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Pat Harty: Did non-conference leave Hawks battle-tested enough?

[ 0 ] December 22, 2013 |

For the Iowa men’s basketball team, the best thing about Sunday’s game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff was that it finally ended, although probably not soon enough for Fran McCaffery or Ed Hightower.

Whether it even should’ve been played is debatable. The game really served no other purpose than to pad Iowa’s resume with another lopsided victory before heading into Big Ten play.

Iowa defeated the Golden Lions 86-61 to improve to 11-2 on the season. But don’t be misled by the 25-point margin of victory because the game wasn’t even that close. Iowa bolted to a 24-3 lead less than 10 minutes into the game and then expanded the lead to 43 points in the second half.

The already-deep Hawkeyes became deeper Sunday with 6-foot-5 junior guard Josh Oglesby making his season debut after missing the first 12 games with a foot injury. And he did so in spectacular fashion by making all but one of his five shots from 3-point range.

“It felt really good, especially just making my first shot so I could get into the groove of things,” Oglesby said. “And this team is so unselfish. They found me and I knocked them down.”

McCaffery had little to complain about until the end of the game when his reserves struggled against full-court pressure. He couldn’t recall a game in which his team won by nearly 30 points despite committing 27 turnovers.

McCaffery replaced several of the reserves late in the game and could be heard screaming at them on the bench for being soft. He had less to say to the media afterward when asked about the sloppy ending.

“I don’t care about that really,” McCaffery said. “They were pressing the scout team. I’ve got a lot of experienced guys out there. It’s no big deal.”

As for the 62-year old Hightower, Sunday’s game was his last as an official, capping a 36-year career. It’s fair to say that Hightower has officiated more entertaining games than Sunday’s.

We learned nothing about Iowa during Sunday’s game that we didn’t already know. McCaffery’s team is deep and versatile, but is it battled tested enough?

The players all insist that they’re ready for the Big Ten portion of the schedule, which will start with a New Year’s Eve matchup against Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But what else are they going to say?

Iowa’s non-conference schedule hardly was murderer’s row, but it was an upgrade from last season, thanks mostly to playing three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. The victory over Xavier in the Battle 4 Atlantis and the victory over Notre Dame at home will carry some weight, while the two losses against Villanova and Iowa State, both of whom are ranked, don’t look bad, either.

The worst thing about Iowa’s non-conference was the home slate. Take away the Notre Dame game and it was one yawner after another against the likes of North Carolina-Wilmington, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Abilene Christian and Fairleigh Dickinson.

It was the same way last season and it ultimately cost the Hawkeyes an NCAA Tournament bid after finishing 9-9 in Big Ten play. The current Iowa team should have enough firepower and experience that finishing 9-9 would be considered a disappointment.

McCaffery said after Sunday’s victory that he likes where his team sits right now.

“I think the thing that you have to do now is just look ahead,” he said. “You don’t want to look back and say, ‘We could have won this,’ or, ‘If I could have done’; we’re 11‑2, that’s what we are, and it wasn’t easy to get there, and we don’t know what these next 18 are, every one.

“And I’ve got enough experience in that locker room to know and understand what that means in terms of preparation and execution, and we’ll be ready.”

Probably the biggest concern about this Iowa team is whether it can shoot well enough from the perimeter to win close games.

You’d like to think that adding Oglesby to the mix would help in that regard, but he struggled with his perimeter shooting throughout last season.

And he won’t face another team like the one he shredded Sunday.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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