3 Takeaways: Gut check time for Iowa

Published: February 28 2014 | 10:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:17 am in

1. Iowa's gut-check moment. The noise engulfing the Iowa basketball program is palpable, maybe more than ever.

No. 19 Iowa, a team many considered a dark h0rse for the Final Four, is limping through the Big Ten at the wrong time. Three consecutive losses, a 3-5 record over their last eight games and a defense that hands out career performances like honorary degrees have the Hawkeyes reeling just two weeks before the Big Ten Tournament.

But the situation hardly is unique in the Big Ten this year. After winning its first 16 games, Wisconsin dropped five of six -- including three straight at the Kohl Center -- before rebounding to win its last six. Ohio State lost four straight and five of six in January before rebounding to win six of its last eight. All three of league leader Michigan's losses came by double digits.

"Every top team has gone through a little spell like this," Iowa junior Aaron White said. "Our job is make ours shorter than the other guys’ (streak). We’ve got to get back to the basics. That’s a pretty basic statement. That’s what you’ve got to do, you’ve got to get back to locking guys up, take better care of the basketball, like I said trust the offense and get back to the basics."

Iowa (19-9, 8-7 Big Ten) began the season as a media darling. One week ago the Hawkeyes were one game behind Michigan and Michigan State in the loss column and poised to challenge for the Big Ten title.

"Iowa is obviously a very good offensive basketball team," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said. "They’ve been right there. They’ve lost heartbreakers during the year in conference play, but they’re capable of beating anybody on a given night. They give you problems with that offensive team that they have."

Three consecutive losses -- including two straight on the road to non-contenders -- have allowed doubt to creep in. Iowa's defense has been exposed from 3-point range and in transition. All three of those opponents have shot better than 53 percent from the floor. Both Minnesota and Indiana scored at least 93 points, two of the six 90-point performances in Big Ten play this year. Four of the 90-point games involved Iowa.

In those games Iowa has allowed career-highs to Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig (12 points), Minnesota's Austin Hollins (27), Gophers forward Charles Buggs (13), Indiana's Will Sheehey (30) and Hoosier teammate Stan Robinson (17). None of those players are considered their team's go-to scorer.

"We never got it put together in transition," White said. "I think that was our biggest problem, letting some X-factor guys go off like Sheehey and Robinson. It’s disappointing because we basically had the same thing at Minnesota."

"We have been making more mistakes; there is no question about that," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "Those mistakes have been happening on both ends of the floor. Defensively, we weren't solid, and we weren't recovering."

The next week offers the ultimate gut check for this team. Iowa has three games over the last seven days, two of which are at home. It's a chance for Iowa to regain confidence for the postseason and recapture the excellence that led it to a top-10 ranking one month ago.

"Obviously the most important thing is good character and talent and the leadership," White said. "We have experienced guys and we’ve got guys that have gone through losing streaks, gone through winning streaks, we went through it also.

"We’ll turn this around. We’ll get back to work and we’ll be ready for Purdue. There’s still a lot of basketball left, not only in the regular season, but the Big Ten Tournament and postseason play. We’ve got to get this turned around, and we’ve got the guys to do it."

2. Relentless nature of Big Ten play. The beauty and agony of the college basketball season is the quick turnaround from game-to-game. It rewarded Iowa early on. The Hawkeyes shook off tough losses and bounced back with wins.

But the effects of a tough home loss against Wisconsin on Saturday has stayed with this team, just as senior Zach McCabe predicted. In the waning moments of the Badgers' 79-74 victory, McCabe told me, "We’re usually good at just moving on. Coach helps us with that. But sometimes losses like this can kind of linger."

Before Tuesday Iowa had not lost two consecutive games. But losses at Minnesota and Indiana in a three-day span have the program reeling. Both players were considered potential traps for Iowa. Minnesota is an NCAA tournament bubble team and the teams' historic rivalry makes it tough place to play for the Hawkeyes. Indiana is young, but athletic. The Hoosiers now have beaten Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa at home.

Given the league's parity this year, there's no "get-well" game on the schedule. Purdue -- Iowa's next opponent -- led Michigan by 17 on Wednesday before losing in overtime. The Hawkeyes then travel to Michigan State, a place where they hadn't won since 1993, and wrap up against border rival Illinois. There's no easy win in the bunch.

3. Basabe crucial for Iowa. Senior forward Melsahn Basabe shook off a stomach ailment that allowed him to miss nearly all of the last two games to score 14 points in 20 minutes against Indiana. He started the game, was 7 for 11 from the floor and grabbed two rebounds and added an assist.

Basabe was crucial early in the second half, igniting an 8-2 run that put Iowa up 60-53. He hit a jumper and dunked a putback on Iowa's first two possessions. Basabe got the assist on the run's final basket when he attacked the rim but gave up the ball to a wide-open White for a dunk.

The loss bothered Basabe so much he declined an interview request after the game. He's never done that before.

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