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Hawkeyes leave McCaffery defenseless

BY BEN SCHUFF | FEBRUARY 01, 2012 7:20 AM

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Fran McCaffery sounded like a beaten boxer with no available corners.

The first three questions he fielded during a weekly Big Ten teleconference on Monday all dealt with his team's poor defense.

McCaffery had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Iowa's defense has been bad lately, and he knows it.

"I'm not happy at all with how we're playing," he said. "I think you can see we're not playing good defense. If we were playing good defense, I think you could see that."

Since Iowa (11-11, 3-6 Big Ten) won at Minnesota (16-6, 4-5) on Jan. 4 — the team the Hawkeyes will play in Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 7:36 p.m. today — opponents are shooting 50 percent from the field against the Black and Gold.

Iowa's defensive ineptitude bottomed out earlier this week when it allowed a season-high 103 points to Indiana, resulting in a 14-point road loss.

McCaffery seemed to be at a loss on Monday trying to explain what was wrong with the Hawkeyes.

"I have never gone through with any team that I have been associated with what we're going through right now," he said. "I don't think there is any one drill that we do. What we'll do is a number of drills that try to correct the inefficiencies that exist at the present time. And right now, there really aren't many drills that are working.

"I don't think it's a matter of drills, I don't think it's a matter of fundamentals. It's a matter of the desire to stop the guy who's in front of you, and right now, we don't have it."

Another glaring area Iowa has struggled with — which was exposed against Indiana — is rebounding. The Hoosiers out-rebounded McCaffery's squad 37-22 and had more offensive rebounds (20) than Iowa did defensive (15).

It's a trend that has developed since the team's trip to Minneapolis. The Hawkeyes are minus-36 in the rebounding department over their last six games — five of which were losses.

"You can obviously work on drills — 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 4-on-4, 5-on-5 … You try different combinations," McCaffery said, listing possible solutions to the team's defensive woes. "But ultimately, it comes down to a matter of toughness — and we lack that right now. I don't mind saying it. We don't have the toughness that is necessary to defend in this league.

Oddly enough, Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith attributed his team's loss in the first matchup to "Iowa's excellent defense" when he spoke during the teleconference on Monday. Since that loss — which was Minnesota's third-straight to start conference play — the team has won four of its last six.

Smith inserted freshman guard Joe Coleman into the Gophers starting lineup after a 64-62 loss to Iowa in early January. As a starter, Coleman leads Minnesota in scoring with 13.5 points per game.

"He's given us a big boost," Smith said. "His attitude has been contagious in that he plays with so much passion. His enthusiasm has been just what we needed."

Smith also praised Coleman's improved play defensively, something Iowa guards could learn from. Containing the 6-4, 200-pound Coleman won't be easy — he's made 51 trips to the free-throw line in six games as a starter.

Iowa guard Josh Oglesby said after the Indiana loss that his and other guards' poor perimeter defense resulted in easy dump-off passes and buckets for the Hoosiers.

That's something that will have to change if Iowa has any hopes of sweeping the season series with the Gophers.

"I think it's just our focus on the defensive end," Oglesby said. "We don't come into the game knowing that we're going to lock someone down."

Follow DI men's basketball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.


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