Brown: Iowa's season has taken a downward turn
EVANSTON, Ill. – As soon as the final buzzer sounded, Northwestern's coaching staff had a group hug in front of the bench. There's your thrill of victory.
While that was going on, Iowa coach Fran McCafffery got in a spirited discussion with the officials as they left the floor. There's your agony of defeat.
A Hawkeye basketball season of ebbs and flows has taken a decided dip south. A week ago, Iowa won at Michigan and hammered a ranked Maryland team at home and NCAA Tournament talk centered around what seed the Hawkeyes would get come March. Getting one of the top four seeds in the Big Ten Tournament seemed attainable, too.
A week later, just trying to get into the NCAA Tournament will be a challenge after losses at home to Minnesota and Sunday's 66-61 overtime defeat to a Northwestern team that snapped a 10-game Big Ten losing streak by winning for the first time in 2015.
Jarrod Uthoff, whose 3-pointer at the end of regulation gave Iowa second life in overtime, said that thinking about the NCAA Tournament is unavoidable.
"I try not to," Uthoff said after a career-high 25 points. "But at the end of the day, my goal is to get to the NCAA Tournament. So you always need to keep that goal in the back of your mind. You need that vision to keep you going."
A team that has won at North Carolina, Michigan and Minnesota and swept Ohio State is now 6-6 in the Big Ten and 15-10 overall. A 4-1 start in Big Ten play, then three losses. Two wins last week seemed to set the table of a positive stretch run. And now, with six regular-season Big Ten games remaining, Iowa has burned up its remaining margin for error as it relates to the NCAAs.
"Hold everyone accountable, but don't beat them up," McCaffery said. "They're as down as anybody. We were in position to win both games. That's sometimes more frustrating (than) when you get drilled. We just have to play better."
While it may be a bit premature to paint the past week as a sign that last season's unraveling is about to be repeated, there wasn't a lot of positive energy walking out of Iowa's locker room at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
You know senior forward Aaron White doesn't want to say goodbye like that.
White had 13 rebounds but was 1-for-12 from the field. One of the most difficult games of his career?
"Correct," White said.
Iowa put itself in a difficult position right from the start. Instead of punching a Northwestern team lacking for confidence in the mouth, the Hawkeyes fell behind by 10 points. A recipe for disaster.
"It was all in how we started," Uthoff said.
Uthoff would eventually give Iowa its largest lead, 46-41, with just over 4 minutes left in regulation. But the game-changing defensive stop, or basket at the offensive end, never came.
Neither did a Northwestern foul for the last 15:58 of regulation.
"That doesn't make sense to me," White said.
With a reprieve in overtime, and Northwestern walking in its own "here we go again" footsteps, it was the Hawkeyes who blinked.
Northwestern's ability to not foul for the last 15:58 of regulation is just one mind-numbing stat. Iowa had only four turnovers.
But White and center Adam Woodbury were a combined 1-for-17 from the field.
The Wildcats' 12 blocked shots took care of some of those.
Plenty of pink slips for the Wildcats. And if things don't turn around in a hurry, the NCAA Tournament will be issuing a pink slip of its own.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown