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Big Four Classic: Iowa's improved defense pleases Fran McCaffery

[ 0 ] December 15, 2012 |

Devyn Marble scored 30 points Saturday, but defense carried the day

Over eight days and two in-state victories, Iowa’s basketball team is clearly making progress.

“We’ve showed a tremendous amount of maturity, because we’ve had to do it at both ends,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after an 80-73 victory over Northern Iowa Saturday.

That victory comes on the heels of an 80-71 home-court decision over Iowa State Dec. 7. Iowa is now 14-2 over the last three seasons when scoring 80 points or more. But it’s the other end of the floor that has pleased McCaffery the most.

“We have made tremendous strides defensively,” McCaffery said. “If we have any chance of being really good, in the (Big Ten) championship hunt or the NCAA Tournament, we’ve got to defend. We could not defend this way last year. I think it’s clear that we’ve made great strides.”

Iowa was the Big Ten’s worst defensive team last season. Opponents shot 45.7 percent from the field against the Hawkeyes last season and scored an average of 72.5 points. Opponents are shooting 38.7 from the field through 11 games this season, and averaging 63.5 points.

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a foes shot 34.5 percent from 3-point distance last season. This year’s team is allowing foes just 28.1 percent shooting from that distance.

The Hawkeyes are 9-2, with non-conference home games remaining against South Carolina State Wednesday and Coppin State Saturday. Iowa should take 11 wins into Big Ten play, which would match the number of victories in McCaffery’s first season with the Hawkeyes (11-20 in 2010-11) and surpass Todd Lickliter’s final season (10-21 in 2009-10).

Iowa’s games with Northern Iowa the past two seasons might offer the best proof of the Hawkeyes’ improved defensive play. The Panthers went 11-for-21 from 3 in an 80-60 victory over Iowa in Cedar Falls last season. Many of those attempts were wide-open looks. On Saturday, the Panthers were 3-of-16. Iowa did a much better job of extending its defense on Saturday, contesting most of Northern Iowa’s long-range attempts.

It hasn’t been all clear sailing. Virginia Tech spread the floor against Iowa and used quickness and great guard play to score 95 points in their ACC/Big Ten Challenge game. But McCaffery hammered home defense in the practices to follow, and the Hawkeyes have responded.

The Big Ten will be the ultimate test for Iowa’s improved defense. League teams averaged 71.6 points a game, and shot 45.2 percent from the field. The Hawkeyes’ defense will play the ultimate factor in whether or not the team has an NCAA future.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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