By Pat Harty
By losing decisively against Big Ten leader Ohio State on Saturday, the Iowa men’s basketball team lived up to expectations, or maybe down is a more appropriate word.
The Hawkeyes were outscored 20-4 to begin the second half and the outcome never was in doubt after that as Ohio State cruised to an 82-64 victory at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Iowa was leading 18-15 when the Buckeyes answered with eight consecutive points on a second-chance layup and two layups in transition after forcing turnovers on three straight possessions. Ohio State made eight of its final 10 shots to end the first half, which included four 3s to take a 42-32 lead into the break.
But instead of regrouping during halftime and making a surge in the second half, Iowa performed woefully in the opening minutes of the second half and that was it. Game over.
Sophomore forward Tyler Cook was plagued by foul problems and only scored eight points.
Jack Nunge, a 6-foot-11 freshman, provided a spark for Iowa with 18 points off the bench, but his contribution had little impact on the outcome.
Sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon was the only other Iowa player to score in double figures with 11 points, but he only scored three in the second half.
You hate to even mention Fran McCaffery’s name in the same sentence with his predecessor at Iowa, Todd Lickliter, because the circumstances are so different.
But it sort of feels like the Lickliter days right now as Iowa struggles to stay out of last place in the Big Ten with records of 3-11 in the conference and 12-15 overall.
Seven of Iowa’s last eight Big Ten losses have been by at least 11 points and three have been by at least 18 points.
Iowa used to lose games in that lopsided fashion under Lickliter, who only lasted for three seasons as head coach from 2007-10 before being fired and replaced by McCaffery.
This is McCaffery’s eighth season as head coach and Iowa has finished with a winning record in each of the past six seasons and has made six consecutive postseason tournament appearances.
So no, thie big picture isn’t nearly as bad as the misery and helplessness that festered under Lickliter.
But it’s bad.
Iowa hasn’t won back-to-back games since winning five nonconference games in a row from Dec. 10 to Dec. 29.
The days of waiting and wondering if Iowa would turn things around are long gone and replaced by concerns that Iowa is now on the verge of collapse.
There was some hope and optimism after Iowa performed well, at least on offense, in a loss to Michigan State this past Tuesday. But that hope is now gone in the wake of Saturday’s lopsided defeat.
Iowa now has to win its final four games just to have a winning record heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
How’s that for pressure?
We probably should’ve realized when Iowa lost six of its first 10 games that it was in trouble.
Shabby defense, inconsistent offense and a lack of quality depth have combined to ruin the season.
Iowa is now at risk of being one of the four teams that will play on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament.
Ohio State, under first-year coach Chris Holtmann, is easily the conference's biggest overachiever based on preseason hype, while Iowa is one of the biggest underachievers, along with Minnesota and Northwestern.
And up next for Iowa is a game at Michigan on Wednesday. The Wolverines already have defeated Iowa once this season – winning 75-68 on Jan. 2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena – and are poised to make the NCAA Tournament yet again under head coach John Beilein.
Iowa was thought to be an NCAA-caliber team heading into the season, but then reality set in and that couldn’t be any further from the truth.
At this rate, Iowa won’t even make the National Invitation Tournament, or any post-season tournament for that matter.
So maybe the best thing this season could do is end in a hurry.