By Pat Harty
This isn’t the time to panic, just because the Iowa men’s basketball team lost at Michigan State on Saturday, and now has lost back-to-back Big Ten games.
Nor would it have been time to proclaim that Iowa had turned the corner if Saturday’s 77-66 loss at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich., had ended differently.
It might take every game Iowa plays this season to fully understand its makeup.
But to assume that Iowa, with records of 14-12 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten, is headed for another late-season swoon just because it happened in the previous two seasons, and just because it has lost back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Michigan State seems a little short-sighted and extreme.
I say that because it was suggested to me more than once on social media immediately after Saturday's loss when emotions were high.
My expectations for this Iowa team, which include a spot in the National Invitation Tournament and a record slightly above .500, still are easily within reach.
The Iowa players now have a six days to rest and prepare for next Saturday’s game against Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The arena will be filled with emotion next Saturday as Iowa pays tribute to former Hawkeye guard Kenny Arnold by staging a White Out with fans being encouraged to purchase and wear the Kenny Arnold No. 30 shirt.
Arnold still struggles with the effects from having a brain tumor removed more than 30 years ago. He currently resides in a nursing home in his hometown of Chicago.
The money raised from selling the shirts will be used to help improve Arnold’s quality of life.
Should Iowa win that game, these past two losses won’t hurt as much. They’ll still have a major influence on Iowa’s postseason chances, but the thrill of beating Illinois for Kenny Arnold would provide a major boost for him and for the team.
Iowa has three very winnable home games left. In addition to Illinois, the Hawkeyes will play Indiana on Feb. 21 and Penn State on March 5 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It’s not unreasonable to think that Iowa should and could win all three of those games. Accomplish that and Iowa would finish with a 9-9 Big Ten record at worst.
Iowa’s other two games are on the road at Maryland on Feb. 25 and Wisconsin on March 2. But good luck with that.
If we’ve learned anything about the current Iowa team, it’s not assume anything good or bad. Just when you think the team has climbed over the hump or started to unravel, it does just the opposite.
Saturday’s loss at Michigan State mostly came down to one thing, as games often do these days.
It was yet another example of how college basketball continues to be ruled by the 3-point shot.
The Spartans made five 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes of the second half, while Iowa only made 4-of-21 3-pointers as a team. Michigan State made nine treys overall, outscoring Iowa by 15 points from 3-point range.
Four of Michigan State’s treys came during a 17-6 scoring run that broke open a close game that had 15 lead changes before that.
“We didn’t shoot it well tonight, but you have to give Michigan State some credit for that,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said on his post-game radio show. “But we did have some open looks that just didn’t go.”
Michigan State prevailed by double figures despite committing 21 turnovers.
Credit the victory to the 3-point shot, which compensates for other weakness, and to having a 46-32 advantage on the boards.
Iowa guards Peter Jok and Jordan Bohannon were a combined 0-for-11 from 3-point range, with Bohannon missing all six of his attempts.
The odds of that happening again would seem slim.
Bohannon struggled with early foul problems and never seemed to find any rhythm with his shot, while Jok just missed shots that he often makes.
McCaffery seemed more concerned about rebounding than shooting after the game, and for good reason. McCaffery knows that Jok and Bohannon are capable shooters.
But to get whipped on the boards suggests that maybe your team was a step slow or timid.
“We got pounded on the glass tonight, and what’s disappointing is that was one of the things we really stressed coming into this game,” McCaffery said. “Last year, we beat this team twice because we pounded them on the glass.”
That was last year, though, when Iowa started four seniors, including a 7-foot-1 center and a 6-9 forward.
The current team doesn't have a player taller than 6-9.
Freshman forward Cordell Pemsl provided a spark on Saturday by coming off the bench to score 10 points and grab seven rebounds.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to compensate for Bohannon and sophomore guard Brady Ellingson both being held scoreless and for redshirt freshman Isaiah Moss only scoring two points.
Iowa led 32-31 at halftime, but it felt like it should have been more because Michigan State had committed 12 turnovers and shot poorly.
“I felt like, boy, we should have been up a little bit more,” McCaffery said.
Few leads are safe with the 3-point shot such a valuable weapon.
Pemsl said Iowa had better intensity in the first half, which might have been the case. But sometimes better intensity comes with making 3-point shots.
“It kind of felt like we were content with just being up one and weren’t doing the things that we did in the first half,” Pemsl said. “In the first half, we were getting the ball swung and we had good ball movement. People were moving and setting screens and it was getting people open.
“In the second half, they made that little run there and we kind of quit doing the things that we knew were going to help us win.”
There is some truth to what Pemsl said.
But Saturday’s game came down to one team shooting a lot better than the other from 3-point range. It’s a storyline that gets written over and over, but it isn't reason to give up on this Iowa team.