A lack of effort was a major part of the problem in Iowa's 65-45 shellacking at Wisconsin

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Fran McCaffery reacts to something on the court. Photo by Jeff Yoder

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa  - Former Iowa basketball star Adam Haluska is our guest each Friday morning during the season on the Allhawkeyes/KCJJ radio show and podcast.

Haluska is a devoted and loyal Hawkeye and he likes and respects the Iowa players and coaches.

The former All-Big guard tries to attend all the home games and watch all the road games on television, hoping and cheering for his alma mater to find a way to prevail.

But Haluska is also a straight shooter who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

And that’s why we value Adam’s opinion so much because it carries a lot of weight due to his reputation - Haluska is the last Iowa player to average at least 20 points per game in a season in 2006-07 - and because of his willingness to be genuine and true to his feelings.

Haluska, like every Hawkeye fan, was disappointed with Iowa’s performance during Thursday’s 65-45 loss at Wisconsin, and deservedly so because it was dreadful.

The Iowa players continued to miss shots and they continued to allow that to effect other parts of their game in a bad way, namely defense, where execution is based largely on effort.

And that’s what concerned Haluska the most about Thursday’s loss was the lack of effort from the Iowa players.

A lack of effort never should be a problem at any point during the season, but for Haluska to call out Iowa’s effort at this point of the season speaks volumes.

Iowa isn’t good enough to lose the battle for 50-50 loose balls or to not take charges, two things that require lots of effort.

Iowa also can't afford to be passive on offense, especially when the perimeter shots aren't falling. But that was the case against the Badgers, as evidenced by none of Iowa's five starters attempting even one free throw.

There seems to be little sense of urgency and that could be due to Iowa still being considered a lock to the make the NCAA Tournament despite the current skid.

Iowa is 21-9 overall and 10-9 in the Big Ten heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale at Nebraska.

There is a belief that Iowa already has won enough games to make the NCAA Tournament and nothing could change that, even a loss at Nebraska and a one-and-done in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Iowa players have been hearing and reading about being a lock to make the NCAA Tournament since late January, so maybe that has caused them to let up some because Iowa’s effort against Wisconsin left much to be desired.

The Iowa players seemed to lack energy and passion at a time when both should be at a high level.

Fran McCaffery has a mess to clean up as he returns from his two-game suspension for berating an official in the moments after Iowa’s 90-70 loss against Ohio State on Feb. 26th in Columbus.

His team is spiraling downward and a once-promising season is starting to unravel.

Iowa has gone from being a rags-to-riches feel-good story to a team in disarray heading down the stretch.

Iowa has lost three games in a row and four of its last five games, and wasn’t even competitive in the last two losses against Wisconsin and against Rutgers this past Saturday, losing 86-72 on Senior Day at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

And who knows what to expect from the Cornhuskers, who were thought to be an upper-division team in the Big Ten heading into the season, but now sit near the bottom of the conference standings.

Nebraska head coach Tim Miles could be on the verge of being fired, so as bad as Iowa’s situation is right now, Nebraska’s is worse.

But it also will be Senior Day at Nebraska on Sunday, so that could provide an emotional boost for the Cornhuskers. 

Iowa still is in position to make the NCAA Tournament, which probably says more about this year’s field than about Iowa.

But what’s really disturbing is that Iowa appears to be reverting back to the team from last season that often would unravel if its perimeter shots weren’t falling. The energy level and the attention to detail would drop and that would cause the defense to become a sieve.

That happened over and over last season, but it didn’t start happening this season until recently.

Wisconsin only scored 65 points in Thursday's game, but it also missed a bunch of wide open shots from the perimeter, especially in the first half.

Iowa hasn’t really played a solid around game since the 74-59 victory over Michigan on Feb. 1st at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Hawkeyes are 4-4 since the Michigan game, but that includes the two fluke wins over Northwestern and Rutgers.

The current skid brings attention to the fact that Iowa has unraveled down the stretch before under McCaffery.

A team hopes to being playing at its best near the end of the regular season, but Iowa has struggled to do that enough under McCaffery where it makes you wonder why it happens.

One reason could be that Iowa relies heavily on making perimeter shots, especially from 3-point range, but when those shots aren’t falling, it has a debilitating effect. The energy level declines on both ends of the court, but especially on defense.

Iowa also suffers immensely when Tyler Cook’s shots aren’t falling and he missed all six of his field-goal attempts against Wisconsin and was held scoreless for the time as a Hawkeye.

Nobody for Iowa scored in double figures against the Badgers, which is incredible for all the wrong reasons, considering Iowa has a veteran roster with proven scorers.

Former Iowa basketball player Duez Henderson reached out to me on Twitter to say that maybe there are no late-season collapses, and that it’s more a case that Iowa overachieves early in the season and then comes back down to earth as the season goes on.

There could be some truth to that, but it might be tough getting fans to accept that theory.

And speaking of Twitter, the Iowa players should take Kirk Ferentz’s approach and stay off Twitter for the remainder of the season because some of the players seem too preoccupied with the outside noise.

So why even risk the temptation?

There still is enough time and enough opportunities for the Iowa players to end the season on a high note.

Beat Nebraska and then win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament and at least one game in the NCAA Tournament and the mood would change considerably.

But it's hard to picture that happening without making more shots and without giving more effort because those two things seem to be connected with this Iowa team.