IOWA CITY, Iowa — Every team listens to music during pregame warmups.
Iowa may want to rock out to the Righteous Brothers before hosting Omaha on Saturday (2 p.m. ET, BTN-Plus) because the team has apparently “Lost That Loving Feeling.”
Iowa isn’t playing defense to an acceptable level through seven games, and forward Cordell Pemsl sees only one solution.
“We still need to step up and just understand that we got to learn to love defense,” Pemsl said.
The Hawkeyes need to embrace keeping opponents from scoring as much they enjoy hitting a big shot.
Their 101.1 KenPom adjusted D figure, a metric that measures how many points a team would allow in 100 possessions, is 142nd nationally. Notre Dame topped Iowa 92-78 on Tuesday because of defensive lapses. The Fighting Irish shot 47.3 percent and hit 10 threes.
“Defensively, 32 minutes were solid,” Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon said. “Then we had really good energy.”
The problem is the rest of the game. Iowa has yet to put a complete defensive effort together. It was an issue before Iowa coach Fran McCaffery inserted guard Isaiah Moss, Pemsl and Bohannon in the starting lineup. It continued to be a problem once the changes took hold this week.
Four opponents have hit the 80-point mark and five shot at least 45 percent.
“We did not play really good defense for 40 minutes, and that’s what’s going to have to happen,” said McCaffery of the Notre Dame game. “Our ball screen defense was really good, really good, and then all of a sudden it wasn’t so good.”
It’s easy to love offense. Scoring baskets brings accolades, awards and recognition. Defense can be an acquired taste and the Hawkeyes are still developing an affinity for it.
Pemsl sees a team full of scorers who want to push the pace. Points won’t be the problem for this team. How Iowa can excel at getting stops will dictate how well the Hawkeyes do.
“Right now, we are OK with trying to outscore a team,” Pemsl said. “If we can get enough points that we will be fine. Realistically, we are going to score the ball as a team. We have plenty of guys that can go out and score in a variety of ways.
“As long as we learn to love to play defense and get stops our defense will result in points. Right now, we are content with going back and forth with having a close game.”
Pemsl views defense almost as a mind over body situation. The improvement won’t come if Iowa doesn’t commit to it.
“We have to push one another,” Pemsl said. “A lot of guys would rather just go score the ball, but we have a lot of guys who may not be putting up a lot of points, but the result of that is them going down on the other end and playing good defense. We have guys that play excellent defense, but we all have to be on that same page.”
On some possessions, it doesn’t appear that Iowa is reading the same book. The problems start with off-the-ball defense.
“We really need to help the helper,” Pemsl said. “That’s our big problem right now. We have help-side defense, but that guy behind the helper is getting caught up.”
The Mavericks (3-4) will stress Iowa (3-4) defensively. They can score inside and out as forward Tre-Shawn Thurman and guards Tra-Deon Hollins, Marcus Tyus and Zach Jackson each average at least 10.9 points per game. Tyus went off for 33 points against USC in November.
“They can score,” Pemsl said
Omaha is just the kind of team the Hawkeyes need right now. They’ll need a few stops, not just their offense, to get a victory this weekend.
“If we learn to love to play defense we’ll be fine,” Pemsl said.
It’s time to cue the Righteous Brothers.