The Iowa coach speaks about the seniors' legacy and the NCAA Tournament ahead. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
On Feb. 7, the Iowa men's basketball team improved to 19-4 overall and 10-1 in the Big Ten with a win over Illinois. The next day, the Hawkeyes were ranked in the top five in both major polls, even garnering a handful of first-place votes.
Five weeks later, a 2-7 record since then, seventh-seeded Iowa (21-10) is set to take on No. 10 Temple (21-11) at 2:10 p.m. Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Some of those struggles stem from issues on the offensive side of the ball. Relying too much on senior forward Jarrod Uthoff and junior guard Peter Jok, too many unforced errors, and simply not scoring as many points as they did earlier in season.
"You got to swallow it and throw it out the door," senior guard Anthony Clemmons said. "Now it’s time to focus on winning as many games as we can."
Iowa scored 70-plus points all but twice in its first 25 games, but notched fewer than 70 in three of its last six.
In a 68-66 Big Ten Tournament loss last week to Illinois, the Hawkeyes turned over the ball 18 times while cementing the trend of a strong reliance on Uthoff and Jok. The duo accounted for 50 of Iowa's 66 points — an astounding 76 percent of the scoring. In terms of season totals, they combine for 44 percent of the scoring.
Senior point guard Mike Gesell made three of those turnovers against the Illini and scored three points. Fellow seniors Clemmons and center Adam Woodbury rounded out the lineup with zero and two points, respectively.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery doesn't sound overly concerned, partly because of his point guard.
"I feel good about who has the ball for our team with Mike Gesell," McCaffery said. "Not only will he distribute the ball, get the ball through the press, attack the zone, (but) he also is a phenomenal defender. So he’ll give it to you on both ends."
The Temple Owls won't make many mistakes — they are first in the nation in turnovers per game. Still, they struggle to score, ranking 266th in the nation at 68.7 points per game. On the flip side, though, they allow only 67.4 points while averaging 36.8 rebounds and 5.3 steals. They are capable of being another team that can expose Iowa's offense.
Can the Hawkeyes break out of their funk in the Big Dance?
That effort will need to start on defense, which leads to opportunities on the offensive end, according to Jok.
"We need to lock down on defense and stay focused on defense," Jok said. "We’re a running team. The more stops we get, the more runs we’re going to get. We need to get back to doing the little things, too. Our offense can be good. We’re all unselfish. I think we’ll be good."
Reach Matt Cozzi at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @matt_cozzi.
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