Commentary: Hawkeye men consistently inconsistent


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One step forward, one step back.

That's been the tale of the 2011-12 Iowa basketball season, as indicated by the team's 15-14 overall record and 7-9 Big Ten mark.

Look no further than Iowa's last three games for proof.

The program experienced its greatest week since the 2002-03 season by knocking off two ranked opponents in a seven-day span — No. 20 Indiana on Feb. 19 and No. 15 Wisconsin on Feb. 23.

The Hawkeyes' upset of Indiana seemed to catch the attention of ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb, who tweeted on Feb. 22, "Sneaky [NCAA Tournament] bid stealer — look out for Iowa — could have sweeps of Wiscy/Minn with a win tomorrow."

Six minutes later came his disclaimer: "Not saying it will happen, just giving you a team to keep an eye on — [.]"

Sure enough, Iowa beat Wisconsin and sealed a season sweep of the Badgers for the first time since Hawkeye forward Aaron White was 2 years old. Along with the win came slim hope for an NCAA Tournament berth.

But for a fanbase that couldn't have dreamed of seeing "Iowa" on a NCAA Tournament bracket over the past three seasons, those aspirations couldn't have seemed more realistic. If the Hawkeyes could take down two of the country's best in a five-day span, it seemed almost probable they could beat three Big Ten cellar-dwellers — starting with a reeling Illinois team — to end the regular season with a respectable 19 wins.

This was an Illinois team that hadn't won since Jan. 31. It was an Illinois team in such dire straits that it benched leading scorers Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard at the start of Sunday's contest.

Imagine Iowa benching Matt Gatens and Devyn Marble.

But the trip to Champaign ended up being a huge step back for the Hawkeyes.

Once again, inconsistency reared its ugly head. Any sliver of NCAA hope Iowa had was dashed away in a 65-54 defeat at the hands of the Illini.

The same Hawkeye team that had convincingly beaten tournament-bound Indiana only a week earlier trailed Illinois for nearly all 40 minutes in Assembly Hall.

Inconsistency has prevented Iowa from taking the steps needed to become an NCAA Tournament-quality team.

There's no doubt the potential is there. Squads don't just stroll into the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., and beat teams coached by Bo Ryan every day. Iowa did just that on Dec. 31, handing the Badgers only their seventh conference home loss in a decade under Ryan.

Entering Sunday, Fran McCaffery's team was tied with Cincinnati for the most wins (4) as an unranked team against the AP top-25.

But inconsistency has paired impressive wins against ranked foes with embarrassing home losses to Campbell (77-61 on Nov. 23) and Clemson (71-55 on Nov. 29).

Expectations were high for McCaffery and Company at the beginning of the year. At times, Iowa exceeded those expectations. At other times, the Hawkeyes fell well short.

The one prevalent theme has been inconsistency.

One step forward. One step back.

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