There were a few things that Iowa could hang its proverbial hat on about its losses so far this year. Entering Tuesday night, Iowa was the only Big Ten team not to have lost to a team outside the Top 25, the only team in the conference not to have gone undefeated against the conference's bottom seven teams (Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, and Penn State), and one of three teams to not have suffered back-to-back losses this season. Sure, Iowa had lost games, but they were close games against top teams. They were explainable.
All of that ended tonight.
Sometimes, it's just out of your hands.
At the 7:48 mark in the first half, a Zach McCabe free throw gave the Hawkeyes an 11-point lead. From that point forward, it was all Minnesota: The Gophers outscored Iowa 74-57 over the next 28 minutes, shooting 63 percent from the field and 57 percent from behind the arc and, despite a late cold spell wherein the Hawkeyes pulled within two points, made free throws down the stretch for the victory. The game was played at Iowa's pace -- 70 possessions for each team despite Minnesota going to a full-on four corners offense late -- and Iowa got 15 more shots than its opponent, but it didn't matter at those shooting rates. Minnesota, which came in shooting an effective 50.7 percent from the field, posted a 72.4 percent effective rate. Austin Hollins, who had two points against Ohio State Saturday, shot 8/10 from the field, 4/6 from three, and scored a career-high 27. Charles Buggs, who had scored five points all season, added 13 off the bench and went a perfect 3/3 from behind the arc. Sometimes, it's just out of your hands.
For Iowa, Roy Devyn Marble had 24 points, six assists, and four boards.
#Hawkeyes Devyn Marble set personal #B1G records for points (45) and assists (17) in back-to-back games tonight.— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) February 26, 2014
Aaron White added 21 and nine rebounds, and Josh Oglesby -- filling in for the still-ill Melsahn Basabe -- contributed 16 points on 4/9 from three. The story of the night for Iowa was the bench. Iowa got nine bench points Tuesday night -- three from Gabe Olaseni and two each from Zach McCabe, Jarrod Uthoff, and Anthony Clemmons. Peter Jok played long enough to miss a bad shot and pick up a pair of fouls (it turns out that's about 75 seconds). McCabe gave up a crucial turnover to Minnesota guard Deandre Mathieu under the Minnesota basket after a defensive stop, and managed to foul out. Olaseni was called for back-to-back offensive fouls on screens. The bench scored just 10 percent of Iowa's points, grabbed 25 percent of its rebounds (including four by Anthony Clemmons), and committed 46 percent of Iowa's turnovers. It was not a good night for a bench that has to be good for Iowa to be victorious: In 14 Big Ten games, Iowa's bench has been held to 18 points or fewer five times. The Hawkeyes are 1-4 in those games. Iowa's depth is key, but when the bench is a net negative, the rotation is just an exercise in futility.
Iowa desperately misses Melsahn Basabe on defense. Even with Minnesota's big men fighting foul trouble, Iowa was outrebounded by one and could not effectively run a zone defense in the three-guard starting lineup. The general ineffectiveness of Iowa's centers on both ends of the court -- nine points on 3/8 shooting, four rebounds, and three turnovers between Woodbury and Olaseni -- with Eliason a non-factor was unfortunate, but the lack of rebounding and shotblocking ability without Basabe helping from the weakside contributed to Minnesota's offensive explosion. Iowa improves when he returns, whenever that may be.
There's a certain order of things, a flow to how the season is supposed to go. Coming off the blowout win over Michigan, Iowa's season was supposed to flow to Bloomington. The falling beam in Assembly Hall, the postponement, the delay and uncertainty in getting that game rescheduled, the crammed late-season schedule, the Basabe illness as that stretch began: All of it disrupted the natural order of things, and threatens to derail Iowa's season just as the finish line came into sight. Thursday's rescheduled game against Indiana might be Iowa's last chance to arrest the fall before it kills the season. Until then, welcome to the losing streak.