1. Free throws aren't a problem, but ... -- They have to be a concern. Missing free throws hasn’t quite become a habit for Iowa’s men’s basketball program, but they’ve certainly become an unwanted vice.
Over the last 83 minutes of basketball, Iowa is shooting 41-of-72 (57 percent) from the free-throw line, hardly winning numbers against two overmatched opponents, let alone against top-flight Big Ten competition. The statistics have Iowa players and coaches shaking their heads but not quite admitting concern.
“It’s weird because we’re a good free-throw shooting team," Aaron White said after Tuesday's 67-57 win against Nebraska. "I had two that went in and out. Dev (Marble) had two or three that went in and out. Mike (Gesell). We shoot a better number than we did (Tuesday). Despite that, you still win by 10 and we missed 17. I’m not too worried about it. Just a bad night for us, I guess."
Iowa ranked second in the Big Ten at 73.1 percent from the line in 2012-13. This year the Hawkeyes are sixth at 72 percent. Neither are poor numbers, but what has fans concerned is both the timing of the misses and the recent frequency.
Last year Iowa shot 56.6 percent (30 of 53) in the final two minutes or overtime of single-digit games. Iowa finished 4-8 in those games and barely missed the NCAA tournament. Conversely, Iowa was strong at Virginia, knocking down 14-of-14 in the final three minutes in an NIT quarterfinal.
The Hawkeyes have shown weakness at the line in each of their two losses this year. Iowa was 6-of-10 from the line in the second half and overtime in a five-point loss to Villanova. In a three-point loss at Iowa State, the Hawkeyes blew a five-point lead in the final 89 seconds by missing 4-of-5 free throws.
Iowa's last two games -- both double-digit wins -- have contributed to fan angst over free-throw shooting. Iowa rolled Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 25 (a 42-point lead that the reserves squandered late) but connected on just 67 percent from the line. Iowa beat Nebraska 67-57 but knocked down just 22-of-39.
Iowa led Nebraska 55-35 with 8:12 left in the game. The Cornhuskers started fouling, and the Hawkeyes didn't make another basket the rest of the game. Iowa connected on 12-of-18 free throws the rest of the game, and the Cornhuskers chopped Iowa's lead to five points with 1:45 remaining.
"We had unforced turnovers that we need to clean up, and we missed some foul shots," Iowa center Adam Woodbury said. "That was a big key. We weren’t getting points, and they were coming down and getting fouls, getting to the line without the clock moving and continuing to score while we didn’t. We’ll continue to work on it."
The numbers better improve on Sunday at No. 4 Wisconsin, or finding a 'W' will be nearly impossible against most Big Ten opponents.
2. Marble's back. Marble played 31 minutes against Nebraska and scored 15 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished two assists. Marble left the game only three times, but each time he ran to the edge of the court, lay on his stomach and put a heating pad on his back. When it felt better, he'd get up and rush to the scorer's table to check in.
Back spasms have plagued Marble since last season, but it's unclear whether those have acted up recently.
"It tightened up on me," Marble said. "I don’t know if it’s spasms or whatever. It was bothering me this summer, too. We think it was just a reoccurring thing. It was just tightening up. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with throughout the season so far."
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery was bewildered with the issue.
"You'll have to ask him," McCaffery said. "He looked pretty good to me."
3. A win's a win. Yes, it felt like a near-loss for Iowa on Tuesday. Nebraska Coach Tim Miles entered the media room for postgame interviews within 10 minutes. McCaffery took nearly 40 minutes. The tone was upbeat for Miles and more subdued for McCaffery.
But in context, it ended a six-game losing skid for Iowa in Big Ten openers. Five of those losses came at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was the second odd losing streak the Hawkeyes snapped this season. Iowa's 98-93 win against Notre Dame ended a seven-game slide in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
While the win against Nebraska was forgettable, it was much better than the alternative.
"Big Ten play is really grueling," Marble said. "Every game you play is going to be hard-fought. Even though we have them down 20, they’re going to come back, just like if we’re down 20, we’re still going to make pushes back, too. We’ve just got to find a way to close out games and live to fight another day to be honest. We’re happy to be 1-0 but at the same time we’re still hungry and want to continue winning."