Late Game Struggles Continue to Haunt IowaPosted by KTrahan on February 8th, 2013
With 20 seconds left in regulation of Wednesday night’s Iowa-Wisconsin game, Traevon Jackson’s three-pointer bounced off the rim, then the backboard, then fell into the hoop to tie the game up. Josh Ogelsby’s three-pointer just before the buzzer looked good, but then rimmed out. Thus has been the story of Iowa’s season so far, as the Hawkeyes went on to lose 74-70 in double overtime. Iowa certainly has a squad that looked capable of making the NCAA Tournament this year, but the script in every chance to get a marquee win has been the same — a blown late lead and a heartbreaking loss. The Hawkeyes have blown late leads to Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Minnesota and now Wisconsin. The only late leads that they’ve held onto against marquee opponents have come against Wisconsin (in the previous meeting this season) and Iowa State. Jon Rothstein and Ken Pomeroy both sympathized with Iowa fans after the loss:
I can’t remember a team having as many excruciating losses as Iowa. The Hawkeyes can’t catch a break. Much better than 3-7 in league play.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 7, 2013
Feeling sorry for Iowa. In the wrong conference this year. Pencil them in as the NIT favorite.
— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy)
Fake Fran McCaffery was clearly frustrated, as well (great Twitter follow, by the way):
Apparently it was possible to get closer to the hump without going over it. Dammit.
— Fran’s Red Face (@FransRedFace) February 7, 2013
It’s tough to know what to make of all of Iowa’s late-game collapses. The Hawkeyes have clearly had trouble figuring out how to play with a lead at the end of games — they nearly even blew the home lead to Wisconsin. It’s almost as if Iowa goes into prevent defense, to use a football term. And, as the saying goes, the only thing prevent defense does is prevent you from winning the game. The Hawkeyes try to avoid fouling and get very conservative, which allows the other team to get back into the game. Since Iowa isn’t a great shooting team, it’s tough for the Hawkeyes to make the last shot at the end of games.
While Fran McCaffery has done a great job in Iowa City for the most part — he’ll have Iowa back as a regular NCAA Tournament team in no time — some of this has to fall on coaching. A team has to know how to play with a lead that late in the game and not give up as many easy buckets. The play calls have been questionable, as well. At the end of regulation in the Purdue loss, McCaffery called iso for Devyn Marble, who has struggled with his shooting. Not surprisingly, Marble missed and Iowa lost in overtime. Some of the struggles can also be chalked up to inexperience. The Hawkeyes have either started two or three freshmen during Big Ten play, and the team has only one senior. Those issues will fix themselves over the coming years, and even as early as next year. However, McCaffery has to find a way to get the ball in the hands of his playmaker — probably Aaron White at this point — at the end of games.
The good news for Iowa fans is that it’s not time to look to next year yet, even with NCAA Tournament hopes slimming. The Hawkeyes are probably the best 3-7 conference team in the country and they’ve played the No. 1 strength of schedule in the Big Ten so far. They’ll be favored in six of their remaining eight games, and one of the games they’ll be an underdog for — Minnesota at home — is very winnable. Even a 6-2 record from here on out would put Iowa at 9-9 in the Big Ten, but the lack of enough marquee wins — Wisconsin at home isn’t enough — probably wouldn’t be enough to make the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes would likely have to win two Big Ten Tournament games to make the NCAA Tournament in that scenario, or beat Minnesota in addition to all the games they’re favored in to finish out the regular season 7-1. With such a young team, neither of those looks likely. Iowa still seems to be a year away, but considering how close the Hawkeyes have been to getting over the hump, it’s only a matter of time until this trend starts reversing.