Leistikow: Just one bad day or a sign of things to come for Iowa basketball?
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Monday was a rotten day for the Iowa basketball program.
Just after 9 a.m., the state’s prized recruit announced his intention to attend the in-state rival.
By 9 p.m., the Hawkeyes had been thoroughly whipped by an opponent that has been the laughingstock of the Big East Conference for more than a decade.
If you’re anyone with a stake in Hawkeye basketball — fans, coaches, administration, players — you had better hope those 12 forgettable hours were an anomaly ... and not an indication of a problem that goes deeper and will be much more prolonged.
"I think you're always concerned when you don't play well," Iowa 10th-year coach Fran McCaffery said after the Hawkeyes were defeated, 93-78, by visiting DePaul before a national-TV audience to kick off the Big Ten-vs.-Big East Gavitt Games. "I'm not concerned that this team has problems that are not fixable. It's a good team. It’s a good group of young men. And we'll be better."
That was the rallying cry from McCaffery and his players, who didn't recover from a 13-0 DePaul start in the first three minutes. It was soon 19-2 and, eventually, the program's second-worst home defeat in November.
“Everyone’s upset with a loss like that," said Joe Wieskamp, who was held to four points in 26 minutes. "But it’s early in the season. That’s the approach we’re going to take."
What was most concerning: The Hawkeyes visibly lacked the foot speed to keep up with the hot-shooting Blue Demons, who remarkably made 16 of their first 22 shots while racing to a 40-16 advantage.
It was at that point that Wieskamp squared up a 17-foot jump shot ... and had it blocked.
Even the Hawkeyes' expected catalyst was helpless to stop the bleeding. And that was followed by actual bleeding, when point guard Connor McCaffery's eye was poked and his forehead badly cut while crashing to the floor during a first-half collision.
“It was the first big game for a lot of guys," Connor said afterward, his several-inch gash still evident. "Maybe our inexperience showed a little bit.”
Was this a case of a team (4-0 DePaul) playing in its fourth game in seven days that found a fluky hot-shooting rhythm or a team (1-1 Iowa) that’s still trying to find itself?
Probably a little bit of both.
Still, Iowa looked painfully slow at both ends of the floor. The defense looked as bad as it was for most of the past two seasons.
By halftime, DePaul held a 53-30 lead on 63% shooting.
Even though the Blue Demons committed 14 second-half turnovers, their win was never in jeopardy. The lead expanded to 78-53 with nine minutes left, before mop-up mode began.
Wieskamp — a quiet sophomore who is still trying to find his voice with this team — indicated that the Hawkeyes haven't demonstrated enough urgency in practices. I imagine this loss will stir up some intensity.
An exhibition win against NAIA Lindsey Wilson College and the regular-season rout of SIU-Edwardsville hadn't provided much early-November resistance.
"Once there was a good, aggressive team, we got uptight," Wieskamp said. "And we didn’t play our ball.
“Some guys stepped up. But as a whole, we’ve got to talk more defensively and help each other out.”
There were a few bright spots Monday.
Senior Ryan Kriener (11 points, eight rebounds in the first half) showed a feisty spark early off the bench. Freshmen guards C.J. Fredrick (16 points, 5-of-7 shooting) and Joe Toussaint (13 points and much-needed quickness) showed some second-half fight that drew applause from those remaining of the announced Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd of 9,961.
Certainly, Fran McCaffery in Year 10 wasn’t planning on being without Tyler Cook (who left for the NBA) and Isaiah Moss (who transferred to Kansas) and having a shell of Jordan Bohannon (who is playing just 5½ months removed from a significant hip surgery, and had three points in 16 minutes Monday) when he constructed this roster.
But the reality of what could be on the horizon was alarming Monday night.
If this is what it was like against a DePaul program that last had a winning Big East record in 2006-07, what's going to happen against the likes of Texas Tech, Michigan, Minnesota, Syracuse and Iowa State over the next month?
OK, deep breath.
This was Game No. 2 out of at least 32 for Iowa.
There’s a ton of basketball left to be played.
Fran McCaffery pointed to ball movement as one area that could be improved with coaching. He was confident that the mistakes are fixable.
"Absolutely," he said. "We had some guys that struggled, and that's obvious."
Looking ahead ...
Wednesday marks the first opportunity for high school seniors to sign their national letters of intent for basketball.
The Hawkeyes' four known verbal commitments possess an average Rivals star rating of 1.5, a reminder that highly coveted prospects haven’t been beating down the doors to come to Iowa City since the Hawkeyes’ NCAA Tournament run in March.
That brings us full circle, to the Hawkeyes’ first loss Monday, when Oskaloosa 7-footer Xavier Foster — a top-60 national recruit who grew up a Hawkeye fan, with a mom who bleeds black and gold — announced he would sign with Iowa State.
Foster’s Monday morning quote was brutally honest about how he assessed his final two choices.
“My family is Iowa fans. I’m an Iowa fan, personally,” Foster said. “But I just felt like I had a better chance at success at Iowa State.”
Twelve hours later, the DePaul loss became the proverbial knife twist to end a painful day.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.