The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Name of the game: DEFENSE


The Iowa men’s basketball team, now ranked No. 3 in the nation by the Associated Press, won its fifth game against a ranked opponent this season with an 83-71 victory over No. 22 Purdue on Sunday.

Iowa’s shooting made the final score look more comfortable than the game was, and the team’s defense was the difference against the talented Boilermakers.

For as much attention as the Hawkeyes’ offense has received, the tenacious defense has crippled some of the Big Ten’s best offenses without a lot of notice.

Take Michigan State, for example. Iowa has swept the Spartans with a 13-point victory at home and a 17-point victory in East Lansing. There’s only one team with a better assist to turnover ratio than Michigan State (Iowa), and in two meetings against the Hawkeyes, Tom Izzo’s typically heady and disciplined team has averaged only 12.5 assists as opposed to 16 turnovers.

Where the Spartans are fourth with a .477 team shooting percentage from the floor, Iowa has limited them to only 42 percent, twice. Purdue has the third-highest scoring offense, scoring 79.1 points per game, but was held to 63 and 71.

Standing 7-0 and tied for first in the Big Ten, Iowa has shown an ability to consistently force its opponents to underperform. The Hawkeyes have held six of their seven opponents to below their season averages by an average of 10.8 points.

It starts with head coach Fran McCaffery. The former Siena coach came to Iowa City with the reputation of running an up-tempo offense, but in reality, he places a relentless emphasis on defense. His team accrued 9 steals and 4 blocks and forced 17 Purdue turnovers on Sunday, and McCaffery wanted more.

“Defense was really good today,” he said. “It was not what it needed to be for 40 minutes. Luckily it was good when it needed to be, and we turned that into offense … but I’d like to see it be even more consistent for 40 minutes.”

To ask his defense to be as suffocating as it was in the second half for an entire game is a high order, but given how much his team has improved, he may just get his wish.

This, the same team that allowed 76 points in a loss to Division-2 Augustana in November, now puts the clamps down on NBA prospects and top-ranked teams. The Hawkeyes have improved drastically as a team and individually, perhaps nobody more than junior guard Peter Jok.

Jok has been scoring at an impressive rate, but he also has quietly turned into quite the playmaker on the defensive end. After entering the game against Purdue third in the Big Ten in steals, a three-steal performance with a block to boot now has him alone at the top, averaging 1.6 per game.

“It’s all mental,” Jok said. “Our coaches say if you want to be great, I have to play at both ends. My teammates needed me to play both ends, so I just go out there and play the best defense I can. I’ve just been engaged on defense.”

Combined with Jarrod Uthoff’s league-leading 3 blocks per game, the Big Ten’s deadliest scoring duo (33.6 points per game combined) also are the leaders in both steals and blocks.

Iowa is firing on all cylinders right now on both ends of the floor, which is how it is ranked No. 3 and a chance at No. 1 with a big matchup at No. 8 Maryland on Thursday. The Hawks pay no attention to records or rankings, however; they are solely focused on consistent continued improvement.

“It’s a great start,” guard Mike Gesell said. “We’ve still got a lot of work left. We’re not even halfway through the Big Ten season, but we’re sitting in a good spot right now. But we’re definitely not hanging our hats on that, and we’re just going to go back to work.


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