IOWA CITY — The “realities” of a college basketball season change as often as the amount of snowfall on the Midwest’s ground, but the current reality for the Iowa Hawkeyes is this:
They’re part of the Big Ten’s middle layer instead of the upper crust.
The Hawkeyes had their lone win this season over a ranked opponent, Ohio State, negated by their 76-69 loss to the Buckeyes Tuesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“We couldn’t get stops, we couldn’t get scores,” said Iowa’s Aaron White, who had eight points, six under his league average.
“We couldn’t make a jump shot, we couldn’t make a layup, we couldn’t make a free throw. Tough night.”
That’s two straight Big Ten home losses, a 6-4 league mark, and a slide toward the cluster of clubs in the middle of the conference standings instead of nipping at the heels of 8-1 Michigan and 8-1 Michigan State.
Is one of those “realities” that Iowa doesn’t quite have what it takes to make a run at that title this year?
If it can’t shoot well from outside, you know the answer. Iowa, averaging fewer 3-pointers per game in league play than any Big Ten team, was a frigid 3 of 20 from that distance against the Buckeyes. This game would have been a lot different and a lot better for the Hawkeyes had just a sprinkling of those shots splashed through the nets.
But they didn’t, like they didn’t in losses the previous two weeks to Michigan (2-of-10) and Michigan State (3-of-12).
“We had good shooters shooting open threes,” said McCaffery. “I wasn’t upset with any of them, no.”
No team is perfect when it comes to free throws, but Iowa was 12-of-19 to OSU’s 19-of-24. The Hawkeyes were 3-of-7 in the final 5:06.
That, too, has been a bit of a recurring problem. Iowa missed 13 foul shots in its 71-69 overtime loss to Michigan State a week earlier, was 17-of-25 against Wisconsin, 14-of-21 at Iowa State. Not horrible, but not good enough to pull out tight games.
Hey, before national pundits were clearing a path for Iowa to dash toward the Final Four, Ohio State was a favorite flavor. The Buckeyes were 14-0 before they tumbled to 15-5, and 3-5 in the league. Now they’re 5-5, in that Big Ten middle layer but ascending after wins at Wisconsin and here in a four-day stretch.
Another night in the Big Ten, two more wins by road teams. What’s up with this conference, OSU Coach Thad Matta was asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I wish I could answer it. It’s hard. It’s challenging. It’s hard.
“There used to be days when you felt pretty good when you were at home. That hasn’t been the case this year.”
Host or guest, the team that plays better almost always wins. There was no doubt in the second half about which team was better. The Buckeyes were very good offensively and defensively. Iowa, not so much.
This is a league of guards. Just about everyone’s midseason All-Big Ten team would consist of five guards, including Iowa’s Devyn Marble. You sure wouldn’t exclude Michigan’s Nik Stauskas or Michigan State’s Gary Harris or Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell, and it would be difficult to omit Northwestern’s Drew Crawford.
But old hand Aaron Craft ran this game for Ohio State. The senior was at his efficient, hounding best, with game-highs in points (17), assists (6) and steals (6).
“He’s a winner,” Matta said. He is that.
Craft guarded Marble, who had but 10 points. Iowa got what it wanted and needed in the second half when it won at Columbus. This night, the Buckeyes defended.
But many of those 20 threes the Hawkeyes launched were open shots, good looks. Some were hurried. Few looked smooth.
Iowa doesn’t need as many 3-pointers as most teams. This is one of the highest-scoring teams in the land. It gets to the basket a lot and gets fouled a lot.
Against premier teams, though, you better be able to stick jumpers and make clutch free throws. Until the Hawkeyes do this with consistency, they’ll stay in their league’s middle layer.