Iowa is in seventh place in the 14-team Big Ten men’s basketball standings, which only makes sense.
The Hawkeyes’ 11-0 nonconference record was great and all, but this is the league’s definitive middle-of-the-road team. At the midway point of its 20-game Big Ten season, Iowa has won five and lost five.
It has scored 780 points in conference games, allowed 784. It has 116 turnovers to its foes’ 113. It has 63 steals to the opposition’s 62. It has 30 blocked shots to the other teams’ 31. It has 343 rebounds to the other guys’ 337.
The Hawkeyes have won two conference games on the road. They have dropped two at home.
Do you kind of see how they’re 5-5?
“Ups and downs,” Iowa forward Luka Garza said after his team’s 92-87 loss at Minnesota Sunday. “We’ve shown some good stuff, but we’ve also shown some things that we can’t do.”
What they couldn’t do in their three road losses — against Michigan State, Purdue and Minnesota — was defend. The same goes for the second half of their home loss to Michigan State last Thursday. Take that half and the first half of the Minnesota game, and it was 106 points allowed in a 40-minute stretch. Jeepers!
But, we’re talking about a team that went 4-14 in the Big Ten a year ago and was a defensive wreck in so many of those games. However, 4-14 and 8-12 won’t seem much different if the Hawkeyes go 8-12 in the conference and miss out on the NCAA Tournament.
Right now, we’re talking 5-5. Not horrible. Not great.
“We knew coming into the season it’s the best league in the country,” Hawkeye forward Tyler Cook said after Sunday’s game. “A lot of great teams. There are going to be ups and downs. I don’t think you’ll find us moping around. We lost a basketball game tonight to a good team, a team that we felt like we definitely could beat.”
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It was the kind of game that could have given Iowa a little comfort margin. You win at Minnesota, you’ve done something. You lose at Minnesota, you have to prove yourself against a decent team somewhere else, and more than once would sure help.
Which brings us to the final 10 games. I see two the Hawkeyes should win for sure, knowing you take nothing for granted in this league as Illinois’ win over Maryland Saturday at Madison Square Garden proves. Those are home games against Northwestern and Rutgers.
In the category of “I’d bet on Iowa today, but not enough to give me heartburn” are home games against Indiana and Maryland.
Then there are the rest, starting with Michigan at home Friday. Winning that, obviously, would be large. You knock off a top-five team home or away, you have a nice piece of proof of your worthiness to the NCAA’s selection committee.
All five remaining road games — against Indiana, Rutgers, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska — are fraught with potential peril.
Iowa needs a couple of resume builders. Its best win right now, like the Hawkeyes’ football team in the regular season, is against Iowa State. Oregon and Connecticut, losers to the Hawkeyes in New York last November, are both 3-4 in their conferences.
Nebraska and Ohio State, teams that lost in Iowa City, were once ranked. They now are a combined 6-11 in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes need to take down a Michigan. They need to win a road game against an Indiana or Ohio State, teams that aren’t fabulous but still should be formidable at home. They need a good closing kick at Nebraska.
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The matador defense on the road has to end, or the Hawkeyes will be on the NCAA bubble at best. Minnesota’s 92 points marked the most it had scored in a non-overtime Big Ten game since its 95-89 win in 2014 ... against Iowa.
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