Iowa fans must be in full-fledged panic mode now.
The 16th-ranked Hawkeyes have lost control of their season. Once a 19-4 team with a 10-1 record atop the Big Ten, Iowa is now in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the latest letdown coming on Tuesday at home, on Senior Night, against No. 12 Indiana.
IU’s win (which was very shaky; Iowa rallied hard and made it interesting, at least) means the Hoosiers will win sole possession of this year’s Big Ten regular-season title, the 22nd in program history. It’s an incredible accomplishment, considering coach Tom Crean lost McDonald’s All-American James Blackmon, Jr. in December. And let’s remember just how bad Indiana looked on D to start the year. Crean’s pulled off one of his best coaching jobs this season. IU is 24-6 overall and on track for a No. 3 seed.
But you can read all about Indiana and Crean right here. That’s my colleague Gary Parrish’s column from Tuesday, which puts into scope what this season turned into — and why Indiana fans should give Crean a pass no matter what comes later this month.
The bigger story is Iowa. Fran McCaffery had a national player of the year candidate for about a month in Jarrod Uthoff for, but on the whole this team is lapsing way too much on defense. The offense had a dozen or more possessions on Tuesday that looked straight out of a bad AAU game. Just weird. Iowa missed 11 straight shots in the final four minutes. Iowa is good. I’ve seen Iowa look really good on many occassions this season.
Then there’s stuff like tonight. And that blown 20-point lead at Iowa State in December. And getting worked at home by Wisconsin a week ago. For Hawkeye fans this turn has to feel reminiscent of the season that fizzled two years ago, when Iowa started 15-3 but finished 20-13 and was bounced in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament by Tennessee. The Hawkeyes sit at 20-9, have lost five of their last six, and face a road game on Saturday against an eager Michigan team on the bubble.
Iowa’s gonna be in the tournament. That’s a guarantee. But it’s now played itself out of geographic preference for the NCAAs, and more importantly, it’s completely been taken out of its element and rhythm. Fortunately, conference tournaments exists, and coaches will tell you those things can do wonders — sometimes — in getting a team right. Maybe this group needs a change of scenery, a sense of real urgency.
Then again, if losing four straight doesn’t bring a sense of urgency now, who’s to say anything different will come with this team in two weeks?