Iowa men's basketball hopes another long break will pay dividends against Indiana

Similar to one month ago, the Iowa men's basketball team is coming off a lengthy stretch without a game before a key matchup.

In December, a 20-point blowout loss to Iowa State preceded a nine-day layoff before a non-conference game against Utah State. The Hawkeyes won that game by 19 points and went on a four-game wining streak.

On Jan. 6, Iowa lost decisively to Wisconsin. Thursday's home game against Indiana will mark one week since that loss. How has Iowa's week-long break benefitted the team? Star forward Keegan Murray said the answer is two-fold.

"It's been a couple of days to get healthy," Murray said Tuesday. "And also to work on ourselves, been a couple of days of reflection in trying to improve as a team and individuals." 

First addressing health, Murray said he is back to 100% following a hard fall on his back against Wisconsin. Center Josh Ogundele played spot minutes against the Badgers on a previously injured ankle and is fully healthy heading into Thursday. 

Like Iowa, the Hoosiers are a team that relies on bench depth. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday that Indiana can go 12 deep. Other areas that will challenge the Hawkeyes: defensive intensity and rebounding, both of which haunted them against Wisconsin. 

Indiana (3-2, 12-3) is the top-ranked defensive team in the Big Ten, allowing just 60 points per game and a 35% shooting average. The Hoosiers are fourth in the conference in rebounding margin with a plus-eight differential.

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"They're relentless on the offensive and defensive glass," Murray said. "On defense they get up into your space and really pressure the basketball. It's a big emphasis level for us of competing and matching their intensity level." 

An answer offensively for Iowa (1-3 Big Ten, 11-4 overall) may come from senior guard Jordan Bohannon, who is shooting a second-best 40% from three-point range but has had double-digit shot attempts only once in the last eight games. He's playing within the system, and a change in position is affecting how teams have covered him. On Tuesday, McCaffery said that more ball-in-hand opportunities are likely.

"We put the ball in his hands a little bit more in the last game; that helped," McCaffery said. "I appreciate him because he's not hunting shots. He's never been a guy that took bad shots, so I certainly want him to shoot more. We're trying to run stuff for him. We will keep going to him. He's got the ultimate green light. Again, put the ball in his hands a little more might help." 

Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) could start seeing more shot opportunities moving forward.

Iowa's most glaring weakness and the root of its losses is rebounding. The weeklong break has allowed for more focus on progress in that area. Improving on long rebounds and boxing out are obvious remedies, and Murray offered another that requires buy-in from the entire team.

"It's an effort thing as well," Murray said. "That's just all guys going to the glass that we can get the ball in transition and what we like to do, that's been a big emphasis for us." 

Thursday's game is critical for Iowa. The Hawkeyes can't afford to fall to 1-4 in the Big Ten with road games at Minnesota and Rutgers looming.

They've been in this situation before and are optimistic the long layoff will allow them to hit another gear as the first did. Another benefit to the long break: the energy level in the first game back is usually high.

"I think there is no question about it," McCaffery said. "You have a couple days off, you need to come out with energy and play better than we did in the last game. I think we're smart enough to know and understand that. And practice has been good. I expect that to continue." 

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