Iowa men's basketball embracing opportunity to spoil Iowa State's magic in Cy-Hawk game
IOWA CITY — As soon as Iowa's men's basketball team left the floor on Monday night, they were ready to get right back on. The Hawkeyes lost to Illinois 87-83, marking back-to-back losses after a 7-0 start. Iowa players thought it was a winnable game, and they pointed to little things that could've turned the tide in their favor if they capitalized.
"A lot of our guys just really want to get back in the win column," forward Keegan Murray said after Monday's loss. "We're a team that if we lose, we want to get back on the right track. Our guys have the right mentality so far and I think we'll be ready for Thursday."
On Thursday, the Hawkeyes make the short trip to Ames for another edition of the Cy-Hawk series against rival and No. 19-ranked Iowa State. Two years ago, Iowa exorcised past demons in Ames with a dominant 84-68 with and routed the Cyclones at home, 105-77, in last year's pandemic-impacted season. But things have changed for Iowa State.
After just 14 combined wins over the previous two years, the Cyclones are 8-0 with an average victory margin of 15 points. Under first-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger, Iowa State brought in seven transfers from last year from programs including Kansas, Minnesota and Penn State, and the new-look roster has clicked remarkably quickly.
"It's not easy by any means to get a new group to play with the cohesion they have," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told reporters on Monday. "They're new but have a veteran group. They've bought into the defensive concepts and they're playing well together."
A strength-on-strength matchup exists between these two opponents in the turnover game. Iowa's taken care of the ball as well as anyone in the country, committing the fewest turnovers per game (7.9) and boasting the best assist-to-turnover margin (2.25). On the other side, Iowa State is ranked in the top 15 nationally in turnover margin and steals per game.
McCaffery attributes the lack of turnovers to unselfishness with the ball. And as Iowa continues to pass the ball around, the hope is that it will lead to more opportunities for senior guard Jordan Bohannon.
Bohannon's still adjusting to his new role as shooting guard and a more primary scoring option. He's shooting a high percentage from 3-point range (42%) but has struggled recently, scoring five points or fewer in four of Iowa's past five games.
His one game with double-digit shot attempts during that stretch was a 20-point outburst at Virginia with six made 3-pointers. The Hawkeyes will need his sharp shooting in Ames to pull off the win.
"He's always going to have the green light," McCaffery said. "We've got to do a better job of freeing him up, finding opportunities for him to get shots. I don't want to put it on him. I think we have to put it on us to find him openings."
Another good sign for Iowa's offense is that Keegan Murray turned it on late against Illinois with 12 points in the final three minutes after just seven points prior to that. His slow start was expected after missing two games to an ankle injury, but his late run against Illinois is an encouraging sign for the team.
"With an ankle injury it's tough to get your feet back under you," Murray said. "First half, I was trying to get my feel for the game back. In the second half, I got my mojo going and got into a little bit of a flow. I'm headed in the right direction for sure."
What plagued Iowa against Illinois was rebounding. Murray noted after Monday's game that a missed defensive rebound here or there that turned into Illinois points could've shifted the game. The Cyclones are a closer match in size to Iowa compared to their past two opponents and are seventh in the Big 12 Conference in total rebounds.
"At the end of day, rebounding is just hustle and effort," Murray said. "(Illinois) wanted the ball more than us. Our mindset needs to change in that area and I feel like our guys are up to the challenge."
It's worth noting that Iowa's two-game skid is in the midst of one of the toughest four-game stretches in the country: Virginia, top-ranked Purdue, Illinois and now Iowa State. The Hawkeyes aren't making excuses, though, and are looking forward to another tough challenge.
McCaffery doesn't expect these losses to have lingering effects.
"We're playing hard. I'm pleased with how we're competing," McCaffery said. "We have to execute better against teams like we've played the last few games. We play another undefeated, ranked team on the road, another great opportunity. And I think that's how we view it."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.