Iowa's rotation to stay deep despite lack of cohesion

Hawkeyes struggling regardless of most lineup mixtures

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery reacts to action on the court during the second half of a men's basketball game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Saturday, December 2, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — This time a year ago, the Iowa men’s basketball team figured it out.

A 4-5 start that included some bad losses, bad defense and a chorus of not being connected as a team seemed to vanish when Iowa State came to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes dominated that game against a ranked Cyclones squad, and played much better basketball from that point on.

Well, it’s a 4-5 start again. There have been bad losses, bad defense, bad offense and pleas of wanting to be better connected.

Head coach Fran McCaffery hasn’t advocated wholesale changes yet. He said he’s “evaluating” the starting lineup. And while the Hawkeyes did look more connected with a few lineup groups in the Penn State and Indiana games, he said it’s not a cure-all across the board to only play those guys together.

“There’s times when we’ve had two different groups that kind of play together, but in reality that’s never something you can think about,” McCaffery said. “Because depending upon injury and foul trouble and how the game is going and what lineup they have on the floor, you’ve got to be able to mix and match. So that’s what we try to do.”

McCaffery is going to defend his using 12 players because he believes it will work.

Points in Transition: Iowa vs. Iowa State breakdown

But until those 12 players — whoever is on the floor at whatever time — control the ball and play within the plan they’ve set, the questions will be asked. The Hawkeyes have used seemingly endless combinations of players, and to this point of the season it’s been more often than not that whatever combination it’s been has been unable to stay on the same page for long.

The players have said on several occasions the game plan isn’t translating from practice to games, regardless of who is on the floor.

“They’re not following it, that’s obvious,” McCaffery said. “I don’t think it’s anything other than guys that consider themselves playmakers that are trying to make plays. They’re kind of going on their own and trying to be aggressive; they’re trying to do something positive. I don’t look at it as a complete negative, as they’re dismissing something.

“There’s a fine line there, because you want that, but remembering the game plan, scouting report and all the things we’ve prepared them for. … But we’ve got to do a better job of locking in.”

Iowa will once again be without freshman point guard Connor McCaffery, still recovering from mononucleosis, and could still be without forward Ryan Kriener, who entered the concussion protocol after sustaining a head injury against Penn State.

Kriener’s absence has meant more time for Jack Nunge, who has played adequately in the last two games — his seven points and 3.5 rebounds per game in the last two games are fifth best on the team. Connor’s absence has meant mostly Brady Ellingson at backup point guard, but also Maishe Dailey, who had five rebounds and four assists with no turnovers against Indiana. McCaffery said Dailey will “play there a little bit,” going forward, but still likes him more at the wing.

Iowa State came together at the Puerto Rico Classic, McCaffery said, and since then have been “a completely different team in terms of confidence and cohesiveness.”

Read more: Iowa's deep bench could pose problems for ISU's shortened rotation

Iowa cannot say the same. Whether because of inconsistency in minutes, a lack of understanding the game plan or trying to do too much, the Hawkeyes face the task of making their deep rotation work as one and not on their own.

“At times we’ve been a little tentative,” McCaffery said. “When I talk about competing, it’s not physical; it’s no smashmouth. It’s having the discipline to execute at the appropriate times.

“It’s understanding the difference and having the toughness and discipline at that time to execute properly. … I think that’s an example of our inexperience, and we have to get that buttoned up.”

Iowa and Iowa State tip off at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

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