Leistikow: 3-point inaccuracy becoming a big problem for Iowa basketball

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Nearly halfway through the Big Ten Conference season, the Iowa basketball team has assembled a troubling identity.

It’s not very good from 3-point range.

That’s such a statistical rarity to say about a Fran McCaffery squad. For a program that relies so heavily on scoring the basketball at a high clip, when the 3-point shots aren’t falling … it’s going to be difficult to overcome on any given night.

And the deep balls haven’t been falling frequently for the Hawkeyes of late. That was the case Thursday night, as they dug a gigantic hole against sixth-ranked Purdue on the way to an 83-73 loss at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The 12,723 fans in attendance — including a full student section — were revved up to see the Hawkeyes try to pull a top-10 upset. And just 70 seconds into the game, they saw Jordan Bohannon step into a 3-pointer from the top of the key and bury it. It seemed like this night could be special.

But … the Hawkeyes would misfire on their next nine 3-point attempts. That included two misses by Keegan Murray, a projected top-10 NBA Draft pick (before he rode the bench for the final 11:19 of the first half after picking up a second foul). That included two wide-open looks from Connor McCaffery, who has five made baskets total in almost 300 minutes this season.

Opponents are increasingly focusing on Murray — the Hawkeyes' 6-foot-8 all-America candidate and projected NBA lottery pick — and pushing Iowa's offense to the perimeter. But the Hawkeyes' shooters aren't making them pay.

More:Iowa basketball haunted by slow first half, drops rematch against Purdue by double digits

Over the last four games, Iowa is an abysmal 29-for-108 from 3-point range — just 26.9%. The Hawkeyes showed some juice in the second half Thursday — cutting an 18-point deficit to four — but finished the game under 30% from 3 (8-for-27, 29.6%) again.

The Murrays (Keegan and Kris) were 2-for-11. The McCafferys (Patrick and Connor) were 1-for-8. Bohannon was 2-for-6. 

The stark 3-point difference was on display Thursday, as Purdue unleashed what seemed like its usual 3-point barrage against Iowa. The Boilermakers canned 13 of 22 attempts from 3, a searing clip of 59.1%. (Recall: Four years ago, Purdue knocked down 20 of 33 from 3-point range in a rout at Carver.)

Overall, Iowa attempted 64 shots to Purdue's 49. But Purdue made 30 to Iowa's 24.

And now, for the sobering conclusion: This Hawkeye team is on pace to be McCaffery's worst 3-point shooting team in nine years.

Through nine conference games, Iowa has made just 30.1% of 3-point attempts (63 of 209). That would be the worst clip since the 2012-13 season, the first year after sharpshooter Matt Gatens graduated, when Iowa hit just 28.4% from 3 in conference play.

Iowa's conference finishes in 3-point accuracy since: sixth, fifth, fifth, sixth, third, fourth, fourth and first.

That's right, last year Iowa was No. 1 in the Big Ten in 3-point accuracy in conference games at 40.5% on the way to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

Now, the Hawkeyes are in danger of going from first … to worst. 

We knew this would be a concern area for the Hawkeyes after losing NBA Draft picks Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza, who combined to shoot better than 45% from 3 last season. Also gone from last year's team is CJ Fredrick, who shot a team high 47% from beyond the arc on 76 attempts.

But 20 games into the season, there doesn't seem to be much of a solution … except to shoot better.

Sixth man Kris Murray, who has been Iowa's most accurate 3-point shooter this season at 40.3% and had a team-high 23 points Thursday, sees a path forward with better ball movement.

"It’s moving without the ball, getting more drive-and-kicks, more cuts to bring in the defense," he said. "We’ve been a little stagnant in our offense, and I think that’s kind of why we haven’t been shooting well. A lot of (the 3-pointers) have been contested. We just need to get more movement.”

Bohannon is a career 40% shooter in his five-plus seasons but is down to 27.5% from 3 in Big Ten play. Sure, he's missed open looks. But opponents are all over him on the scouting reports, because they know he is by far Iowa's most dangerous 3-point threat.

Increasingly, we've seen teams back off a bunch of Iowa's wing players — both McCafferys, both point guards (Joe Toussaint and Ahron Ulis) and Tony Perkins — and dare them to shoot. They're taking the dares and not making opponents pay. 

Purdue's Jayden Ivey drains an open 3-pointer. The Boilers were 13 of 22 from 3-point range at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in an 83-73 win.

"We’ve hit 20 3s in a game (against Alabama State), so we know our potential," said Keegan Murray, who finished with 14 points in 29 minutes. "We’ve just got to get guys where they’re good at … catch-and-shoot situations. I think we’re a good shooting team. We’ve just hit a little slump these last couple games. We’ll be fine.”

Murray has been held to 15 or fewer points in four of Iowa's last five games, a direct result of Iowa's woeful 3-point shooting. The more 3s that fall from teammates, the less attention he'll get … and the more the Big Ten's leading scorer (22.8 points per game) can get back to his high-scoring form. 

A 10-point loss to a Purdue team expected to be a Final Four contender is hardly time to cash in the season. A winnable game at Penn State on Monday is next for Iowa (14-6 overall, 4-5 Big Ten) to get to the .500 mark in conference play. 

If the Hawkeyes are going to make a run, they're going to need the 3-point shots to start falling … sooner rather than later.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.