By Pat Harty
A season that never really started for the Iowa men’s basketball team finally ended on Thursday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, but not without a valiant effort from the Hawkeyes.
After blowing a lead late in regulation, fifth-seed Michigan finally quelled No. 12 seed Iowa’s upset bid, winning 77-71 in overtime at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The victory was Michigan’s third over Iowa this season and the loss was Iowa 19th overall this season. That is the most losses for Iowa in a season since Fran McCaffery’s first team at Iowa finished 11-20 during the 2010-11 season.
Michigan completed the three-peat despite only making 3-of-18 3-point shots and despite being hampered by foul problems throughout Thursday's game.
Iowa finished the season 14-19 and will not advance to a postseason tournament for the first time since McCaffery’s first season in 2011.
Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon helped to force overtime by making a 3-point shot from about five feet beyond the top of the key with 16.3 seconds left in regulation.
But the Hawkeyes failed to seize the moment, which has been the narrative during this disappointing season.
Iowa played hard and played well at times on Thursday, but the same flaws that have plagued the team throughout the season, namely poor defense and too many turnovers, continued to be a problem.
Michigan coach John Beilein was relieved to have escaped with the victory and had some kind words for Iowa after the game while being interviewed on the Big Ten Network.
“We didn’t make foul shots, we didn’t execute, we had a five-second call down there, I have no idea how we won the game,” Beilein said. “I just have a lot of respect for Iowa. They were good and they’ve got great young talent. I’m not talking good, I’m talking great young talent.
“And we were very fortunate to get the win.”
Iowa fans can take that for what it’s worth because opposing coaches often gush over the team they just defeated.
But Beilein really laid it on thick when he didn’t have to.
And he’s right because Iowa does have some good, young talent. I’m not ready to say great, young talent because that was Beilein just being overly respectful. But good seems fair in the case of Bohannon and freshman center Luka Garza and sophomore forward Tyler Cook, assuming he sticks around.
They form a solid triumvirate to build around, at least from an offensive standpoint.
Regardless of what might happen in terms of the roster, Iowa has to improve dramatically on defense or next season could be a repeat of this season.
Iowa has struggled to stop the ball in transition all season and that was the case again in Thursday’s game.
Bohannon and Cook both have to make significant strides on defense to expand their games. They’ve proven they can score against anybody, but that’s only half of the game.
All of the players have to become more consistent, because right now with exception to Cook and Bohannon, you never know who might step up on a given day.
Sophomore forward Ryan Kriener played that role in Thursday’s game, scoring 14 points off the bench. The Spirit Lake native showed a nice touch and a variety of moves near the basket.
He just didn’t do it enough this season. That was due partly to concussions, but also to poor play at times.
None of the players, including Cook and Bohannon, improved significantly from last season, while some, including junior forward Nichoals Baer, regressed. So player development has to improve and its starts during the offseason.
The fact that Iowa failed to meet expectations was a total team effort from the coaches on down.
Fans now hope that this season was just an aberration or a fluke, but only time will tell.
Despite Bohannon’s production, you could argue that Iowa still needs a more-athletic point guard to play alongside him at times.
Incoming freshman Joe Wieskamp is the highest-rated recruit to sign with Iowa during the McCaffery era and the 6-foot-6 Muscatine native should help immediately at shooting guard and small forward.
Another incoming freshman, 6-4 C. J. Fredrick from Kentucky, also will provide depth in the backcourt, as will a healthy Connor McCaffery.
But even with a healthy and full roster for next season, Iowa still looks suspect when it comes to perimeter quickness.
And don’t be surprised if the roster changes because it goes with the territory.
Rumors have persisted since early in the season that at least one or two players would transfer after the season.
I hadn't planned on mentioning any names, but then Cook was non-committal about whether he would return to Iowa next season when asked by the media after Thursday's loss. There have been rumors since late November that the 6-9 Cook, who is from St. Louis, would transfer to Missouri after the season in order to play closer to home and for Cuonzo Martin, who was hired as the Missouri head coach after Cook had signed with Iowa.
The Iowa players deserve credit for playing hard in the final three games because they could’ve easily ended the season with an eight-game losing streak.
But instead, Iowa won two of its final three games and nearly upset a pretty good Michigan team.
You take whatever momentum you can get.
This season will be remembered as a big failure because many thought Iowa was poised to make the NCAA Tournament after returning four starters from a team that barely missed making it last season.
Bohannon’s now-famous missed free throw that kept Chris Street’s name in the Iowa record book provided a nice distraction during a tough season.
But he and Cook and are now halfway through their college careers without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
To say that the pressure is building on the players, and on McCaffery would be an understatement.
And if Cook chooses to transfer, that will only heighten the concern.