Iowa searches for answers as NCAA tournament approaches

Hawkeyes have lost six of last eight games

INDIANAPOLIS — The questions are many and the answers are fleeting for the Iowa men’s basketball team.

On the eve of a special weekend when NCAA tournament qualifiers find out their postseason matchups and destinations, Iowa players and coaches are trying to reclaim their confidence. The No. 18 Hawkeyes (21-10) have dropped six of their last eight games, including a 68-66 loss to 12th-seeded Illinois on Thursday. It’s a head-scratching situation for the players and coaches.

When asked how the team can get back into a good frame of mind, Iowa senior forward Jarrod Uthoff said, “I don’t know. That’s what coaches are for.”

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery concedes his team’s confidence is “obviously not where it was a month ago. But I still think we believe in ourselves, we’ve got an experienced team.”

The on-court problems reside in three primary areas for the Hawkeyes: hitting shots, defense and curtailing turnovers.

In its first 11 Big Ten games, Iowa shot at least 42.4 percent in every contest. In the eight recent games against Big Ten opponents, Iowa has hit that mark just twice. In 10 of Iowa’s first 11 Big Ten games, Iowa hit at least 33.3 percent from 3-point range, including six better than 40 percent. In the most recent eight games, the Hawkeyes have topped 33.3 percent just twice.

On defense, Iowa allowed only three foes to shoot better than 44 percent in its first 11 league games. Over the last eight, the Hawkeyes have given up 44 percent six times. When Iowa shoots better than its Big Ten opponent, it’s 11-0. When the other team shoots even or better, Iowa is 1-7.

Iowa once was ranked in the top three nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. In four of their last six games, the Hawkeyes have committed at least 13 turnovers, more than in any of Iowa’s first 13 Big Ten games.

“I think that’s pretty obvious,” McCaffery said about the reasons for the team’s recent slump. “We’re not making shots, turning the ball over.”

Iowa’s defense once fueled its offense, especially in transition. In two previous games against Purdue, Iowa scored a combined 46 points off 31 Boilermakers turnovers. Uthoff said returning the defense to its previous form is a necessity, along with a mental shake-up.

“Just playing tougher, I would say,” Uthoff said. “It’s just a mentality. You play tougher, you play with more energy, you win more games.”

As they search for answers, Iowa’s players are trying to avoid blaming each other for their recent woes. Against Illinois, Uthoff and Peter Jok combined for 50 of the team’s 66 points. Nicholas Baer chipped in with eight points, but the rest of the players were 3 of 23 from the field for eight points.

“You don’t want to be negative,” Jok said. “You just want to stay positive. When we start pointing fingers, that’s when a team goes down. It’s March now. It’s win or go home. You’ve just got to stay positive no matter what and regroup individually and as a team.”

As for the NCAA tournament, which begins either next Thursday or Friday for Iowa, the Hawkeyes are searching for a fresh start. It’s easier said than done.

“We start over. Learn from this, OK?” McCaffery said. “Every time you lose there are good things that happen in the game and there are obviously mistakes that we made. You try to learn from that, and you start 0-0.”

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