Howe: Time to Counter

Iowa has allowed the opponent to dictate tempo during a stretch in which the Hawkeyes have lost five of six games. Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe writes that it's time for a counter attack.

Iowa has gotten away from what it does best. With diminishing returns, it's time to recall what made the Hawkeyes a Top 10 team less than two months ago.

When things were going well, Iowa forced a feverish tempo. The Hawkeyes imposed their will. They were the aggressor, ran up and down the floor and shook rims with rattling dunks.

Opponents saw what they were up against and slowed the pace. And it wasn't just the back of Big Ten, like Penn State and Purdue. Michigan State and Ohio State, programs that enjoy running, also forced Iowa into a half-court game.

The tactic is working. The Hawkeyes limp into Thursday's Big Ten Tournament having lost five of their last six games. Their opponent, Northwestern, will look to slow things down, according to their first-year coach, Chris Collins.

Don't let the Wildcats do it. It's their best, and probably only, chance at the upset.

Northwestern allowed Iowa to score 93 points in their first meeting on Jan. 9. The Hawkeyes held a 17-2 advantage in fast-break points and scored 16 off of 15 Wildcat turnovers.

Collins forced Iowa into the half-court in the rematch two weeks later. While the Hawkeyes came away with their second, 26-point victory against Northwestern, they netted just two transition points and caused only 10 turnovers. Their superior talent helped them dominate the boards and their bench to outscore the Wildcats, 32-13.

The Northwestern blueprint was followed by the Hawkeyes' remaining foes, at least to some extent. Not everybody dropped four and five guys back on defense after they shot as did the Wildcats.

Illinois and Ohio State reversed their fortunes against the Hawkeyes by slowing them down.

When Iowa won, 84-74, in Columbus on Jan. 12, it held a 15-4 advantage in fast-break points and turned over the Buckeyes 17 times. When OSU came away from Iowa City with a 76-69 victory on Feb. 4, it outscored the home team, 8-5, in transition.

Illinois allowed the Hawkeyes to best it 10-0 on fast-break points in an 81-74 home loss Feb. 1. Saturday, the Illini upset Iowa, 66-63, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, outscoring Iowa 6-2 in transition.

Since the second Northwestern game, the Hawkeyes have posted a 4-7 record. In those 11 games, they held an advantage in fast-break points five times, winning four of them (Wisconsin was lone loss).

Cashing in on easy baskets hasn't been an absolute indicator of Iowa's success. They scored 19 transition points in a 93-86 loss at Indiana. The Hoosiers netted 21 fast-break points.

The point is that the Hawkeyes are built to run and their chances to win increase when they do. There aren't many, if any, players on the roster more effective in the half-court than on the break.

Iowa stands at the mercy of any team that drops everybody back after missing a shot. The Wildcats most assuredly will employ this strategy Thursday night, making it virtually impossible to beat them down the court.

The Hawkeyes still can attempt to force tempo against Northwestern and others. It's time to stop being passive.

Iowa should press, more often than not, on its made baskets and stoppages where it requires the opponent to travel the length of the floor. Even if the other team breaks the pressure, it will have less time on the shot clock to run half-court sets. The Hawkeyes also won't need to play defense for as long when they cross the timeline, an area of weakness with a lack of strong on-ball defenders.

The Illini led late on Saturday, requiring Iowa to pressure full-court. The Hawkeyes came up with a quick steal and basket to tie the game.

Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery talked on Tuesday about playing a smaller lineup recently to counter opponents doing the same. They're doing it partly in an attempt to discourage the Hawkeyes from pressing.

If the other squads play smaller lineups and McCaffery is countering that, Iowa might as well press. It boasts a deep bench and long, athletic players like Roy Devyn Marble, Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe and Jarrod Uthoff, to name a few. Take advantage of your strengths.

The Hawkeyes will get beat playing this way. They'll give up some easy baskets at times. But they're allowing them now with porous half-court defense that often relinquishes open three-pointers.

McCaffery deserves some understanding during a rigorous run that saw Iowa play six games in the final 15 days of the regular season, including three mid-week road trips. It's difficult to play a frantic pace under those circumstances.

One might say that a tournament setting offers the same resistance. The difference is that the opponents face the same rest periods, for the most part, and travel isn't involved. And, again, Iowa can go deeper than most teams.

McCaffery also mentioned on Tuesday that some of his players aren't performing as well as they were a month ago. Well, they showed more energy when they were attacking the enemy instead of waiting to be attacked.

This idea isn't the cure for all of Iowa's recent Ills. The Hawkeyes still need to be able to perform better when the game is contested in the half-court.

Just don't allow teams to relax and settle in there. If they're also forced to deal with pressure, their legs won't be as peppy to shoot threes or be as fresh when they have to play defense.

Iowa has conceded way too much in permitting teams to dictate tempo in the last month and a half. It's time for the Hawkeyes to get back to what they do best. Just run, baby.

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