IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa has used an unaccustomed ally, defense, to win its last two Big Ten basketball games.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said before the season that improved defense was necessary if his team had any realistic expectations of returning to the NCAA Tournament. That improved defense was on display in a 70-50 victory at Northwestern Jan. 13 and Saturday’s 70-66 victory over Wisconsin.
The Hawkeyes, 13-5 overall and 2-3 in Big Ten play, will try to stretch their winning streak and polish the postseason resume at the same time at No. 11 Ohio State Tuesday.
“It’s important that we play defense like we did at Northwestern,” Iowa forward Aaron White said. “We really took them out of their stuff. Defense on the road is totally different than defense at home.”
Why is that?
“It’s got to be the crowd,” said White, who had 17 points and seven rebounds Saturday as Iowa recorded a third straight victory against Wisconsin for the first time since the 1992-93 season. “You can get pumped up by the crowd and get locked in defensively. Maybe that’s a weak point on our team, where we’re not as locked in on the defensive side of the ball.”
Iowa will put White’s theory to the test often in the next few weeks. Four of the Hawkeyes’ next five games are on the road, starting with Ohio State Tuesday and Purdue Jan. 27. After a home game against Penn State Jan. 31, Iowa plays at No. 9 Minnesota Feb.3 and at Wisconsin Feb. 6.
Iowa’s defense melted down at Michigan on Jan. 6. The Wolverines shot 58.1 percent from the field. They scored 78 points, and shot 66 percent, over the final 27 minutes and won, 95-67.
But in the Hawkeyes’ next road game, they limited Northwestern to 29.4 percent field-goal shooting for the game. That is the poorest shooting percen
tage by a BigTen team against a McCaffery-coached Iowa team.
In the latest Big Ten statistics, Iowa is seventh in field-goal percentage defense (42.7) and ninth in scoring defense (68.4). That doesn’t sound like much until you compare those numbers to McCaffery’s first two seasons.
The Hawkeyes were last in scoring defense both last season (71.6 points) and in 2010-11 (72.8 points). In 2010-11, Iowa foes shot 47.3 percent from the field. League rivals shot better than 50 percent in seven games and Iowa held just six foes under 45 percent.
In 2011-12, Iowa foes shot 45.4 percent from the field. League rivals shot better than 50 percent in seven games and Iowa held 12 foes under 45 percent.
Through five league games this season, Michigan is the only team to shoot at least 50 percent. The other four have shot under 45 percent.
The Hawkeyes are still a work in progress defensively. McCaffery and his staff called Saturday’s first half the best defensive 20 minutes in their three seasons at Iowa.
“It was very much like the Northwestern game,” McCaffery said. “We would have liked to have played similar defense in the second half.”
After scoring 37 points in the first 32 minutes 42 seconds of the game, Wisconsin had 29 in the final 7:18 and cut the deficit to three points in the last minute.
Saturday’s game was strikingly similar to the one between the same two teams at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in 2011. Wisconsin missed 20 of its first 23 field-goal attempts, then rallied with 51.7 percent shooting the second half and won in overtime, 62-59.
The Badgers again missed 20 of their first 23 shots Saturday, then rallied with 59.4 percent shooting the second half. But Iowa made enough plays on offense to hold on. None were bigger than Devyn Marble’s shake-and-bake 3-pointer with 2 minutes 34 seconds remaining that put the Hawkeyes in front, 60-51.
“It’s one of the moves I do like to use, and at a time like that it paid off for me,” Marble said.
Now comes a gauntlet of Big Ten road trips starting Tuesday at Ohio State, and an opportunity for Iowa to show it is NCAA worthy.
“Obviously Ohio State is a tremendously talented and ranked team, and they have cleaned our clocks the last two times we’ve played them,” McCaffery said of a 76-47 home loss last season and a 70-48 loss in Columbus in 2011.
“So we’re going to have to play substantially better than we did in the second half (Saturday).”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball