Iowa basketball peaking at the right time

BY JACOB SHEYKO | MARCH 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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Following Iowa’s 66-61 loss to Northwestern on Feb. 15, Aaron White had little to say.

Really, nothing could be said besides noting that Iowa played poorly. The Hawkeyes had just lost their second-straight game, following their season-wide formula of winning a couple in a row, then dropping the next bunch of games. Iowa had struggles stringing together a winning streak of substance.

In the second meeting of the teams — which Iowa won, 69-52, on March 7 — there was plenty to say.

For one, it was Senior Day and a near-perfect sendoff for Iowa’s four seniors. But it was also Iowa’s sixth-straight win and a mark of the changing of the tide; Iowa will enter the Big Ten Tournament this week playing its best basketball of the season. 

“Especially in this league, it’s tough to win 12 games,” White said. “We did it on the road. We did it at home. We did it in multiple ways, but we always stuck to our identity, which is what I’m most proud of.”

Iowa’s six-game winning streak hasn’t just been impressive in that it is tied for the longest winning streak in the Big Ten, but it’s also impressive in the manner in which the Hawkeyes have won.

It’s arguably been the weakest stretch of Iowa’s conference schedule, but the Hawkeyes made no doubt who the superior team was, winning five of their last six games by a margin of 8 points or more.

The only down-to-the wire game Iowa encountered in the last three weeks was an 81-77 win at Penn State. During that same span, four of the six wins have been by at least 14 points.

Iowa has shown up and done what it’s expected to do: dominate a lesser opponent.

“Just understanding that we’re not unbeatable,” Gabe Olaseni said about the key during the winning streak. “… We have to respect each opponent when we’re out on the floor.”

There’s also been a significant spike in Iowa’s activity on defense.

During the six-game winning streak, opponents averaged just 57.5 points per game (as opposed to Iowa’s 75 points per game). They’re also just shooting 35.8 percent shooting from the floor.

“There’s no question that has been the reason we have won six games in a row,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “It’s probably the reason we’ve won 21 games, too.

“If you want to be a team that contends for a championship, you better play defense.”

With the Big Ten Tournament, and subsequent NCAA Tournament right around the corner, one would expect this to be a time for coaches to drill game plans into the player’s heads. But it’s been just about the opposite for Iowa.

McCaffery has tried to avoid over-coaching, saying Iowa’s latest practices have been pretty simple. There are the typical film sessions, run-throughs, work on zone offense, and then the obvious stuff such as maintaining physical conditioning.

But after that, the players are “out the door.”

“We have an experienced group,” McCaffery said. “You would expect them to be locked in and understand.”

Locked in might be the best phrase to describe Iowa right now. In the span of 20 days, the Hawkeyes have transformed from a middle of the road team in the Big Ten to one of the hottest teams heading into postseason play.

“It’s tough to win in this league, but 12-6 is just amazing,” White said. “And to finish the way we have, it’s a special year, and I’m excited for it to keep going.”

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

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