The unpredictability of Iowa's Big Ten season


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Iowa was 4-1 in the Big Ten with two wins over Ohio State, then 4-4 with losses to Wisconsin (twice) and Purdue.

The Hawkeyes were once 6-4, fresh off two dominating wins over Michigan and Maryland, and now find themselves 6-6 with losses to Minnesota and, perhaps the most perplexing, a 66-61 defeat at the hands of Northwestern.

Iowa has had last-second wins and last-second losses. It has blown out some of the better teams the Big Ten has to offer and has lost in a similar manner to the same level of teams.

The one thing the Hawkeyes haven’t had this Big Ten season is consistency, making it nearly impossible to predict the outcome of any game involving the Hawkeyes.

Then again, nothing about this team this season has been predictable.

“It’s the highs and lows of the season,” guard Mike Gesell said after the Northwestern loss Sunday. “It’s how it goes. It’s obviously not fun right now, but we have to keep staying positive and just go back to work tomorrow.”

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery has repeated it ad nauseam all season long.

No matter the result of the previous game, he — and the team as a whole — tries to approach the next game in the same manner.

So when asked following the Hawkeyes’ sixth loss of the Big Ten season how the team would move ahead from the worst loss of the year, the answer stayed the course.

“Same way after you win two big ones,” he said. “You try to stay grounded. And you just go back to work. You hold them accountable. But you don’t beat them up. They’re as down as anybody because even though we had two losses, we had two chances to win. We were in a position to win both games. And that’s sometimes more frustrating. We just have to play better.”

McCaffery was right. Iowa had chances to win both games.

Against Minnesota, the Hawkeyes had the ball with 19 seconds left down 3 points. Iowa turned it over. Against Northwestern, a last-second heave from Jarrod Uthoff sent a game Iowa had been outplayed in into overtime, in which the Hawks made two field goals in five minutes.

“I think we’re pretty frustrated,” Gesell said. “To lose one on the road we feel like we needed, we wanted to get, in the way we did. It’s frustrating.”

There’s no easy fix, something Aaron White admitted amid his short, clearly frustrated answers following the game.

But one theme throughout Iowa’s Big Ten losses has been a lack of offense.

Iowa has yet to win a Big Ten game this season when it scored fewer than 70 points. When they score 70 or more, the Hawkeyes are 6-0, including wins over Maryland and No. 24 Ohio State (twice).

Perhaps that’s what’s been most frustrating to the team and its fans: Iowa at its peak has been so good, and at its low points has left fans wondering what team they’re watching.

Either way, the Northwestern loss has left the Hawkeyes in a bit of a defining moment.

The Hawks — who hold the nation’s No. 55 spot in RPI — may have to win the rest of their games this season if they wish to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, or at the very least win five of the remaining six games, which include games against Illinois at home and at Indiana.

It’s not implausible. If Iowa’s proven anything this season, it’s that the outlook on the team — and its performance on the court — can change in the blink of an eye.

“I think we need to finish out the season with all wins,” Uthoff said after being asked about the NCAA Tournament. “This is a tough loss. I think we’ll bounce back next game.

“We have the ability. We have the ability to win out the rest of the games this year. Whether we do that or not is really up to us. I think we have the ability to do it, and I think we can.” 

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa men’s basketball team.

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