Ankeny, Iowa – It’s day two of the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament. March Madness is in full effect. Sports fans everywhere are going crazy. Everyone at work, or at school, or at home is talking about their bracket. Fans who are lucky enough to have a team in the tournament are eagerly awaiting tip-off, hoping their team can become the darlings of the tournament this year.
Meanwhile, college basketball fans in Iowa are disappointed. This is the first time since 2011 that not one of our state’s Big Four men’s teams were invited to participate in the tournament. I’m sure most fans, like myself, are still watching. If you’re a major sports fan it is still enjoyable to watch even if your favorite team isn’t participating in it. I find myself adopting a team to cheer for when the Hawkeyes aren’t competing (this year my team is Rhode Island – Go Rams!). I’m scratching and clawing for ways to capture the energy and enjoyment of tournament time.
No matter what I do it doesn’t come close to the same level of excitement as watching your own team.I want desperately for the Hawkeyes to be dancing a year from now. What has to happen in order for that to be a possibility?
On the Court Toughness & Leadership
Before I even mention positions of need, the transfer market, or strategies on and off the court I have to address toughness and leadership. Why? Because it doesn’t matter who is on the court wearing a Hawkeye jersey, or how talented they are, if none of the players hold each other accountable.
Who was the leader on the court for the team this year? Seriously, who was it? Your guess is as good as mine, but my pick would be true freshman center Luka Garza. He was the one guy whom I believe gave 110% effort every time he stepped onto the court. In terms of effort and determination he was the most consistent player on the roster, and he was a true freshman. That speaks volumes for the way this season played out for the Hawks, but it’s also a good sign for the future because Garza is going to be on the roster for awhile.
Garza is likely the leader of this Hawkeye team for the foreseeable future, but he could still use some help. The inconsistent performances have to stop. That starts with accountability and toughness on the court. It can’t all come from the coaching staff. The players have to buy into it. They have to take some ownership over what they’re doing or there will be a giant disconnect between the coaching staff and the players. That disconnect was visible this season. Fran McCaffery is as competitive as it gets, and there were times this season where you could see that he was at a complete loss for words with the way his team was performing.
Iowa’s defense was absolutely atrocious this season. KenPom has Iowa’s adjusted defense ranked at 245th in the entire country. The Hawkeyes offense was ranked #21. Offense isn’t a problem for Fran McCaffery’s team.Their defense on the other hand is a gaping hole that needs to be addressed immediately.
For example, two of the worst teams Iowa played this year were Rutgers and Illinois. Rutgers averaged 65 points per game this season. Iowa gave the Scarlet Knights 80 points. Illinois averaged 75 points per game this season, and in two games against them Iowa gave up 87 and 104 points (full disclosure – the 104 was an overtime game). This type of defense is inexcusable. When you give up these kinds of numbers against bad teams you’re not going to have a successful basketball team.
Defensive effort has been a problem. It’s been inconsistent at best with arguably every player who has been given minutes. They pick and choose when to play defense far too often. On one possession you’ll see them lock a player up, and on the next possession they’ll look lost. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s embarrassing. They should be embarrassed. These players should expect more out of each other, and the coaches should demand more.
Fixing the problems on the defensive end starts with consistency and effort. If you don’t give 110% effort on defense you don’t play. Simple as that. Change the philosophy. It would also be nice to see Fran bring in a defensive minded coach. Fran needs to make defense more of a priority in practice because offense hasn’t been a problem. Take some practice minutes away from the offense, and focus on defense.
Finally, revamp the strength and conditioning program. It sounds like this is already in the works. Ryan Kriener made some comments about it at the end of the season. The Hawkeyes need to get bigger, stronger, and faster. They can’t keep getting pushed around. For far too long we’ve seen long and lean players. Now, you don’t typically want basketball players to look like power lifters, but you also don’t want them looking like string beans. Put those young men to work in the off-season, and let them bulk up a little bit.
Start shopping Fran. In the year 2018 at the Division 1 level of college basketball it’s a “What have you done for me lately?” culture. Fran’s body of work is nice and all, but it’s time to start pushing for tournament runs. If that doesn’t happen soon then Iowa fans will start to lose patience, myself included. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong. That’s just the way it is. I want to watch the Hawkeyes in the NCAA tournament next year damn-it!
That means Fran and his staff need to start looking for players on the transfer market that can fill some gaps. The following demographics would make for ideal candidates:
- A quick, athletic guard, with handles. Someone who can allow Bohannon to play off the ball a little bit more. Someone who can beat his defender off the dribble, get to the basket, and either finish or dish it out to a shooter. Also someone who can stay in front of his man on the defensive end and apply some ball pressure.
- Toughness. Preferably a big wing or a forward who refuses to get pushed around. A guy who is capable of locking down on defense, and refuses to let opponents get to the rim without paying for it. Basically you go out and find a player whom every opponent you play, and their fans, will hate.
If the above items are addressed I firmly believe Iowa is dancing in the NCAA tournament a year from now. The one caveat to all of this is the status of Tyler Cook. The points made in this article are all being made assuming Cook returns to Iowa to play another season. That could be a big assumption. At this point it’s an unknown. Personally, I don’t think he’s ready to make the jump to being a professional so I believe he’ll end up playing one more season in a Hawkeye uniform. If he doesn’t return then that adds another dynamic to this entire discussion. It’s already a disappointing time of year though so I’m not going to let my imagination go there…
For now, let us hope Fran and his staff can do what it takes in the off-season to get this ship pointed in the right direction.
And… in the meantime… Let’s Go Rhode Island!!! Yay Rams!!