IOWA CITY — After the Iowa men’s basketball team lost to Ohio State on Thursday night, head coach Fran McCaffery was asked about criticism his team has received — specifically, that on social media.
McCaffery’s initial answer was pretty simple. He then followed it up with a question.
“I have no idea what they do on social media, so I can’t respond to that because I don’t read any of it,” McCaffery said. “I’m not on it. I’m too old. Maybe I should read it.
“Are you telling me I should read it? Do you recommend it?”
It’s a safe bet that if you’re not on social media now, it’s probably wisest not to start. At least if you want to keep your sanity or not pull out your hair. That’s probably solid advice for everyone, not just McCaffery.
His rhetorical question was asked in jest, as McCaffery obviously has no intentions of jumping into social media, or even entertaining the ideas postured there.
It’s a point of view shared by many, including his football counterpart in Kirk Ferentz, who prevents his players from using Twitter altogether while they’re on the football team. McCaffery doesn’t restrict his players’ use of Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and almost everyone on the team is an active user.
That means they see and hear things about themselves. It’s inevitable. Some respond, others don’t.
It makes sense that when things aren’t going well, the chatter on those platforms is negative. Those who follow and comment on the Hawkeyes have had plenty to criticize this season. Most recently, it’s been back-to-back home losses to Michigan and Ohio State during which Iowa looked lost on both ends of the floor for long stretches of the game.
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The biggest target, at least in the last few weeks, has been point guard Jordan Bohannon, and whether or not he has the ability to play that position well enough for Iowa to be successful in the Big Ten. For posterity, Bohannon is averaging 11.8 points, five assists and 1.9 turnovers per game in Iowa’s 17 games this year. That ratio, 2.7-to-1, puts him 50th best individually in the nation. It’s also better than his 2.3-to-1 ratio all of last season, and better than his 2.1-to-1 ratio through 17 games in 2016-17.
He’s also shooting 42.1 percent overall and 43.3 percent from 3-point range. Bohannon shot 38.8 percent overall and 41.6 percent from 3 all of last year, and 34 percent overall and 35.9 percent from 3-point range through 17 games last year, so those numbers are up, too. Against Ohio State specifically, Bohannon finished with 15 points, 10 assists and one turnover.
Still, many believe he’s not playing his true position, and that his defensive liabilities — something he self-admittedly needs to improve — are why someone else should handle the point guard duties.
Forward Tyler Cook is one of the active social media users, and while he’s been able to avoid much of the discussion surrounding his teammate, he’s heard it, and offered a definitive statement to those who are of the opinion Bohannon isn’t playing the right position.
“Whoever says that obviously doesn’t know basketball,” Cook said. “That kid came in last year as an 18-, 19-year-old and tore the league up from the start. Whether he has a good game or bad game, he creates so much offense for the rest of us. Without Jordan, I don’t have success. Without Jordan, the rest of us don’t have success.
“(People) don’t see the attention he draws. Sometimes I don’t think he notices it, but Jordan is one of the best guards in our league.”
To this point last year, Bohannon had received rave reviews almost unanimously on the same social platforms that now criticize him.
He’s the most active Twitter user on the team. When confronted with the different pegs of his own expectations (he’s been hard on himself, saying he’s not been good enough), that of others and the reality of his numbers this year compared to last year, Bohannon is left to digest things in a way he’s been taught by his family — his brothers having been through the criticism gamut during their time at Wisconsin and Northern Iowa.
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“Any day I get on Twitter, there’s always a couple responses egging me on or saying something negative,” Bohannon said. “I’ve always taken it as motivation for me, and at this point in my life, I kind of use it as enjoyment.
“It’s repetitive. Being an Iowa hometown kid, wearing the Iowa jersey every game, knowing there’s not a professional team here and knowing people look forward to basketball and football … the fans give their heart and soul to these teams. We know the fans are going to be there and we love them, but when things are going poorly, we have to lean on ourselves in the locker room.”
But Bohannon is the point guard for a team that is 9-8 overall and 0-4 in Big Ten play. Like the quarterback in football, it’s the most visible and most quickly-criticized position because of the amount of time with which they handle the ball.
He’s part of a defense that gets lost too often, whether they’re in zone or man, allowing open shots from outside or free run at the rim because perimeter defenders can’t keep opponents in front and help isn’t there in time.
The Bohannon example is just one of many that can and have been criticized about this Iowa team. Preseason expectations, fueled by both traditional and social media, and the lack of meeting those leaves the players, coaches and their fans in an understandable state of frustration.
Cook said “you try to keep it in perspective,” when players see the venting on social media, and that those on the team don’t put much stock into a critique if it doesn’t come from each other or their coaches.
If Iowa is going to correct the issues it has right now, diving into what the Twitterverse has to say isn’t likely to help. Junior forward Nicholas Baer said he relies on the advice of former teammate Gabe Olaseni in these situations. It’s simple, but effective, he said.
“My freshman year, he said, ‘It’s never as good as it seems; it’s never as bad as it seems,’” Baer said. “That’s something I’ve had on my Twitter account for a long time. It’s one of those things where you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt. I don’t listen to too much outside. I trust the people in our locker room and I trust our coaches. We’re going to continue to get better. As much as we can limit the noise and not go seek it out, the better.”
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