It's one and badly done for Hawkeyes

Something is very wrong with Iowa basketball

Northwestern's Sanjay Lumpkin and Dave Sobolewski play suffocating defense on Iowa's Gabe Olaseni (Photos by Cliff Jette
Northwestern's Sanjay Lumpkin and Dave Sobolewski play suffocating defense on Iowa's Gabe Olaseni (Photos by Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

INDIANAPOLIS — Something is beyond messed up.

It’s one thing to lose, and to lose six out of seven games, and to get upset to a team that will probably be a sacrificial lamb for Michigan State Friday night.

But for Iowa's men's basketball team to seem so flat or tight or dazed or something, so lost in a game that contained great meaning, makes no sense. Like the last few weeks of the season.

The Hawkeyes’ body language wasn’t good from the get-go Thursday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. During player introductions before its first-round Big Ten tournament game against Northwestern, Iowa looked like a group that had a late, tedious weeknight business meeting on the road. There wasn’t any rah-rah.

That might not have originally seemed like a bad thing given the Hawkeyes thought they had bigger fish to fry here than just beating the Wildcats in a play-in game. Why would you burn unnecessary emotional fuel in Game 1 here against the league’s No. 11 seed?

The real question is why wouldn’t you? Why wouldn’t you show up breathing fire, eager to start anew, starved to beat anybody with a pulse and then go on to battle Michigan State Friday night to really try and prove something?

Now, it wasn't as if the Hawkeyes didn't try and try again in this game. There wasn't quit, there wasn't any dog in them. I regret not stating that in the column I hurriedly wrote to make deadline for The Gazette. But for most of the game, the Hawkeyes just didn't have it. They didn't have enough to stop a No. 11 seed from winning in this tournament for the first time since 1999.

From the Top Ten and 8-4 in the Big Ten to a 67-62 first-round conference tourney loss to a Northwestern team that came here with a 13-18 record. That's messed up.

All the creatures who call themselves bracketologists told us Iowa was locked into the NCAA tourney field even had they lost here Thursday. Jerry Palm said so, and I assume he knows more about algorithms and such than most folks. But if Palm and his fellow number-crunchers are right, will there ever have been an NCAA berth in Hawkeyeland that felt as hollow?

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said after the game "I think our body of work clearly equates to an NCAA bid." It equated to a lot more before the last seven games.

It wasn’t as if the Wildcats hadn’t let it be known this winter that if you don’t show up to play them, they make you pay for it. Many nights, they’ve been mediocre to rotten. They've lost 18 times. They scored 32 points at home against Penn State in their home-finale last week.

But this Northwestern team, which lost twice by 26 points to Iowa in the regular-season, also choked out the likes of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana, and on the road. Did the Hawkeyes not notice that? Or did they know it and feel all the more anxious about it as this game progressed and the Wildcats didn't wilt?

This time against Iowa, the Wildcats played their game with confidence and purpose. The way they repeatedly ground the shot clock to a nub before popping in 3-pointers was quite remarkable. It was yet another recent Hawkeye opponent that saw its confidence inflate early and quickly.

"Everybody who's a Division I player," Iowa's Devyn Marble said, "if you give them an open shot they'll knock it down."

Yet another face in the crowd became a scoring machine against the Hawkeyes. This night, it was junior guard Dave Sobolewski, injury-riddled much of the season. Sobolewski had made just 12 of 72 three-pointers this season, and had sank but two in Big Ten play. Thursday, he made a pair of threes in the final five minutes alone, one with the shot clock about to strike zero. His teammates made nine other treys.

"They made 11 threes," McCaffery said. "You've got to tip your hat to a team that shares the ball in a way to make 11 threes. They weren't just dribbling down the floor and shooting it. They were moving the ball and running stuff whether it was against man or zone, and finding each other."

You know, the stuff the Hawkeyes weren't doing. The Hawkeyes who were 6 of 24 from behind the arc.

"Offensively, we struggled," said McCaffery. "We shot 25 percent from three, 25 percent (from the field) in the second half, 32 percent for the game. Is that execution? Is it offensive patience? Is it poor execution in transition?

Yes, yes and yes.

And, Iowa looked just as uncomfortable on the court as it did last Saturday in a loss to Illinois, the first of two straight games it lost as a double-digit favorite.

With the arena half-empty for the game that started around 9 p.m., locally, and with Northwestern happy to grind away methodically and seize offensive opportunities, it was up to Iowa to create its own positive atmosphere. Otherwise, it could get stuck with the most ignominious loss in its league tourney history.

Score one for ignominy.

You can point more fingers than you have on your hands, but McCaffery said that isn't the way to go. For him, it absolutely isn't. He has a team that looks like it needs a group hug, that needs to be told to approach the program's first NCAA bid in eight years as a joyous opportunity. That means a lot of individuals have to quickly forget this utterly forgettable result.

Aaron White scored five early points for Iowa and never took another shot in the game’s last 35 minutes. And he was the Hawkeyes’ second-leading scorer among starters.

Mike Gesell was 0 for 10 from the floor, Josh Oglesby missed all five of his 3-pointers, Adam Woodbury had no points or rebounds, Melsahn

Basabe was yanked from the game early in the second-half for uninspired play and stayed yanked. It was a heck of a time for so many key parts to malfunction.

Marble was his usual self, trying, trying, trying to get to the basket and put the ball in it. He had 25 points. The senior has a lot riding on every game and plays like it.

Jarrod Uthoff and Zach McCabe played with spark off the bench. Uthoff had 17 points, his highest-scoring game in three months and perhaps his best game as a collegian. Iowa could use more of the same next week, wherever it is sent.

As the final seconds ticked off the game clock, McCabe sat on Iowa’s bench and pounded his chair angrily once, twice, three times, four times. Furniture probably took a beating in many Hawkeye households Thursday night.

On Friday, this Iowa team that for so long didn't look like it would even have to start playing here until today, is already gone. That’s messed up.