Iowa Hoops: Patience Required

Todd Lickliter knew that he had a rebuilding project on his hands when he took over the Iowa program. The 2007-2008 season has had its share of ups and downs, and is ending on a sour note. Jon Miller talks about that, as well as the future of the program. Plus, we offer a top of the fedora to Lisa Bluder's Hawkeyes & more in this Hawkeye hoops grab bag...

The Iowa Men's basketball team has to be feeling a little weary right about now. However, coach Todd Lickliter just refuses to believe that the fatigue is physical.

"I know this; I have played guys in the past longer minutes," Lickliter said following last night's loss to Illinois.

"We have really monitored practice and we have played deep into March (at Butler) with guys that have averaged 35 minutes a game. If it is fatigue, I feel bad; maybe they are not accustomed to it. But you play the hand you have been dealt and that is where we are at."

'Playing the hand they have been dealt' has been the biggest hurdle for year one of the Todd Lickliter era at Iowa.

We all know that he inherited an undermanned team, and that is with all due respect to the players who have worn the uniform this year. Iowa had just 10 recruited scholarship athletes on its team going into this year, and teams are allowed to have 13 players on scholarship at any one point in time.

One of those players (Jarryd Cole) missed the entire Big Ten portion of the schedule due to an ACL. One of those players (Tony Freeman) missed 10 games early on with a broken bone in his foot. One of those players (Jeff Peterson) has been bothered by a hand injury for three-quarters of the season. One of those players (David Palmer) has not played one second in 14 of Iowa's last 16 games and has played a total of 47 minutes this season. Little used J.R. Angle, another scholarship player, has played 216 minutes, so you can see the hole Palmer finds himself in.

Going into Saturday's game against Illinois, two of Iowa's nine available recruited scholarship athletes were averaging under three points per game.

None of this is to say that physical fatigue is settling in. Lickliter did relent a bit later on in Saturday's press conference when asked if mental fatigue was a factor for his team.

"When you think about some of the things we have done, we have worked hard, competed at a high level and we haven't always been rewarded and that is draining," Lickliter said. "Like at Penn State; you are working hard and you want to win, so how do you respond when you don't? I don't know if drained is the right word, but you lose your focus, possibly. But that is the way life is. You have to respond. This is just a game. You have to be able to respond to a game."

We have shared nearly ever one of Lickliter's public press conference words this year, and many of you have read all of them. Speaking for myself, I have been impressed with what he has said and how he has said it. I think I have been able to piece together the skeleton outline of what things may look like in the future.

But it's just going to take time.

I hope that the Iowa fan base isn't expecting an NCAA run next year, because you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Purdue is showing that nothing is impossible this year, on the verge of a Big Ten title with perhaps the youngest team in the league.

But Matt Painter has been on the bench there for three years now and he has recruited quite well. Lickliter is going to need another year or two to put the pieces together.

I also don't believe that he is going to be patient next season, either.

What I mean is that he will not just sit back and watch some of the same mistakes being made by the players that will return to the team next year.

I think we saw a glimpse of that on Saturday when Jeff Peterson played four minutes, all in the first half. Jeff was taken out of the game after leaving his feet, not finding anyone to pass the ball to, and then throwing an errant shot off the backboard as a bad bailout. He didn't see the floor again, and it's not like Tony Freeman, Justin Johnson or Jake Kelly couldn't have used a break in the second half.

It's pretty early to confidently speculate on Iowa's scholarship situation, but it will certainly be interesting to see how things unfold this spring. I think if Iowa gets three or four kids that want to come play ball for Lickliter, kids they have targeted this winter, they will find a home. The scholarships will be there for them. We can cross that bridge when we get a little closer to it, but it doesn't take an Einstein to figure that situation out.

I like Coach Lickliter's demeanor on the bench, in the press room and in public. I also think he has a no-nonsense, here is what I expect side of him in the locker room and on the practice floor.

Iowa has been out shot by an average of 5.43 field goals per game this season. Why is that? Primarily due to the fact that they are committing 4.13 more turnovers per game than their opponent is committing.

Iowa is averaging 15.8 turnovers per game this year, about three or four more per game than what Lickliter can probably live with, at a maximum.

His system has worked in the past because his teams are smarter with the basketball than their opponents are. His teams have won in the past because they are more mentally disciplined than their opponents are.

Those two aspects have not been closely associated with the Iowa basketball program for a long time, and it's going to take a few years to get that mindset out of the system.

Justin Johnson, Kurt Looby and Cyrus Tate are playing for their third coach, and third different system, in three years. That's one a year. Yes, those players are upper classmen, but just think about that for a second and you will understand some of the issues Iowa has had this year with consistency.

'Control' is not a word I would use to describe Tony Freeman's first two years at Iowa, though he did show more of it in year three than he ever had before.

Many of you are probably on the same side of the page as I am and as I have illustrated thus far. The losses as of late have been painful, so a reminder as to the why certainly helps me make it through the ups and downs.

This year was a first step. There were a few steps forward and a few steps backwards. In the end, the players coming back next year will provide a foundation for the new faces we will see in 2008-2009. Next year's freshmen will benefit from Kelly, Cole, Tate, Peterson and Freeman's year in the system.

But next year will provide its own share of growing pains.

I hope that Todd Lickliter still has not pulled out all the hairs on his head by the time 2009-2010 rolls around.

Congratulations to the Iowa Women's Basketball team and their first place finish in the Big Ten. It was Iowa's first regular season Big Ten title in 10 years and its ninth in the program's history.

The Hawks were picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack when the season kicked off back in November and they certainly outpaced expectations.

It was great to see Johanna Solverson play an entire year without a serious injury, and she capped off the regular season with a 31 point performance yesterday at Wisconsin, including 17 in the first ten and a half minutes of the game.

"I was ready to come out and play today. We had great support from our fans that traveled here today," Solverson said after the game. "We wanted to finish the season with a championship and we accomplished that goal."

Iowa will get the 2nd seed in the Big Ten tournament, and will play the winner of the 7 (Michigan)-10 (Penn State) game at 11:30am on Friday.

Iowa lost at Michigan by 17 and beat the Wolverines by five in Carver-Hawkeye. Iowa beat Penn State by nine on the road and eight at home.

The Iowa Wrestling Team will embark on a championship quest this weekend at the Big Ten Wrestling tournament. Seeds for the tournament will be released later this week and we will have those posted immediately.

Iowa is ranked #1 in each of the wrestling polls. 165-pound defending national champion Mark Perry will wrestle this weekend for Iowa. He has not taken the mat since aggravating a knee injury at the National Duals in mid January. Perry had surgery and has been on the mat practicing for the past two weeks.

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