How did Iowa men's basketball navigate a long break? Recovery & team improvement were priority

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

For Iowa men's basketball, its current stretch of six days between games came at an opportune time.

The Hawkeyes (7-3, 0-1) are fresh off a six-game run against power conference opponents, posting a 3-3 record, and have been off for nearly a week ahead of Saturday's home game against Southeast Missouri (7 p.m. on Big Ten Network+).

In what ways did the time off help Iowa? Coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday that one of the biggest benefits was a chance to give his players some rest.

"Obviously, we're a little banged up," McCaffery said. "So it helps in that regard. I want the guys focusing on (final exams). When we do practice, we make sure everybody is here and we have a regular practice, so it's not like 'come in and try to get some shots up', we're locking in for the next game. We'll practice (Thursday), regular practice. (Wednesday) we were off, (Friday) we'll be off. (On Tuesday), we practiced.

The guys are in a good mindset, preparing for I think what is a really good team, and the guys that need to be rehabbing or getting treatment are doing that."

Through 10 games, Iowa men's basketball holds a 7-3 record.

Two, key players that are battling injuries are starting point guard Ahron Ulis (hip) and forward Kris Murray (foot). McCaffery didn't say anything definitive on either player's status on Thursday.

"(Ulis) is making progress," McCaffery said. "We'll see what he can do (on Thursday)... (Murray) just needs to be off (his foot) for a while, and then heal up and he'll come back."

More:Iowa men's basketball's comeback vs. Wisconsin falls short in Big Ten opener

McCaffery and the players covered a few other topics on Thursday, including areas of improvement and increasing team depth. Here are a few takeaways from the press conference:

Hawkeyes pinpoint where they can improve on offense and defense

Iowa men's basketball has two games: Saturday against Southeast Missouri and next Wednesday against Eastern Illinois before Big Ten play resumes.

When asked how he would assess the team's recent six-game stretch, McCaffery said it was about what he expected. Iowa showed flashes in almost every game, even games it lost, and revealed certain areas that the team needs to hone in on before Big Ten play begins.

Junior Patrick McCaffery identified one on each side of the court: better flow on offense and better attention to detail on defense.

"I think our flow was really good against Iowa State," Patrick McCaffery said. "Against Wisconsin, I feel like we got a little jump shot happy. So I think working on our motion, working on our spacing, cutting, etc. Getting back to our normal motion offense that's traditionally really hard to guard.

"Defensively, really locking into personnel; knowing who does what on the other team and then guarding them accordingly. The guys on the top of the scouting reports, how do we give our guys who are guarding them more assistance? That type of stuff."

Another glaring statistic over the last two games has been turnovers. Traditionally an excellent assist-to-turnover ratio team, the Hawkeyes have been nearly even in December with 45 assists to 40 turnovers. Fran McCaffery attributed those numbers to an uptick in competition and some over-aggressive play at times. He noted that by season's end, the numbers will even out. For now, he's focusing on his team's execution game-to-game.

"We want to push the ball and make good decisions," Fran McCaffery said. "Defensively (we want to) be connected and compete, compete on the glass, move and share the ball. These are things that every coach says, but that's going to be critical moving forward to continue to do that."

More:Leistikow: Until Kris Murray returns, Hawkeyes find needed identity in rout of Iowa State

Freshman point guard Dasonte Bowen's role is growing

Team injuries are never a good thing, but McCaffery pointed out that a silver lining is that it gives other players an opportunity to step up. One player who is embodying that philosophy is true freshman point guard Dasonte Bowen. In place of Ulis, the Boston native received his first career start against Wisconsin, recording 2 points, four rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes.

A few days removed, Bowen graded his performance on Thursday.

"It was decent," Bowen said. "I always hold myself to a high standard so I never really give myself praise. But it was a decent performance, I can definitely do better."

With Ulis' status uncertain for Saturday, there's a good chance that Bowen receives his second start. He's earned praise from coaches and players for his work ethic and ability to learn Iowa's system and opposing scouting reports at a high rate. The starting point guard battle is far from finished, but Bowen has a chance to make an impression over the next few days. Iowa plays again at home on Wednesday against Eastern Illinois.

"He's been very good," Fran McCaffery said. He's very professional in his approach, very mature, really wants to learn, wants to get better, really accepts coaching. He's really delightful in that sense. He's a really good player. He's just going to keep getting better and better."