Brown: Iowa needs to find shooting touch to achieve goals

Rick Brown
Mike Gesell led Iowa with just 10 points Saturday in the Hawkeyes’ loss against Northern Iowa. Iowa’s offense has had struggles from the field this season.

Aaron White is a senior and the leading scorer and rebounder on an Iowa basketball team that can't seem to find the basket.

White was asked after Saturday's 56-44 Big Four Classic loss to Northern Iowa what it would take to reverse this team's fortunes.

"Stay together," White said. "I love the guys in the locker room. We're all there for each other."

White went on to mention the growing list of doubters and naysayers outside the security of that locker room.

"We've got to stick together and ride this thing through," White said.

Finger pointing isn't an issue for an 8-4 team that hosts North Florida at 7 p.m. Monday in the final nonconference game of the season. But shooting continues to be.

The last time Iowa coach Fran McCaffery had a team score just 44 points came 340 games earlier in his head-coaching career. His North Carolina-Greensboro team lost to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, 98-44, on Nov. 27, 2004.

Forty-four points happens when you score just 15 of them on 3-for-24 from the field in the second half Saturday, with 10 turnovers and no assists.

This was the third time in the last five games that the Hawkeyes have failed to make a 3-pointer after halftime. Iowa was 0-for-12 in the second half of a win at North Carolina and 0-for-10 in the second half of a win against Alcorn State. The Hawkeyes have shot just 15.3 percent from three in those five games, and 33.5 percent from the field overall.

While the defense has been acceptable — Iowa leads the Big Ten in defensive field-goal percentage (.362), is second defensive in 3-point percentage (.284) and blocked shots (5.5) and third in steals (7.9) — that can't overcome the lack of offensive production.

Iowa is 11th in the Big Ten in scoring at 69.9 points per game. The Hawkeyes averaged 81.5 points per game last season. Just one of McCaffery's 19 teams have averaged fewer points — his first Iowa team averaged 67.2 points in 2010-11.

Iowa is last in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage at .300, and 13th in field-goal percentage at .409.

"As frustrated as they might be, I'm frustrated for them," McCaffery said. "To a man, they're coming in and getting extra shots. And they're making shots in practice and working the ball in practice. I've always been a believer that if guys are struggling, you keep encouraging them."

And here's the ultimate headshaking statistic — Iowa is second in the Big Ten in free-throw shooting percentage at .757.

Iowa's lack of success from the perimeter played right into Northern Iowa's defensive game plan. It allowed the Panthers to pack the middle, surround Iowa's post players and stop penetration in the lane. Northern Iowa was also able to shut down the Hawkeyes' transition game.

"To beat UNI you've got to make jumpers," McCaffery said.

Two years ago, in Iowa's 80-73 Big Four Classic victory over Northern Iowa, the Hawkeyes made 9-of-16 3-pointers in the first half, and 12 for the game, while scoring 80 points. Devyn Marble had 17 of his game-high 30 points in the second half.

Saturday was another slap of reality for a team about to jump headfirst into Big Ten play.

"This is one of those situations where you don't want to get too down on yourself," McCaffery said. "At the same time you've got to be honest with yourself and say, 'OK, we've got to change some things.' "

If there's no change in the weeks ahead, there's no chance of playing meaningful games in March.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.