1. Still in the NCAA tournament ... deserving or not.†With six losses in its last seven games to end the regular season, the Iowa's men's basketball team has fallen so hard and so fast that its own fans believe it should miss the NCAA tournament.
The Hawkeyes (20-11) dropped their first-round Big Ten Tournament game to Northwestern, 67-62, Thursday night. Despite the collapse, Iowa's players and national bracket experts say the team deserves an NCAA tournament bid, the program's first since 2006. ESPN's Eamonn Brennan wrote that Iowa is a lock to make the NCAA tournament. But he also acknowledges the team has lost confidence and appears to be an easy out in its first game.
"Why is Iowa in? Twitter cascade, much of it from disappointed Iowa fans, but the answer really isn't that complicated," Brennan wrote. "Before their collapse, the Hawkeyes were something like a No. 4 seed. They've plummeted since -- the Hawkeyes have "15-point first-round loss" tattooed on their foreheads at this point -- but only so far. Recency doesn't matter to the committee like it used to. The games are just the games. And if you ignore the dates, and just look at Iowa's wins and losses, there's zero chance you'd leave them out of the tournament in favor of actual bubble teams like, say, Florida State. No chance."
Iowa's wins over Michigan, Ohio State, Xavier, Nebraska and Minnesota help propel the Hawkeyes past other bubble teams with even worse overall resumes. The full body of work includes an RPI of 53 and a strength-of-schedule of 31, better than most bubble teams. They've only lost one game by double digits, and that was at Michigan State by 10 points.
But the season's trajectory makes an NCAA tournament bid seem unpalatable to many Iowa fans. The Hawkeyes' only win since Feb. 22 was against last-place Purdue. The team's defense has waned, and the offense has struggled the last two games.† The players understand why people are questioning their merits, but they are confident they'll earn an NCAA tournament bid.
"I think the resume is strong enough, first of all," Iowa guard Devyn Marble said. "Second of all, itís still a fair question. We havenít been playing well; everybody knows that. But at the same time, itís something all teams go through, especially in the Big Ten. They all went through it, and every team has been able to bounce back. Our resume is strong enough anyway, so Iím not really too worried about that. Iím just trying to get better before our next game, is what Iím really concentrating on."
"We have each other and none of us have left the boat, and thatís important," Iowa senior forward Melsahn Basabe said. "Iím not going to sit here and debate with anybody or try to plead our case. We had a full season; thatís going to be what weíve proven. Weíve been a top-25 team for most of this season. Weíre not going to worry about Ö we have no feeling toward what the outside feels. We love all the support we get. Right now weíre struggling, and we're just going to take responsibility for it as a team and stick together."
2. What the hell statistics.†Iowa's performance against Northwestern was left plenty to be desired from a statistical standpoint.
Iowa point guard Mike Gesell missed all 10 shots from the field. All 10. He was 0-for-5 from 3-point range. He was 0-for-7 in the first half. He missed open 3-point attempts and forced drives to the basket. He scored one point.
Iowa guard Josh Oglesby missed all five attempts and all five were 3-pointers.
Center Gabe Olaseni was 2-for-8 from the field despite grabbing six offensive rebounds.
Center Adam Woodbury didn't have a rebound in 15 minutes and missed his only shot. Forward Aaron White, a third-team all-Big Ten selection, took two shots in the game. He scored Iowa's first five points -- a 3-pointer and a dunk -- and then didn't shoot the ball for the final 36:10.
The Hawkeyes shot 25 percent from the floor in the second half and missed all nine 3-point attempts. Northwestern outrebounded Iowa 17-11 in the first half, despite Iowa grabbing 37 more than the Wildcats in their first two meetings. The Hawkeyes flipped it in the second half and outrebounded Northwestern 37-29 in the game.
On the other side, Jarrod Uthoff played his best game with a 5-of-6 performance, including sinking all three 3-pointers, for a career-high 17 points. He grabbed nine rebounds. But Uthoff also passed up several open shots.
Devyn Marble returned to form with 25 points and four assists.It was the 13th time Marble has scored at least 20 points in a game this year.
Melsahn Basabe struggled defensively, but he had six rebounds in nine minutes. Woodbury had 15 minutes, while Olaseni had 24 minutes.
"I kind of went away from the starting lineup because of how Uthoff was playing and how Olaseni was playing in particular, so they took the bulk of Basabe and Woodbury's minutes," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "Mike was 0-for-10. He's been great. I love him. He had a rough night, couldn't get one to fall. A pull-up, a drive, a three, couldn't get one to fall. I had to work Josh and Pete into the lineup while we're struggling offensively. So do you downshift and go small, do you stay big, and we did both. We pressed, we zoned, we went man, we went small, we went big, pushing different buttons."
3. Empty rhetoric.†Iowa players said plenty in the postgame loss about defensive effort and attention to detail. But their body language shows something else.
This team continues to give great effort but plays with low morale. The players try hard, but collectively their hearts aren't into their performance. They lack communication and cohesion on the court. They talk about being together, but they lack chemistry in how they execute on the court and in their interactions.
How do those intangibles affect on-court performance? They lack chatter on defense. Players miss rotations, they don't communicate on ball screens and overhelp because they don't trust their teammates.
On offense, you see quick shooting and players going beyond their limitations. You have to question coaching rotations where players get lost in the shuffle. Motivation is an issue, which also goes back to coaching.
"Our habits havenít been conducive of working as a team," Basabe said. "Everybody is not in tune with each other ... not that we have chemistry issues or ego issues. Itís not that type of locker room."
"I think we just havenít come out with the right mindset for a while now," Josh Oglesby said. "The energy and doing what we do, obviously weíre a fast-break team up and down the court and defend, and I donít think weíre doing that right now."
These issues are magnified in a losing skid. Has this team completely checked out or is there a sliver of hope it can regain its lost confidence? Right now the arrow is trending downward.