IOWA CITY, Ia. – Tuesday afternoon, ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla posted a piece on why he thought Iowa’s basketball team was a darkhorse candidate to reach the Final Four.
On Twitter, former Indiana player and coach turned ESPN commentator Dan Dakich was asked if he agreed.
Dakich responded: “Talent? Yes. Depth? Yes. Skill? Yes. Tough enough/culture enough to get there? Not sure.”
Tuesday night, after the 15th-ranked Hawkeyes’ 71-69 overtime loss to No. 7 Michigan State, Dakich’s words rang prophetic.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery questioned his team’s toughness after the defeat, a game where the table was set for success. Michigan State was down two starters, Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Carver-Hawkeye Arena was packed.
“It reminded me of the old days,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Iowa had just 10 turnovers, and limited Gary Harris, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, to nine points. That was the first time Harris, who was coming off a career-best 27 points against Michigan, under double figures.
But instead of recording a second victory over a Top 10 team in the same season for the first time since 2005-06, when the Hawkeyes knocked off No. 8 Kentucky, No. 6 Illinois and No. 7 Ohio State, Iowa lost to a Top 25 team for the 11th time in the last 12 tries.
Michigan State outscored Iowa by a 30-9 margin behind the 3-point line. Iowa outscored the Spartans by a 30-11 margin from the free-throw line. Iowa didn’t make a field goal from the 9 minute 56 second mark of the second half until :06 remained in overtime, in large part because the Spartans were fouling.
Iowa shot free throws on eight of its last 14 possessions of regulation, and three of the first six in overtime. But 13 missed free throws were fatal. So was Michigan State’s 10-2 advantage on securing 50-50 balls. Hustle plays. Will-to-win plays.
“You can’t beat Michigan State doing that,” McCaffery said.
And they didn’t, for a seventh consecutive time. The last three have been painfully close. There was also a 95-61 loss in East Lansing in 2012 where McCaffery questioned his team’s toughness and slammed a chair to make his point.
On Tuesday, McCaffery was whistled for a technical protesting what he thought was a missed traveling call on Keith Appling. That put a spark under his team, turning a tie game into a 37-32 lead.
But the spark flickered, then died. In a game that was tied 11 times and had 16 lead changes, a game in which neither team led by more than seven points, Michigan State had the will to win. Iowa didn’t.
This is an experienced Iowa team, one that shouldn’t need their coach’s spark to play like their hair is on fire. Especially with the home-court advantage that Carver-Hawkeye Arena was on Tuesday night.
Though he questioned the Hawkeyes’ toughness, McCaffery put blame on the coaches as well. It was a team loss.
“Our effort wasn’t good enough,” McCaffery said. “We weren’t tough enough, okay? Let’s go back to work and let’s get better and try to win the next one.”
That toughness will be tested again Saturday, when Iowa vists Illinois. Iowa’s five losses this season have all been to ranked teams. The Illini are unranked, and have lost six straight games. Iowa hasn’t lost back-to-back games all season. The Hawkeyes have lost 11 straight games in Champaign, and 22 of the last 23.
Michigan State entered Carver-Hawkeye Arena still stinging from an 80-75 home loss to Michigan three days earlier. Izzo said he wondered if his team “could get up off the canvas.”
They did. Now Iowa has to do the same thing in Champaign to keep their puncher’s chance of a Big Ten title alive.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball