1. Defense at a crossroads Now comes the moment where Iowa’s coaches and players scrunch up their faces, bite the inside corner of their mouth and stare into the mirror.
Tough questions are necessary and expected after Iowa’s 95-89 loss at Minnesota on Tuesday. Yes, the Gophers shot exceptionally well from 3-point range, burying nine in the first half and eight consecutive. That’s worth a well-earned tip of the cap. But Iowa gave up 95 points to a team that didn’t score 50 in its last two games. It’s the second consecutive game where Iowa failed to stop its opponent in critical junctures.
“I don’t have an answer for you guys but we’re not there defensively,” Iowa forward Aaron White said. “To a man we’ve got to communicate, get after it. You guys have seen it; we’re a pretty good defensive team. This is kind of baffling. We’re going to get back after it Thursday night.
“It’s one of those situations where you’ve got to look at it as obviously … we weren’t doing the things to get them off the (3-point) line.”
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery also doesn’t have the answers. Against Wisconsin in a 79-74 home loss last Saturday, Iowa (19-8, 8-6 Big Ten) allowed the Badgers to get comfortable and hit 14 of their first 19 shots. Iowa settled into a defensive groove, mostly because Wisconsin went cold for a portion of the game.
Tuesday, Minnesota stayed hot. The desperate Gophers (18-11, 7-9) scored on 13 consecutive first-half possessions. The 30-9 run erased an 11-point deficit and turned it into a 10-point lead. The Gophers hit six 3-pointers over that 6-minute, 30-second run. Minnesota shot 69.2 percent in the first half, and 61.2 percent overall.
“You always think, ‘What can I do to help them?’” McCaffery asked. “That’s what you’re thinking. Yeah they’re fire, but we can’t just say, ‘They’re on fire.’ Can we trap them? Can we zone them? Can we press them? Can we switch? You start pushing different buttons and that’s what you do in that situation. Moreso because it’s not as much strategy sometimes as you just change to see if the change works.”
The players provided more reasons for their defensive problems.
“I don’t think our rotations were great,” Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. “I thought the same thing in our last game against Wisconsin. They got hot and we weren’t chasing them off the line like we needed to.”
“You’ve got to give them credit; they were knocking shots down,” Iowa guard Josh Oglesby said. “That’s also our fault, too, defensively. We’re not like adjusting to what they’re doing and if someone gets beat we’re helping too far. Then they’ll kick it and they were on fire.”
The Hawkeyes (19-8, 8-6 Big Ten) are reeling a bit entering Thursday’s game at Indiana. They’ve lost two consecutive games for the first time this season. Senior forward Melsahn Basabe missed the first game of his career because of illness. Their Big Ten title hopes, which were within reach last week, now have evaporated.
White said the team’s focus is sharp and singular against Indiana – and the rest of Iowa’s opponents.
“Get a win. That’s our mindset for every game,” he said. “Prepare to the fullest and do the necessary things to win the game.”
2. Losing Basabe. Melsahn Basabe's absence has hurt the Hawkeyes tremendously in their losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Basabe, a 6-foot-7 senior, is the team's best inside rebounder, a guy who scores on putbacks and defends power in the post.
Basabe, who is suffering from a stomach ailment, played only one minute on Saturday against Wisconsin and didn't play against Minnesota. Iowa, the Big Ten's top rebounding squad, was outrebounded in both games.
"(Basabe is) low-post scoring threat," McCaffery said. "Another veteran shot blocker. (Minnesota) was a big, physical team when (Maurice) Walker’s playing. (Joey) King is big. (Elliott) Eliason is big. Melsahn gives you a bigger body. He can bang with those guys. He gives me another option, he gives me another offensive scorer. We can use him."
Basabe scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots against Penn State. While it's simplistic to say Basabe would have provided the difference against both Wisconsin and Minnesota, his loss clearly was felt.
It's vital for Basabe to play at Indiana against Big Ten rebounding leader Noah Vonleh. Maybe he wins only one or two 50-50 balls against Vonleh, but that could provide the winning -- or losing -- margin. Just like Tuesday or Saturday.
3. White sparks a rally. Aaron White had a forgettable performance against Wisconsin with only four points and seven rebounds. He was much more aggressive against Minnesota, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and three huge steals in 33 minutes.
"I thought he was great all night long," McCaffery said. "We talked to him about impacting the game right off the bat on both ends of the floor. On the glass, in transition. I thought his effort level and his energy level was great. I tried to rest him when I could. He played 33 minutes late, we’re pressing, he’s the point of the press. He seemed like he was all over the place."
With Iowa trailing 80-69 inside of eight minutes to go, White gained steals on two consecutive possessions. White dunked after one of the Minnesota turnovers. The other turned into a Mike Gesell basket.
Later, White hit just his fifth 3-pointer of the year to bring Iowa within 80-76.
But White wasn't interested in talking about his performance. He was more upset about a pair of offensive lapses after cut down the deficit. When Anthony Clemmons' layup brought Iowa within 68-66, the Hawkeyes went five straight possessions without scoring. Two of those possessions ended with turnovers.
After Gesell's basket closed the gap to 80-73, Iowa's Gabe Olaseni twice was hit for moving screens and then the Hawkeyes got tied up and lost a jump ball.
"I think the most disappointing thing is we didn’t get shots," White said. "It’s not like we got a good shot and missed it. It’s not like we ran a set and didn’t execute. We didn’t get anything to the rim."
I'm a big Iowa fan but there is something missing from this team. They have the potential to be an elite team. Need to find the right mix— Seth Greenberg (@SethOnHoops) February 26, 2014