Challenge the next time Big Ten administrators meet.

This game was eerily reminiscent of the last time Iowa took the court against a team from a major conference -- the Oregon game last March. Iowa got blistered 108-97 in that game in Eugene and for large stretches of the game last night, Virginia Tech looked much the same as the Ducks did eight months ago. It was a pitiful defensive effort from Iowa and how Iowa is able to improve on that will determine what becomes of the rest of this season.

The officiating was a recurrent complaint in the gamethread last night and while Virginia Tech had a pretty sizable advantage at the charity stripe (27/30 vs. 13/18 for Iowa), the foul totals were not egregiously slanted -- Iowa finished with 23, Tech with 20. Even the first half, which did seem to have a fair number of relatively ticky-tack calls go against Iowa, was only 12-8 in Tech's favor. The officiating wasn't great, but it wasn't the main reason Iowa lost, either -- that would be the defense. The awful, awful defense. (The awful, awful defense also contributed several of those fouls, since Iowa players were making late rotations or had sloppy positioning, leading to fouls.)

Tech shot 52% from the game and remarkably did most of their damage from inside the arc (and at the free throw line). They only shot 4/15 (27%) from long distance; if their 3s had been falling, this rout could have been even uglier. Virginia Tech scored a whopping 46 points in the paint and outrebounded Iowa 32-30. The box score lists Tech with "only" eight offensive rebounds, but I would not be shocked if they managed to score on every single one of them; the number of putbacks they had in that game was stunning. It was a poor performance defensively all around; Iowa's bigs struggled to assert themselves and defend effectively in the post and, on the wings, Iowa let their man blaze by them far too frequently. That was a recipe for getting destroyed on defense, which is exactly what happened.

Iowa's press also seemed to backfire a bit in this game, as it didn't force many turnovers (Iowa had just 2 steals in the game and Tech had only 9 turnovers in all) and frequently had Iowa out of position on defense, which led to easy buckets for Virginia Tech's offense. In Iowa's best stretch of the game, a 16-2 run that clawed them back to within three points, Iowa went to a 2-3 zone look that was quite effective at shutting down the NBA JAM-hot Hokie offense. But it seemed like Iowa had a difficult time staying in that look after their offense stopped making shots -- Tech shot downcourt and scored before Iowa could get its defense settled.

The offense contributed its own set of problems to the loss -- most notably, a nearly four-minute scoring drought near the end of the first half that also spilled into the second half. That helped dig a gigantic hole for Iowa and while they did manage to almost climb out of it (see: that aforementioned 16-2 run they went on in the second half), the game might have gone differently if they hadn't found themselves with such an enormous deficit to navigate in the first place. Given the shaky quality of Iowa's defense at times this year (last night, the Wichita State game), the Iowa offense can ill-afford to go into any prolonged droughts and expect to still have a chance to win the game.

The other big problem with the offense? Too many damn 3-point attempts. (A complaint Fran shared as well.) Iowa hoisted 22 treys last night, making just four of them. The sad thing is that most of those 22 threes were attempted before the Hokies started pulling away late in the game; Iowa was jacking up a lot of threes -- way too many threes, frankly -- when the game was still reasonably competitive. Iowa is not a good three-point shooting team right now, especially among the starters. Last night, Gesell went 0/3, Marble went 0/4, White went 0/3, and McCabe went 0/2. Oglesby came off the bench to contribute some solid long-range shooting (he went 3/6 from beyond the arc), but no one else on the team is shooting threes very well at all right now -- yet they're still hoisting them as if they are. I understand the notion of "shooting your way through a slump," but it seems like a dangerous idea when half the team is doing it.

It was even more frustrating because last night really looked like a game where Iowa could make hay against the Hokies in the paint. Despite shooting a pathetic 18% from long range, Iowa's overall field goal percentage was still a robust 48% for the game. They made 27/42 two-point field goals last night, or 64%. That figure included several dunks -- White had at least five and Basabe and Marble had a couple too. Basabe was begging to get the ball on almost every Iowa possession when he was on the court and, frankly, he probably should have gotten the ball on almost every Iowa possession when he was on the court. Basabe only had two field goal attempts (both made) despite playing 21 minutes -- how does that happen? Tech's interior defense was not particularly good and Iowa should have hammered them at every opportunity they got. Early foul trouble for several of Iowa's big bodies didn't help, of course, but Iowa still needed to be attacking the bucket much more than they did; if nothing else, missed buckets on two-point attempts in the lane provide easier opportunities for offensive rebounds than missed three-point attempts. (Fewer long rebounds also would have meant fewer chances for Tech to streak the other way on offense, too.)

Individually, both Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble had strong games -- White had 21 points (on 8/15 shooting) and 10 rebounds, while Marble 18 points (on 9/16 shooting), 7 rebounds, and 7 assists and looked utterly dominant during Iowa's 16-2 stretch. That's the Marble we were hoping to see this year and that's the Marble we're going to need to see more often this year if Iowa has any hope of playing in the postseason in March. As noted, Oglesby contributed some solid long-range shooting when he was on the court (3/6) and Anthony Clemmons had 9 points, 2 assists, and provided pretty solid defense in his time on the floor. (He also managed to pick up five fouls in just 16 minutes of action, which is almost Brommer-ian.)

Iowa returns to action on Saturday with a game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but their next true test in non-conference play will come when Iowa State comes to Carver next Friday. Iowa still has a shot at an 11-2 non-conference record, but getting there is going to take a much higher level of play than we've seen from them thus far, especially on the defensive end. This loss is a painful one to take, not just for the lopsided nature of the final score, but because it was one of Iowa's few chances at a quasi-signature win in non-conference play and because it was against a team that didn't seem to be that good. (I think the latter point was pretty wrong, in hindsight -- Tech is certainly better than I thought they would be and while they probably won't contend for an ACC title, they're going to be a tough out and surprise some teams this year.) But this was also the first true road game for this Iowa team, which (as we know) is dripping with youth. I don't think it's mere coincidence that two of the three guys that did the most damage to Iowa last night, Erick Green (24 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists) and Jarell Eddie (who seemed to contribute far more than his 11-point, 7-rebound stat line would suggest), are a senior and a junior, respectively. (The third guy to hurt Iowa a lot last night, Robert Brown (18 points on 6/8 shooting), was a sophomore.) The Hokies may lack depth, but they have some potent experience, which is something Iowa just doesn't have right now (which is also why they really need Marble to step up big the rest of the season).