Iowa Men's Basketball

Defense! From Iowa men's basketball? Yes, for 3 straight games now

Hawkeyes cut out a little zone, and are in a better zone as a team because of it

Iowa forward Keegan Murray (15) defends against Michigan State forward Joey Hauser (20) during the Hawkeyes' 88-58 men's
Iowa forward Keegan Murray (15) defends against Michigan State forward Joey Hauser (20) during the Hawkeyes’ 88-58 men’s basketball win over the Spartans Saturday at Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Birds were chirping at the Iowa men’s basketball team a little more than a week ago for its defensive deficiencies.

I was one of the canaries in the chorus, in fact. So, let’s acknowledge what has happened in the Hawkeyes’ last three games, including their 88-58 domination of Michigan State at Breslin Center. It’s an integral part of the sport known as defense.

In a 67-65 loss at Indiana last Sunday, a 79-66 home win over Rutgers Wednesday, and Saturday’s rout here, no opponent shot as well as 44 percent from the field against Iowa. The three foes were a combined 38.4 percent, and were 18-of-72 from 3-point distance for 25 percent.

That’ll win you some ballgames, especially when you have the Big Ten’s best offense.

Michigan State was 35.5 percent overall, and an ugly 6-of-28 from beyond the arc. Yes, the Spartans shot poorly. But as in the two games before, there was very little dissection of Iowa’s defense like there was during too much of the Hawkeyes’ five games — four of them defeats — immediately before the Rutgers win.

“I thought we stayed with the zone too long,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said about that rough patch.

“I’m always going to mix some defenses. We’re always going to play some zone, we’re going to press a little bit. But I was staying too long with that.

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“We’ve always been primarily been a man-to-man team. So I challenged the guys to compete and defend man-to-man.”

It’s about will and focus as much as anything, and maybe the Hawkeyes added both after getting burned too many times.

Junior forward Joe Wieskamp, who had a game-high 21 points Saturday and has averaged 20.5 points and 8.8 rebounds over the last four contests, is defending, too. He agreed with his coach that changing up the defensive strategy has helped.

“There have definitely been points when I think we’ve sat in the 2-3 (zone) a little bit too long and allowed teams to kind of adjust and pick us apart. So I think we’ve done a really good job of mixing up our man and zone.

“Obviously, we’re not the most-athletic group, but we’re trying to do our best and defend athletic guards. Each team in this league has a lot of athletic guys, so we need to just continue to defend and help defense and all those things, and just focus on our principles, and I think we’ll be just fine.”

Defense, offense, it all was first-rate Saturday. If you dropped in from another basketball planet for a day and watched only this game, you’d say Iowa had to be one of the best teams on this third rock from the sun.

It helps when you’re tossing in 13 of 25 3-pointers and 53.3 percent of all your field goal tries, thus limiting transition opportunities for the opponent. But Iowa made 14 treys against Ohio State and lost because it let the Buckeyes do the same.

“I thought to a man today,” McCaffery said, “we really, really competed.”

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When the Hawkeyes can honestly say that after a game, like this one, they show why they were ranked No. 5 in the preseason and that “February” and “fade” don’t necessarily go together in Iowa City.

Comments: (319) 398-8440; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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