1. Letting down Devyn Marble. In the moments that followed No. 22 Michigan State’s 86-76 win against the No. 25 Iowa — the Hawkeyes’ fourth loss in five games — guard Devyn Marble offered no excuses.
The Hawkeyes were outplayed in a second half that resulted in Iowa’s 18th consecutive Breslin Center defeat. Michigan State (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) outshot, out-hustled and outhit the Hawkeyes, and Marble declined to place blame for the defeat.
“I don’t think it was a lack of energy on our part,” he said. “We played hard. We just didn’t take care of the little intangibles. That can make a difference in a game.”
Marble, who joins Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe in playing their final game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight against Illinois (17-13, 6-11), was dominant offensively. He scored a game-high 24 points, including 16 in the first half. He also dished five assists with only one turnover in 33 minutes.
Marble was the primary reason why the Hawkeyes (20-10, 9-8 Big Ten) led at halftime, Iowa junior Aaron White said. Iowa struggled to stop the Spartans’ offense, the fifth straight game with defensive woes for Iowa.
“Dev was on fire,” White said. “It’s not like we were doing the right things in the first half. Otherwise we would have been up 11 or 13."
Iowa’s real problem was turnovers. The Hawkeyes coughed up the ball on four of its first five second-half possessions, and all led to points. Michigan State began the half on a 7-0 run, and Iowa was playing from behind. Overall, the Spartans shot 58.3 percent from the field and 58.8 percent from 3-point range. But after halftime, that surged to nearly 64 percent from the field.
“The second half, we started turning the ball over a little more than in the first half," Marble said. "They were leading to fast-break opportunities for them to get them out of transition. So there’s a lot of different things why we were able to withstand the first half and why we weren’t in the second half.”
Marble now ranks sixth in Iowa scoring with 1,654 points. He moved past Matt Gatens on Thursday. With 22 points, he moves past Ronnie Lester. With 52, he moves past B.J. Armstrong. He's only 12 points from moving past Greg Stokes and Acie Earl into second place.
Iowa is spoiling a historically good season by Marble. He's the only Big Ten player to score in double digits for every game, he's scored 20-plus points in the last five and nine Big Ten games. In league-only games, he leads the Big Ten at 18.9 points a game. He's a stout defender and often locks up the opponent's best guard and runs the show on offense. He's clearly the league's best player but likely won't win the player of the year award because of Iowa's collapse.
2. Defensive defense. Iowa's defense has been in freefall mode the last two weeks. The Hawkeyes were ranked third in Big Ten-only games for defensive field-goal percentage before playing Wisconsin on Feb. 22. Iowa now sits in a virtual tie for last with Michigan.
Before facing Wisconsin, Iowa allowed 69.1 points a game in league play to rank ninth. Now, the Hawkeyes rank last, allowing 74 points a game.
Each of Iowa's last five opponents have shot at least 47.6 percent and combined for 53.3 percent (147 of 276). Three shot better than 50 percent and the other two were within one basket of reaching 50 percent. Minnesota scored 95 points at a 61.2 percent clip. All five of those opponent has exceeded its Big Ten scoring average by at least 7 points. Added all together, it looks like the ghost of 2012 defense has made its ugly return.
Iowa is late on rotations on perimeter shots, which has allowed those five teams to combine for 44.1 percent from 3-point range. They haven't taken care of the ball and they're slow in transition, which helped Michigan State to score 21 points and Indiana 18 points off turnovers.
Style of play also has a role, too. The Big Ten is a fiercely defensive league. Teams like Minnesota and Indiana prefer to run, so Iowa allows them go up and down the court. It's almost like a breath of fresh air to those teams.
But defense is a core reason for Iowa's disappointing season. In seven of Iowa's 10 losses, the Hawkeyes led at halftime. Imagine where Iowa would be ranked today if it held a nine-point lead against Villanova, a seven-point advantage at Iowa State and an 11-point lead at Wisconsin?
In Iowa's last four games against Michigan State -- including last night -- the Hawkeyes held the lead at halftime. All four times the Hawkeyes lost. That speaks to the toughness Michigan State displays and where Iowa falls short. The Spartans value every possession. Iowa clearly does not.
"We still weren’t getting stops in the first half," White said. “In the second half, we didn’t have it going as much offensively and we gave up 60-plus percent from 3, 60 percent from the field. You can’t win like that.”
3. Parallels to 2010 football. The Gazette staff put together a preseason football magazine in 2010 with a theme about the stars aligning. Iowa football had just won the Orange Bowl after an 11-2 season. The Hawkeyes returned a two-time bowl champ at quarterback, the Orange Bowl MVP at defensive end and a litany of other playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Iowa reached the top 10 early in the season but lost 34-27 at Arizona. At the halfway point the No. 15 Hawkeyes were 5-1 and played host to No. 13 Wisconsin in a game that had title implications. In an epic struggle aided by a fake punt, the Badgers prevailed 31-30. Although Iowa blasted Michigan State the next week, the Wisconsin loss seemed to wound Iowa. The Hawkeyes dropped their last three regular-season games, including an inexplicable finale at woeful Minnesota, and finished 7-5.
This year's basketball squad has a similar vibe. The hype was palpable after a 25-win season last year and the Hawkeyes returned 93 percent of their scoring. Iowa's early losses to Villanova and Iowa State were reminiscent of the football version's early loss at Arizona. Still, Iowa ascended to the top 10 and seemed poised to compete for a league title. Then a slugfest with Wisconsin on Feb. 22 ended in a five-point loss. It staggered the Hawkeyes, who then lost back-to-back at Minnesota and Indiana. Now Iowa is the Big Ten's biggest disappointment, much like the 2010 football squad.
There is a difference however. Iowa's football squad was relegated to the Insight Bowl. Iowa's basketball squad still will has a chance at a national title. Iowa's 2010 football team used its bowl prep wisely with a strong month of practice and beat a 10-2 Missouri team. Iowa's basketball squad will have a similar opportunity.
While the basketball regular season has been disappointing, a strong NCAA tournament run could provide a salve, much like the football team's Insight Bowl win. Or a quick exit could deepen the disappointment. Either way, it's not over quite yet.