Brown: Iowa men are consistently inconsistent

Rick Brown

There's no way to put a positive spin on Iowa's overtime loss at Northwestern on Sunday.

It was a game with NCAA Tournament implications. The Hawkeyes did themselves no favors there. And it was an opportunity to build some late-season momentum, and erase lingering doubt after a home loss to Minnesota. Monday's fresh take on the game from Iowa coach Fran McCaffery didn't sound a whole lot better, either.

"Our execution offensively was average at best," he said. "It needed to be better. Our defensive execution was really subpar. And that's a bad combination on the road."

It's a bad combination anywhere. Especially when there's so much to play for. Iowa's roller coaster of a basketball season has told us this: The Hawkeyes are consistently inconsistent.

There was 64.3 percent shooting from the field against Maryland on Feb. 8, just 32.3 percent shooting a week later at Northwestern. Is this inconsistency due to what the opponent presents, or Iowa's lack of execution? Probably a little of both.

How can a team win at North Carolina and Ohio State but lose at Northwestern? How can a team destroy Maryland at home but get blown out in the second half by Iowa State and Michigan State?

"You look and say, 'They play great one game and they don't play so well another game,' " McCaffery said. "That typifies our season. That's a challenge for us, to play better and more like we did against Maryland than we did (at Northwestern). But we've had inconsistent stretches at both ends of the floor, and that's unfortunate."

One shot here, one defensive stop there, and that Northwestern loss doesn't happen. And maybe a whistle or two, too. The Wildcats were called for six fouls in the first 4 minutes of the second half, none in the final 15:58 of regulation. In the black and blue Big Ten.

"The frustrating thing is we got the ball to the rim a number of times and didn't convert," McCaffery said. "That puts incredible pressure on your jump-shooting ability if a team is in a 2-3 zone, which they were the entire game."

Iowa was just 13-for-20 from the free-throw line. Poor shooting from the line and the field is why Iowa is 6-6 in the Big Ten and 15-10 overall heading into a home game with Rutgers on Thursday. Carver-Hawkeye Arena has been the scene of inconsistency, both on the floor and in the stands.

I figured after back-to-back victories at Michigan and over Maryland at home, Iowa would play Minnesota on Feb. 12 before a fourth straight 15,400 sellout at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But the announced attendance that night was 13,756. The actual scanned attendance that night, according to the Iowa ticket office, was 9,498. So much for Hawkeye fever.

The three straight Big Ten games that were sellouts — Ohio State, Wisconsin and Maryland — included plenty of empty seats in the student section that made the arena look like a smile with a tooth missing.

Iowa is 3-3 in Big Ten games at home this season, another sign of inconsistency. That's got to change if the Hawkeyes want to go dancing in March.

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

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery