Inside Iowa Basketball with Karen Schulte

After a blistering nonconference season, the Hawkeyes have cooled considerably having lost three straight games. Our resident women's basketball expert, Hawkeye Radio Color Analyst and CBS-2 Cedar Rapids anchor Karen Schulte, talks candidly about the team's play heading into Thursday's game at Northwestern.

The last time we spoke, Iowa was about to travel to Purdue. And the team is riding a three-game skid. What are some of things happening or not happening now that were different than when this team was so successful in the nonconference season?

When you look at this team and the loss to Wisconsin (on Sunday), which was so disappointing, the other five games that the Hawkeyes have lost, realistically on paper, those were games they were supposed to lose. This one was a given. It had to be a win on your home court against a team that has seven wins on the season.

Now, truthfully, after losing (Sunday), it really opened my eyes and I did a recap of the way that the Big Ten season has been for the Hawkeyes. And realistically, they haven't played good against any top-ranked team. Even in the wins, Indiana, they came back and made it closer than it should have been. Northwestern was only a five-point win.

That scares me going into Evanston for Thursday because the Hawkeyes have gotten worse since we played them. Northwestern has done nothing but get better.

Iowa has not been playing good ball in the Big Ten. Their record right now is obviously an indication of that. They were getting by accepting, well, yeah, Minnesota is probably going to beat us, of course Michigan State, Ohio State. But now, this is a rude awakening for them.

The biggest thing that I can see is their defense has gone to heck because we're playing better teams that have scouted Iowa. They can shoot from outside. Iowa is horrible at defending the three. And our perimeter players can't stop the ball. If you're giving up 88 points to Wisconsin, that's a big time black eye.

The other thing is turnovers. The things that Iowa was doing in their first 13 games to make up for their lack of athleticism, and I'm not saying that these players aren't athletic, but comparably to other teams, especially in the Big Ten, Iowa is not an athletic team.

When they were successful, they were relying on fundamentals and good execution. They were stepping to meet passes. They were making the wise decision with their passes. They weren't forcing things inside when they weren't there. They were reading the defenses better.

Now, they're rushing through it. They're careless with the ball. They're not valuing each and every offensive possession. And when you're struggling on defense and you're turning the ball over, those two things will inevitably equal a loss every time out.

Is there something they can do defensively? Are they playing zone?

They're trying to mix it up, and Coach Bluder recognizes that they can't stay player-to-player against most teams. They have to try to mix it up a little bit.

My frustration is that they may not be as quick, they may not be as good of jumpers, but I'm not even seeing it in the effort right now. They're forgetting their defensive assignments. They gravitate towards the ball too much. They forget who they're supposed to be having. They don't talk. They don't communicate. They don't help out. And they seem to be a step slow.

That's not the fault of the coaches. I've seen the scouting reports. I've seen them go through it at shootaround. The players know going into games what is expected of them.

Against Wisconsin, they played intense. They played like a team that had just got beat by 31 points. They played like a team that wanted to get back on the winning track for the first seven minutes. And that was it. They forgot and went away from it.

I just don't see an effort. I just don't see the intensity. Maybe it's time for Bluder to get hard on this team. I know all along she said that she really needs to help these young, inexperienced players along; that they need to be very positive; that they need to nurture and foster them along.

But after the nature and the manner in which they've lost these last few games it's maybe time for a little tail chewing. That's unfortunate.

I'm not saying I was a great intimidator or a great floor leader, but I would take it personally if I got beat by 31 points. I would be mad as heck. I challenge these Iowa players to feel that, to know that they shouldn't have gotten routed by Minnesota as much as they did.

For them to come back and not show more for 40 minutes, to put out that kind of display in their home court is just sad. I wanted to see more hunger. I wanted to see them get mad about that instead of rolling over and playing dead.

Does this team have adequate leadership from a player standpoint?

I don't think that they know where to go. Early on when they were winning, I specifically remember talking to Jamie Cavey and I said, "Why is this working?" She said, "Because we don't have one star on this team. We know that everybody can contribute and that everybody is a key part. Everybody plays a role. It's not like in years passed when you had your go-to players."

Well, if that was the reason for success then perhaps that's a reason for their losses right now. They don't have somebody they can go to. They don't have somebody out there that's taking control.

If they get down, they all kind of just subside instead of one player emerging and taking control. And I don't even mean taking all the shots. I just mean gathering their team in huddles and demanding more out of their teammates.

There needs to be more leadership. There needs to be somebody assertive out there. There needs to be somebody that maybe intimidates the other players.

Quite honestly I look at that roster and I don't know who if anybody is capable of being that type of player. It's not their temperament. It's not their personality.

Is this team not tough enough, maybe not mentally tough enough?

I don't think they are, at least not right now. If they were, they would have secured that victory (Sunday).

What they've shown me is that they're playing not to lose. They're not playing to win when they go out there right now.

I don't want to say that this is do or die, but shoot, these games are getting to be awfully important. If they don't want to go to the NIT, they need to pick it up here real quick.

Going into that Minnesota game, there were eight games left on that schedule. Five of them should have been for sure wins. The three up in the air ones were Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State. If we could win one of those in addition to winning the five that we were supposed to, that would give us the six wins necessary for sure to go to the Big Ten Tournament without a lot of pressure on them.

After the way that they've been playing and the NCAA puts so much importance on the final 10 games of the season, they're going to look at the way that the Hawkeyes have been performing and I don't know for sure that the NCAA would take six. They're going to have to do a lot better and they're really pushing themselves into a corner because they're putting a lot of pressure on themselves in this final stretch if they don't want to be playing in the NIT.

So, do you think they're going to need to get one of the two, Michigan State or Ohio State?

They do. And gosh, don't I hope that this poor performance lately will mean that we can put it behind us if all if a sudden they can put on a great show against Ohio State and Michigan State.

Michigan State, we could have played a better game against them up in East Lansing had we made a basket or in that 10-minute stretch when we didn't score. Take away those 10 minutes and it would have been a closer game. That's a very winnable game if their heads are in the right place; if they're playing with heart; if they're playing aggressively; if they're playing passionate; playing like a team and just having fun out there.

Ohio State very well could be the No. 1 team in the nation when they come to Iowa City. They have a couple of cake games before they come to Iowa City. Maybe they're going to be vulnerable; Maybe we'll be able to catch them off guard.

I would have to think, no matter what state Iowa is in at that time, a lot of people would want to come see a No. 1 or No. 2 team in the nation at Carver.

And you hate to rely on a crowd, but maybe that would enough to get Iowa playing emotional, playing with heart, that kind of drive. Who knows?

But yeah, if they could win of one of those two that's certainly going to help their chances because that would be a quality win and it would help their RPI. But again, every one really is a consideration right now when you look at the NCAA chances.

Is it a benefit that Northwestern played the Hawkeyes tough in Carver heading into Thursday's rematch in Evanston?

The fact that Northwestern beat Penn State when Penn State was undefeated in Big Ten play and then played Purdue to a three-point game, that's a red flag and a cause for concern. What also is helpful is that Northwestern did play Iowa very well here and they beat them on the 3-point shot. Iowa has the tape that shows glaring examples of their vulnerability and their weaknesses.

Granted, you don't want to play those close games. But it's probably to their advantage. They are going to have to take it more seriously. Maybe they will give them more consideration than they would have otherwise. You would hope that they wouldn't overlook anybody. But potentially I could have seen them overlooking Northwestern ahead of Michigan State and Ohio State.

A lot was expected of Johanna Solverson this season. Where is here game?

Johanna, quite frankly, has got to step up. Going into (the Wisconsin) game, she had 21 points and 22 turnovers in the previous four games. She is trying to do too much. That's not to say that I don't want to see her shooting, I want to see her attacking the basket, but she forces a lot of things.

She needs to get back to doing those fundamental things, like making crisp passes, better decisions; knowing when to take the ball to the basket and when to pull it out and set up the offense.

How about Crystal Smith?

I feel bad for her. She has to run the point because there is nobody else that can consistently handle the ball well enough. And Crystal is not a true point guard. She should be at the two. She is the best player on the team without the ball. She is one of the few people that can get open. Now, we're handcuffing her because she has to bring the ball up the floor.

And Crystal will always get the toughest defensive opponent. She'll always be matched up against the best defender on the other team. It's a lot easier for her to get open and get her points when all that defender can do is chase her.

If she has the ball in her hands and she's waiting for her teammates to get open and make decent cuts and set screens, all of a sudden that defender's job is a lot easier. She's probably 50-75 percent the player she could be if she was running that two. That's unfortunate.

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