IOWA CITY, Iowa — No, the Iowa men’s basketball season isn’t going how the Hawkeyes want. Six losses in the first 11 games isn’t what they expected. Four games remain before the team resumes Big Ten play in January.
How does Iowa turn around its season? Here are five things the Hawkeyes can do to move past the early season struggles.
1. Stick with zone
Defense wasn’t going to be this team’s strength. Still, the Hawkeyes are worse than expected on the defensive end. They rank No. 115 in the KenPom adjusted defensive ratings. They reside in the same neighborhood as the 2016-17 squad and its No. 123 ranking.
At various times, Iowa’s interior, perimeter, transition, on-ball and 3-point defense have struggled this season.
The best answer for the Hawkeyes to find improvement on defense is by committing to a zone. They played it against Southern and held the Jaguars to 30 percent shooting. Yes, Southern is ranked No. 332 in the KenPom rankings, but the key to a better defense likely lies in Iowa’s performance against the 2-8 team.
“[The zone] wasn’t very good before,” coach Fran McCaffery said. “It was just change for change sake. It wasn’t effective.
“Our best defense was man-to-man and quite honestly that wasn’t very good [on Sunday]. So I thought our activity, our ability to recognize where we’re moving, when we’re moving, why we’re moving, was much better [in the zone] and hopefully that will continue.”
2. Ball security
At times, the offense seems as inconsistent as the defense. The biggest reason is turnovers. Holding on to the basketball is a problem, especially in losses.
All of Iowa’s offensive problems won’t vanish if the turnovers disappear, but putting a bigger emphasis on protecting the basketball is the easiest solution to a more efficient offense.
“Some of it is a little bit of lack of focus,” forward Nicholas Baer said after the 84-78 Iowa State loss last Thursday. “Obviously, we want to try to get the ball to our scorers, but I think another thing is people are pressuring us and we have to be strong with the ball and have to continue to make good decisions.”
3. Get Jordan Bohannon on track
The point guard’s season isn’t as bad as it seems. His 12.5 points and 45.6 percent 3-point shooting are slightly better than last year.
The problem is Bohannon went into a funk at the worst time of the December schedule. He scored only 15 points, shot 5 of 14 and committed 8 turnovers in Iowa’s first two Big Ten games. Opponents pressed Bohannon, trying to force his hand. It worked.
“I think a lot of that has to do with me trying to do a little too much and trying to get myself going,” Bohannon said. “[I] didn’t really stay to my principles of what I grew up playing basketball of letting the game come to me.”
Getting Bohannon back on track is a delicate process. He doesn’t want to force things, but Iowa needs him to score and pick up some of the perimeter scoring slack with Peter Jok off in the pros.
He’s the best perimeter scoring option. The better Bohannon plays, the better Iowa’s offense will look.
4. Find a second ball handler
Bohannon is the starting point guard, but he’s more of a combo guard than a natural pass-first point guard. The return of Connor McCaffery from mono should help limit Bohannon’s minutes and give him chances to play with another distributor on the floor, allowing Bohannon time to hunt his shot rather than always getting Iowa into its offense.
Maishe Dailey is another option as a second ball handler. At times, he’s looked good when pressed into point guard duty.
5. Set a rotation
Fran McCaffery isn’t afraid to play up to 11 players. He loves his team’s depth, but for a squad struggling with consistency, having players know their specific roles may be best.
This goes against McCaffery’s coaching history, but shortening the rotation and sticking with a set rotation of eight or nine players may give the team the focus and direction it needs to help move past its current issues.