Meanwhile, it's all green lights for Iowa's offense

Defense remains a priority, but McCaffery wants his scorers shooting

Nebraska's Jordy Tshminga looks at Iowa's Cordell Pemsl as an official steps in to break up the two Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb. (Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY Sports)
Nebraska's Jordy Tshminga looks at Iowa's Cordell Pemsl as an official steps in to break up the two Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb. (Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY Sports)

IOWA CITY — There were a couple of questions about defense. The Hawkeyes allow 77.3 points per game. That’s a losing number.

Iowa head basketball coach Fran McCaffery ran through nearly a dozen terms and schemes in defensive basketball and then made his point.

“So you can play zone, you can press more, you can play zone more, you can jump it up, you can play triangle-and-two, box-and-one, that kind of stuff,” McCaffery said. “Stuff doesn’t work in our league. There are too many good players. Nobody has a team where there’s only two good players on it. Everybody has got a team with nine or 10 of them. So you don’t really do that.”

The layer of cake the Hawkeyes (11-12, 2-8 Big Ten) will try to finish Tuesday night against Minnesota (14-9, 3-7) is recognition. That’s where McCaffery went with it on Monday.

“We’ll continue to mix defenses and try to get better with our recognition,” McCaffery said. “Our recognition has not been good this year. It’s not.”

Fixing the defense remains a priority. Really.

The Hawkeyes hung around at Nebraska last Saturday, but the Huskers hit four 3-pointers during a 15-4 run that put away Iowa. Nebraska shot 57.7 percent from the floor and drained 11 3-pointers.

“Our execution of defending certain action, I mean, they’re close,” McCaffery said. “They’re this close. But if you don’t get there and they make a 3, OK, it doesn’t matter that you’re really working and you’re trying to get it. You didn’t get there, and they made a 3. We gave them 11 threes the other night, and you can’t do that.”

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Meanwhile, Iowa is scoring. The Hawkeyes are a team that is third in the B1G in scoring (80.6 points per game) and is last in defense. Therein lies your nutty fascination with this team. It can be fun to watch, at least on one end of the floor.

Sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon has made 18 3-pointers in his last five games (18 of 43 for .419 shooting percentage) and has averaged 19 points. If it seems early for “Bohannon ranks here for this” type of talk, it’s because Bohannon still is only a sophomore. He ranks ninth in career 3-pointers made at Iowa with 154 in his first 57 games.

“We know we’re capable of doing it, it’s just putting it together,” Bohannon said. “Obviously, our offensive numbers are there. It boils down to the defensive end, that’s what it comes to in Big Ten play, especially toward the end of the season.”

With the defense in disarray, McCaffery isn’t touching the offense. The scorers you think have a green light still have that green light.

Sophomore guard Isiah Moss is the prime example of this. His 11.0 points a game has gotten the opponent’s attention. In his last five games, Moss is shooting just 28 percent (12 of 42).

So, a slump? Now what?

“First and foremost, you’ve got to stick with him,” McCaffery said. “I don’t want to bury him. Take him out of the lineup and keep encouraging him to be aggressive at both ends.

But mostly ...

“I don’t in any way ever put doubt in his mind as to whether or not I think he can shoot,” McCaffery said. “Is that a good shot? Don’t shoot that one. I want him to continue to be aggressive. I think that’s going to be the only way we’ll get him out of what he’s in right now is to make sure that he knows we haven’t given up on him and we have confidence in him and we want him to keep going. We’re not trying to pull him back. No, we’re trying to get him to go the other way.”

Minnesota, which has lost six of its last seven games, is led by junior forward Jordan Murphy (6-6, 250 pounds) with 17.6 points and 11.7 rebounds a game (third in the B1G in scoring and first in rebounding). Four Gophers average double digits scoring. Guard Nate Mason averages 15.8 points and is seventh in the league with 4.5 assists per game.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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