Commentary: Almost isn’t good enough


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Wednesday night, Iowa almost beat Illinois.

The Hawkeyes almost hit enough 3-pointers to stick with the athletically superior, better-coached Illini team. They almost almost played good enough defense. And they almost snagged enough rebounds to hang with Demetri McCamey and Company.

Illinois 57, Iowa 49.

“I felt like today we had a chance to win,” Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said while staring bewilderingly at the stat sheet. “We did enough things right to have a chance.”

It many ways, Wednesday’s game was a microcosm for the Hawkeyes’ entire season. They almost played good enough to beat the likes of Duquesne, Virginia Tech, and Texas (for a half, anyway).
But at a certain point, almost isn’t good enough. We’re at that point.

Throughout the year — even when the losses pilled on top of each other — Lickliter maintained he liked his team’s “approach.” He liked the way they practiced, the way they fought, the way they took good teams to the brink.

And it’s true. He’s had some reason to be happy.

As recently as a week ago, the Hawkeyes took a top-20 Ohio State team down to the wire. Iowa, of course, lost.

A week before that, Lickliter’s squad did the same thing at Michigan State.

These were reasons to be happy if you’re an Iowa fan, reasons to look forward to next year when a highly ranked recruiting class comes to town, reasons to maybe show up to a game or two.

But as the Hawkeyes have so often done under Lickliter — anyone remember their 28-point thrashing at the hands of Michigan last year in the Big Ten Tournament? — they take one step forward and then two steps back.

A week ago, one could have easily made the case that Iowa had played five-straight good games (of course, that’d be ignoring the three abysmal games that came before then, but that’s not the point).

The Hawkeyes won two-consecutive contests, hung with Michigan State on the road, beat Indiana in Bloomington, and nearly took down Evan Turner and the Buckeyes.

Indeed, it was a good 15-day stretch for Lickliter.

Then, Iowa went up to Ann Arbor, Mich., and looked horrendous, losing by 14 and shooting only 31 percent. The Hawkeyes played better on Wednesday, but it was a familiar story: poor shooting (29.6 percent, this time), bad coaching, and not enough offense down the stretch

One step forward. Two steps back.

And so it is: After last night’s loss, the Hawkeyes sit at 8-15 (2-7). They’re on the cusp of making history.

With three more losses, Iowa will finish under .500 for three-consecutive seasons. The last time that happened was after the 1931-32 season.

Nearly three years into Lickliter’s career at Iowa, the program is no better off than when he took it over. Lickliter’s time in Iowa City has been a lesson on how not to close out games, how not to put together a successful offensive system, and, ultimately, how not to win.

“Hopefully, we can fight and compete, and eventually make some winning plays when it comes that time,” Lickliter said.

Hall of Fame football coach Bill Walsh used to say, “Never mistake hope for a plan.”

The last two-and-a-half years have been filled with hope — hoping recruits would pan out, hoping negatives would turn into positives, hoping fans would support a wilting product.

There’s no reason to hope anymore. The games, the losses, the falters speak for themselves. Now, all that’s left to do is move on.

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