“Anatomy of a Winning Streak” wouldn’t have any mysterious twists or puzzling turns were it the tale of the No. 4 Iowa men’s basketball team’s current five-game run of success.
Several winning offensive numbers will follow here, but it has all started with defense. That area has frequently been the soft spot of the Hawkeyes program in Fran McCaffery’s 11 seasons as coach, but it’s hardened since Iowa’s 102-95 overtime loss at Minnesota on Dec. 25.
In the five games that followed, four of them wins by at least 15 points, the defense has been sound. No opponent topped 75 points, while Iowa hasn’t been held under that number.
“It wasn’t anything that was changed,” McCaffery said about his defense Sunday after the No. 5 Hawkeyes won 96-73 at Northwestern. “We’ve worked at it, but we’ve worked on it before.”
“We knew what we were facing,” Northwestern Coach Chris Collins said. “They’re truly one of the elite teams. If you’re going to win, you have to play well on both ends, and we fell short of that.”
Iowa’s opponents in the last five games have made just 41.4 percent of their field goal tries. In Big Ten games, Iowa is third in field goal percentage defense. It’s also third in rebounding margin with plus-6.7 per game.
With the Hawkeyes’ prolific offense — 85.7 points per game in league play, almost six points more than any other team — sustaining those defensive and rebounding numbers would have them up for a very serious run at the program’s first Big Ten regular-season title since 1979.
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“The reality is,” McCaffery said, “if you don’t play that kind of defense you’re going to have a hard time winning in this league.”
You’ll also have a difficult time winning if your opponent is making 52.4 percent of its field goal tries and 46.3 percent of its 3-pointers, which is what Iowa has done over the last five games.
Senior point guard Jordan Bohannon continued his torrid run by going 3-of-5 from deep at Northwestern. In the current winning streak, Bohannon has made 22 of his 35 3-pointers, 62.9 percent. He also has averaged 5.8 assists in that time, and has made just seven turnovers in his last 162 minutes.
Iowa continues to lead the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio with 2.14.
As for being tied for the league lead with Michigan at 6-1, that will change one way or the other Tuesday night when the Wolverines host Maryland, though perhaps temporarily. The Hawkeyes return to action Thursday at 8 p.m. when they face Indiana at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
This is the latest in a Big Ten season that Iowa has been in first place since 2015-16 when it won its first seven league games and was 10-1 on the way to a 12-6 record. The Hawkeyes haven’t finished as high as a tie for second place since the 2005-06 season.
In the meantime, figuring out how Iowa reschedules its postponed games at home against Michigan State and Nebraska is unclear.
It was announced Sunday that the scheduled Jan. 24 Nebraska-Iowa game in Iowa City would be postponed because of COVID-19 issues in the Cornhuskers’ program. Nebraska’s team activities are on hold for at least another week. Twelve people associated with the program, including head coach Fred Hoiberg and seven players, have recently tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Michigan State-Iowa game scheduled for last Thursday at Iowa City was postponed because of COVID-19 issues in Michigan State’s program. It was announced Monday that this Saturday’s Illinois-MSU game also will be postponed because three more people in the Spartans’ program tested positive for the virus Sunday on top of the three players that tested positive last week.
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The Hawkeyes now aren’t scheduled to play between Thursday and Jan. 29 at Illinois, an eight-day gap. After that, the biggest gaps are between Jan. 29 and Feb. 4, and from Feb. 28 to March 4.
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