IOWA CITY — Iowa’s tough season has taken its toll on everybody, from the coaching staff to the players to the fans.
At 5-10 overall and 0-3 in Big Ten play, Coach Todd Lickliter acknowledges the current situation is difficult to accept for anyone involved. Iowa is one loss from evening its all-time Big Ten record at 695-695, and Iowa was 16 games above .500 just four seasons ago.
“I think you worry about anybody that is a competitor that has worked hard, and they don’t see the reward on the scoreboard,” Lickliter said. “They hear probably the criticisms, we’re all human. … I worry about my staff. I worry about the team. I worry about the fans.
“The idea is to compete and be successful. So when that’s not happening, absolutely that’s going to hurt. The thing about it is you don’t know when it’s going to turn.”
Most people don’t expect Iowa’s season to turn in the right direction today against defending national runner-up Michigan State. The Spartans average a league-best 80.5 points a game. Iowa’s opponents shoot 46.5 percent from the floor, while Michigan State allows 39.3 percent.
Lickliter stresses taking the right approach regardless of the outcome or the performance. Freshman point guard Cully Payne said the team continues to believe in Lickliter and the system despite its struggles.
“I think we’re holding up all right,” Payne said. “It’s tough losing. We’re 5-10, the record’s hard. We’re still young. It’s just kind of coming together.
“It’s tough on everybody, from Coach Lickliter to our assistants to us. If we’d all go different ways, it would make it bad. We’re all staying together and kind of believing in what the future has for us.”
Defending Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas scored 24 points last year at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a 15-point Michigan State win. Payne will square off with Lucas on most possessions. Payne said he admires Lucas for his on-court leadership skills and relishes the challenge of playing against a top-flight point guard.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to play against somebody as good as Kalin,” Payne said. “He’s real quick, real explosive, real good in transition. He’s got a little jumper, he’s got a real good inside-out move. He’s just real explosive.”
Lucas averages 15.7 points a game and has scored in double figures for 26 straight games. He’s hardly the Spartans’ only weapon with fellow starters senior Raymar Morgan (10.4 points) and junior Chris Allen (10.9), and key reserves junior Durrell Summers (10.7) and sophomore Draymond Green (11.1). Green is the team’s leading rebounder and reserve guard Korie Lucious leads in assists.
Payne said he and his young teammates won’t be intimidated, however. Iowa already has played No. 2 Texas and No. 4 Purdue and owns the nation’s 11th toughest schedule, according to www.realrpi.com.
“It’s kind of reality,” Payne said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re playing Michigan State tomorrow.’ I’m kind of used to it now that. They’re like everyone else we play.”