Iowa’s progress slowed by poor defense


February 13th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — With just six games left before the Big Ten tournament, Iowa has clearly made progress under coach Fran McCaffery. The Hawkeyes (13-12, 5-7 Big Ten) have already won more games than they did in each of the previous two seasons, both overall and in the league, and a .500 finish in the Big Ten remains within reach. Iowa might be in position to do even bigger things in McCaffery’s second season if it wasn’t for such a porous defense. The Hawkeyes rank last in the Big Ten in scoring defense by nearly five points a game, and they’re also bringing up the rear in field goal percentage defense. Shoddy defense has been a season-long trend for the Hawkeyes, one that has McCaffery searching for answers as they prepare to play Penn State (11-15, 3-10) on Thursday.

The struggles came to a head — again — in an 83-64 loss last week to Northwestern, a game in which the Wildcats led by as many as 24 points. Northwestern attacked Iowa’s soft defense right away, shooting 15 of 27 from the floor in the first half, and the Wildcats also got open enough to sink 13 3s on 25 tries. What bothered McCaffery the most was Iowa was struggling defensively even before Northwestern made adjustments on offense. “We had breakdowns early in that game, and I think that’s one of the things that would concern any coach,” McCaffery said. “The breakdowns that we had shouldn’t have been occurring as early as they did in that game, and that was what was disappointing to me.” It was frustrating, too, because the Hawkeyes were coming off a pair of encouraging defensive efforts that led to victories. Iowa rallied from a 10-point deficit and beat Minnesota 63-59 on Feb. 1 in large part because it held the Gophers scoreless over the final 3:24. The Hawkeyes then held Penn State to 26.7 percent shooting on Feb. 4, en route to a 17-point halftime lead and an easy 77-64 victory.Of course, those two wins came after a defensive performance that was even worse than the one Iowa put on in Evanston. The Hawkeyes allowed Indiana to grab 20 offensive rebounds and score 58 points in the paint in a 103-89 loss in Bloomington on Jan. 29. Iowa shot 79 percent in the second half against the Hoosiers and still lost by 14 because of spotty defense. If the Hawkeyes can’t quickly make major improvements, they’ll likely be headed for their fifth straight losing season.