Brown: With or without White, Iowa must improve stats

Rick Brown
Iowa Hawkeyes forward Aaron White (30) shoots during the second half of the teams 71-65 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes at Value City Arena. White hurt his shoulder four minutes into Saturday’s game against Purdue.

Playing for an extended period of time without senior forward Aaron White would be a challenging proposition for Iowa's basketball team.

How long White is on the sidelines remains uncertain after he suffered a shoulder injury four minutes into the Hawkeyes' 67-63 loss at Purdue Saturday. White has never missed a game at Iowa due to injury, and that streak may be in jeopardy Saturday against No. 6 Wisconsin.

White is the team's leading scorer and rebounder, a guy who has started 105 of his 126 games at Iowa. A guy who is one of just three players in Iowa history to be in the school's career top 10 in scoring and rebounding. He's scored in double figures in 65 percent of the games he's played at Iowa.

White suffered a stinger when his right shoulder smashed into Purdue's Kendall Stephens as he tried to make a steal. Iowa, 4-3 in the Big Ten and 13-7 overall, has lost two games in a row and faces three big challenges ahead: Wisconsin, at Michigan Feb. 5 and Maryland Feb. 8.

Injuries are part of the game. How a team responds to them is the bottom line. Michigan lost leading scorer Caris LeVert for the season to a foot injury Jan. 17. In two games since, the Wolverines won at Rutgers and took Wisconsin to overtime before losing.

The Badgers are playing without floor general Traevon Jackson, who injured his foot at Rutgers Jan. 11. Wisconsin has won three straight without him. Illinois lost leading scorer Rayvonte Rice to a broken hand in practice. The Illini have won three of six Big Ten games in his absence.

The last time the Hawkeyes didn't have the services of one of their top scorers was in 2013, when Devyn Marble sat out a 62-59 loss to Michigan State because of an ankle injury. Then, Mike Gesell missed the final four regular-season games that same year with a foot injury. Iowa won three of four.

The Hawkeyes spun out of control shortly after White left the game at Purdue, but regrouped. Iowa erased a 12-point deficit to take the lead into the final minute, but couldn't finish. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery went to a four-guard lineup in the second half for long stretches, constantly changed defenses and got a career-high 16 rebounds from Gabe Olaseni, 11 on the offensive glass.

Look for more small ball if White is stuck on the bench. That strategy did create more shots in the half-court offense, an area where Iowa has to be more productive because opponents have slammed the brakes on the transition game.

The Hawkeyes are averaging just 3.3 points on fast-break opportunities in seven Big Ten games. Iowa averaged nine points in conference play a season ago. That's one reason why a team that averaged 78.3 points in Big Ten play a year ago is scoring at a 66.9-point pace this season. Not good when you're last in the league in scoring defense at 70.0 points per game.

Another factor is spotty 3-point shooting and a dip in free-throw accuracy. Iowa is shooting just 32.4 percent from 3-point range in league play, which ranks 11th. Free-throw shooting has dropped from 77.4 percent in nonconference play to 69.9 against Big Ten foes.

In a league where every point is valuable, those numbers must improve. With or without White.

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