Howe: Still Searching

Iowa learned lessons in a win against IPFW on Saturday, which is much better than the alternative. Still, the Hawkeyes have a lot to clean up.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - It's sometimes refered to as a snowball effect. Things get rolling in one direction and pick up size and speed. Usually, it comes with a negative conotation.

After opening the season with three wins, Iowalost much of its confidence and cohesion. The Hawkeyes also have dropped two of three games to mid-majors.

Iowa escaped with an 82-72 win against IPFW here at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday. The Mastadons were picked to finish sixth in the Summit League.

It turned out to be a victory that felt a little like a defeat. The Hawkeyes could have lived with that more easily had it stood on its own.

Instead, it followed a demolition at the hands of Creigthon Sunday and a 77-61 home loss Wednesday to Campbell, picked to finish ninth in the Big South. It clearly looked like the Hawkeyes were hung over from those contests.

"We're not completely sideways, but we're struggling a little bit more offensively," said Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery, who acknowledged that his team's confidence needs to be rebuilt. "We're struggling a little bit more defensively."

The Hawkeyes benefitted on Saturday from an IPFW team unprepared to break a press. They held a 33-12 lead in points off of turnovers, forcing the visitors into 24 giveaways. Other than that, the game was fairly even.

Iowa needs to get much better in the halfcourt, where the Big Ten games will be played. Expecting fastbreak lay-ups from pressuring teams like Michigan State and Ohio State is unrealistic.

The Hawkeyes were able to learn some lessons in a win, at least. They have to reacquire the belief in themselves as a team, which was lost in embarrassments to Creigthon and Campbell.

"We needed it for the our confidence," said Iowa Senior Matt Gatens, who scored a team-high 22 points on Saturday. "It wasn't pretty and there's a lot to work on, but this was a step in the right direction."

Iowa likely will be challenged in taking another move forward Tuesday night. Clemson comes to town for an ACC-Big Ten Challenge affair.

"Clemson's going to be a very athletic group," McCaffery said. "Obviously in the NCAA Tournament last year and they've got a lot of guys back."

The Hawkeyes must find a way to get Melsahn Basabe and Eric May going again. The former is suffering through a season-long funk and the latter is reverting to the cacoon that encapsilated him during much of last season.

Basabe scored two points for the third game in a row Saturday, struggling through foul trouble. May started but played just 11 minutes. He finished with two points and a rebound.

On the bright side, point guard Bryce Cartwright played Saturday with the energy he showed last season. He took control and made things happen. Perhaps it was the step needed to get May and Basabe going again.

Half-court defense and rebounding stand out as the biggest concerns heading into the second half of the non-conference slate. They're trends that need to be reversed.

IPFW outrebounded the Hawkeyes, 30-26, and scored 43, second-half points. For the second game in a row, they let the team's star player stand out. Mastadons guard Frank Gaines netted 25 points.

"If you mark a guy, he can't come in and get 25," McCaffery said. "You can't cover a guy that talented who has that much of a green light with one person. That's a collective recognition."

The Iowa players looked a little relieved in Saturday's postgame interview session. Many of them have been a part of games like this one that have gone the other way.

The jury is still out as to whether this was a big enough improvement from earlier in the week or just another case of outmanning an inferior opponent. Confidence and emotion can be funny things.

After Clemson, Iowa plays host to Brown next Saturday. Then, it's in-state time with road trips to Northern Iowa and Iowa State and Drake paying a visit to Iowa City.

The confidence gained from Saturday, at whatever level that went up, can quickly go away. Then it becomes even harder to retrieve.

The time is now for this Iowa basketball team to make its move before it's too late. We know how big the snowball can get when it continues down the hill.

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