Hlas: Men's basketball misery has Iowa-wide company

Iowa's three state schools are a big 0-fer

Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop goes to the basket as Iowa’s Luka Garza (55), Cordell Pemsl (35) and Isaiah Moss (4) look on during the Buckeyes’ 92-81 win over the Hawkeyes last Thursday at Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports)
Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop goes to the basket as Iowa’s Luka Garza (55), Cordell Pemsl (35) and Isaiah Moss (4) look on during the Buckeyes’ 92-81 win over the Hawkeyes last Thursday at Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports)

Maybe this year’s Iowa gubernatorial candidates should promise exorcists for our state universities’ men’s basketball programs.

What’s going on is what Dr. Hunter S. Thompson would have diagnosed as bad craziness. The men’s hoops teams of Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa have a combined 0-12 record in conference play.

This defies logic, as well as our basketball sensibilities. Though it’s just Jan. 9, only six of the 65 teams in the Power Five conferences are winless in league games. Iowa and Iowa State are two of them.

Northern Iowa has defeated North Carolina State, SMU, UNLV and Texas-Arlington (a combined 46-16 in their other games), but is at the Missouri Valley bottom at 0-4.

Iowa won its last five games of 2017. One was against Colorado, which defeated ranked teams Arizona State and Arizona last week.

But the Hawkeyes are 0-for-2018 with three losses to Big Ten opponents, atop the two they suffered in early December.

Iowa State rode a nine-game win streak into Big 12 play. Two home defeats were followed by Saturday’s overtime road loss to Oklahoma State, and the Cyclones are the Big 12’s bottom-dweller at 0-3 with a game at (ugh!) Kansas Tuesday.


Maybe UNI can win at Indiana State Wednesday. If not, that 0-12 is likely to be 0-14, and the onus will be on Iowa to win at Illinois (0-4 in the Big Ten) Thursday.

How has this happened? I’d say none of these teams are horrible, but I’d immediately hear from the segment of fans who would say that’s incorrect.

Starting with Iowa, something not even deniers of facts would dispute is that the Hawkeyes don’t defend. Forget Sunday’s side show between a seemingly clueless officiating crew and Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery. The Hawkeyes shot 55 percent from the field in the first half at Maryland and still trailed at the break.

“It’s like the old ABA,” said FS1 commentator Stephen Bardo, disrespecting whatever defense Julius Erving, George Gervin and their brothers played.

Iowa allowed 56 points in the paint against the Terps while scoring but 22 in its 91-73 loss. In the Hawkeyes’ three losses over the last week, opponents shot 62.1 percent against them inside the 3-point circle.

Iowa State got handled by Kansas State, barely lost to Texas, and let a win get away at Oklahoma State. Things probably won’t be pretty at Kansas Tuesday evening.

The Cyclones have players, just not enough of them. It’s hard to remember a worse year to be short-handed. The Big 12 has five ranked teams, and Kansas will be the first of them to face Iowa State.

In November/December, UNI had that familiar look of a Ben Jacobson team with enough to be a league title contender and NCAA tourney threat.


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But the Valley is a tough league, and things have snowballed in Cedar Falls. Maybe it starts rolling the Panthers’ way Wednesday. They were 2-6 in the MVC two years ago, then won nine of their final 10 league games.

Hey, there are precedents for everyone. Iowa State began the 2005 Big 12 season with five losses. Then it won seven straight and finished the season in the NCAA tourney.

Iowa was 6-6 in the 2015 Big Ten season and looked NIT-bound. It won its final six Big Ten games for its best league record since 1987.

None of which is relevant for the present, of course. The reality, just nine days into January, is that none of the three state teams are headed to the NCAA tourney minus honest-to-goodness magic.

At least there is Drake, as surprising as anyone in the state, but in a good way. The Bulldogs take a 4-0 MVC mark to Valparaiso Wednesday.

On Dec. 16, Iowa crushed the Bulldogs, 90-64. The Hawkeyes looked like they had figured some things out. Drake looked like, well, Drake.

The Bulldogs were 3-33 on the road in the MVC over the previous four seasons. They’re 2-0 this year. So not all the craziness in the state is bad.


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