Iowa players say they 'kind of lost our swag'

Hawkeyes focus on defense, return to basic principles, like results

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IOWA CITY -- Their egos are slightly bruised and their confidence has wavered, but Iowa's men's basketball players believe their woes are in the rear-view mirror.

"I think we kind of lost our swag, lost how we were playing, lost our confidence and when you do that, it’s not as fun," Iowa junior Aaron White said Tuesday. "We had a phenomenal practice (Monday) and really got after it.

"I kind of look at this as a new season. It doesn’t matter what just happened and clean slate on Thursday."

Sixth-seeded Iowa (20-11, 9-9 Big Ten) will face 11th-seeded Northwestern (13-18, 6-12) Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament's first round. Iowa rolled past Northwestern twice this season, but the Hawkeyes have struggled the last month, losing five of their final six games. The problems were apparent on defense. On Feb. 22, Iowa ranked third in Big Ten defensive field goal percentage. By the end of the year, Iowa plummeted to 11th.

The breakdowns were plentiful in both zone and man defenses. They ranged from over-helping to improperly defending screens to slow rotations to on-ball defense to not closing out for rebounds. The Hawkeyes were outrebounded just three times in their first 25 games. Iowa has been outrebounded in five of its last six games.

"I think it's a lot of things," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "It could be confusion based on they are running a particular action that the guys didn't see it right away, 'OK, it was a switch situation.'  They recognized it was a switch situation, but if you recognized that a second or a second and a half late, the shot's gone.

"Now, if the shot misses, you don't think anything of it. But if the shot goes in, and it's like, 'Well, that's defense.' And you know, technically, if we had been a little sharper for that second and a half, maybe they would have missed it."

Regaining that confidence and the defensive edge is one and the same for Iowa. The team went back to its basics Monday in practice and players were thrilled with the results. Many of the concepts and principles were simplified and communication was improved.

"I think on defense you’ve got to slow down, just make sure you look around, stuff like that," Iowa forward Zach McCabe said. "Just be aware of what you need to do. Coaches have been doing really well with us recently, just doing the fundamentals of what we’ve been doing all year and just make it simple. We can over-complicate some stuff and anytime you do that, it’s just confusion I think.

"We have it down now, and it should make our defense a lot better."

Although the merits won't be visible until Thursday, the players were confident they made the necessary strides to regain their standard of play.

"I think (Monday) was big for us," Iowa center Adam Woodbury said. "I think the energy was really high (Monday); we got a lot done. We’ve got to improve on it today and push forward."

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