Iowa's defense ends regular season on low mark

Published: March 10 2014 | 12:17 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:22 am in

IOWA CITY -- A two-week dip that resulted in five losses in six games cost the Iowa men's basketball program in the league's final statistical categories.

In Big Ten-only games, Iowa finished last in scoring defense at 73.6 points a game. The Hawkeyes ranked 11th in defensive field-goal percentage (44.8 percent) and allowed the second-most baskets (456). Iowa's 3-point defense also fell to 10th at 35.2 percent.

"I think anything defensively, whether it’s man or zone, is containing dribble penetration, and I think we’re giving up some dribble penetration in both areas," Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw said. "We’ve got to tighten that up. We’ve got to sit down in our stance a little bit better. We’ve got guard our yard a little bit better. But our rotations are a little bit slow."

Most troubling for unranked Iowa (20-11, 9-9 Big Ten) is the success it had defensively until playing Wisconsin on Feb. 22. Iowa ranked third in defensive field-goal percentage (41.3 percent), third in 3-point defense (31.7 percent) and ninth in scoring defense (69.1 ppg). So the statistical drop is significant.

Part of those defensive woes were based on the schedule. Iowa finished with six games in 15 days. A rescheduled game at Indiana was shoehorned between a road trip to Minnesota and a home game against Purdue. That forced Iowa to alter its schedule and spend four days on the road.

Speraw didn't offer an excuse for the letdown, but the team was more focused on preparing for its opponents than correcting on individual mistakes. Those mistakes built over time.

"We haven’t really been able to practice and work on some things here the last couple of weeks," Speraw said. "It’s always game prep, game prep, game prep. I think we can get back to some fundamentals and refocus ourselves in those areas."

Overthinking also could be part of Iowa's problems. On Illinois' final possession in a tie game, Iowa's Mike Gesell defended Illinois' Tracy Abrams. Forward Aaron White guarded Jon Ekey along the perimeter, but White hedged toward the lane to prevent Abrams from driving. Abrams stopped and delivered a pass to Ekey's outside hand. White was too far in the lane to recover, and Ekey knocked down the shot with .5 seconds left.

"I had to be in the gap so Abrams didn’t think he’d have a driving lane," White said. "I thought I was there in plenty of time but clearly not since it went in. I take responsibility for not running them off the line, blocking it or whatever."

"It looked like it was going to be a pick-and-pop; Abrams turned the ball screen down," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "We were getting ready to switch it. And when Abrams went the one way, White froze for a second and then didn't get back to him. He contested pretty hard. Kid made a tough shot. You've got to give it to the kid. But you can't get the shot off there. You can't separate. You've got to make Abrams make a tough two."

Iowa did make some strides Saturday, when compared to its previous five games. Illinois shot 46.3 percent from the floor, the lowest against Iowa since Feb. 15.

"Our defense wasn’t awful, like it had been," Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. "It was definitely improved, and it can get better."

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