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Rick Brown: Hawkeyes have backs against Big Ten wall

[ 0 ] January 28, 2013 |

Coach Fran McCaffery will get a $200,000 salary bump if his Iowa basketball team reaches the NCAA Tournament this season.

The time to cash in is running out.

“I think we’re about ready to turn the corner,” freshman guard Mike Gesell optimistically said after Iowa’s latest stress-inducing loss, a 65-62 overtime decision Sunday at Purdue.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery watches the action during his team's loss at Purdue on Sunday. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports)

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery watches the action during his team's loss at Purdue on Sunday. (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports)

To get around the corner, Iowa will have to do it with their backs against the Big Ten wall. The Hawkeyes, 2-5 in the league, have to win seven of their last 11 just to get to .500.

“Definitely not how we wanted to start,” said Gesell, who scored 18 points Sunday. “But we’re staying positive. There are still a lot of games left to be played. The beauty of it is that the Big Ten is so tough. And we still have a lot of winnable games against very good teams to keep building our resume.”

McCaffery came to Iowa with a reputation for being an offense-first coach. But offensive struggles and the lack of a go-to guy down the stretch, have left that NCAA resume pretty empty.

“We’re not clicking on offense right now,” McCaffery said.

Three games define Iowa’s Big Ten struggles: a 69-65 home loss to Indiana, when offensive execution was missing in action; a 62-59 home loss to No. 22 Michigan State; and Sunday’s loss to the Boilermakers, where Iowa missed 33 of its first 40 field-goal attempts.

Zach McCabe missed a 3-pointer with 27.5 seconds remaining that would have tied the Indiana game.

Iowa had a three-point lead against the Spartans when it couldn’t get its hands on a rebound. The possession ended when Aaron White fouled Gary Harris shooting a 3-pointer with 1:04 left. He made all three. Then Branden Dawson darted in front of a

Gesell pass for a steal and a game-changing dunk.

And Sunday, Marble missed the second of two free throws that would have given Iowa a three-point lead with 47.5 seconds left. He also missed a potential game-winner from 10 feet at the end of regulation. Then Iowa missed three of four free throws in overtime.

Marble has struggled in those three resume-enhancing games. He was 1-for-14 from the field against Indiana, didn’t play against Michigan State because of a sprained ankle and turf toe and was 2-for-11 against Purdue. Last seasons, he showed more of a penchant for hitting big shots.

Marble hit two clutch baskets to seal a 72-65 road upset of No. 11 Wisconsin. And in a 63-59 victory against Minnesota at home, Marble made three huge plays — a 3-pointer, a dunk and an assist to Matt Gatens for the clinching hoop — as Iowa scored the game’s final nine points.

Being the go-to guy isn’t easy. Gatens filled that role last season, but it wasn’t until the stretch drive of his senior season that he had consistent success. The Hawkeyes’ win vs. Wisconsin was one of four against Top 25 foes last season. That team played in the NIT.

This season’s team – 0-4 against rated teams — will likely end up in the same place unless it finishes strong.

Iowa will have to sweep Penn State and Nebraska and beat Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois at home, just to get to 9-9. An NCAA bid will likely require a 10th league win, which means winning one of two games remaining against No. 23 Minnesota or road games at Wisconsin and No. 3 Indiana.

And the Hawkeyes won’t win all the games they’re favored to win if their shooting doesn’t improve. Iowa is shooting 30.3 percent from 3-point range this season, including a woeful 27.2 percent in Big Ten play. Only one Hawkeye team has shot worse since the 1986-87 season, when the 3-point shot arrived for good. The 2002-03 Hawkeyes shot 29.0 percent on 3-pointers, 26.7 percent in Big Ten play.

“There was one possession we (missed) three wide-open 3s,” McCaffery said after Sunday’s loss. “We’re just not shooting the ball right now.”

In a season when defense has made marked improvement, the offense hasn’t held up its end of the bargain.

The Register's Rick Brown will host a live chat at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday on HawkCentral.com.

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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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