Hawkeye basketball looks to improve defense

Iowa men’s basketball hopes to improve upon last year’s abysmal defensive play.


Ben Allan Smith

Iowa’s Cordell Pemsl (35) attempts to block a shot by Northwestern’s Anthony Gaines (11) during the Senior Day men’s basketball game between Iowa and Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats 77-70. (Ben Allan Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

It doesn’t take a basketball expert to tell that the Hawkeye men’s basketball team struggled on the defensive side of the ball last year.

The Hawkeyes finished 317th in the country in points allowed per game with 78.7 and 313th in opponent’s 3-point percentage allowing opponents to nail triples at a 37.6 percent clip. They also failed to create turnovers, ranking 317th in turnover margin last year at minus-2.2.

Captain Obvious says that’s not good.

Part of the lack of defensive production is because of coach Fran McCaffery’s philosophy as a coach.

“I’ve always been an offensive coach,” he said. “It’s always been, we’re going to put points on the board, we’re going to attack, essentially, we’re going to outscore you. Most of the time that’s worked.”

After last season, it was clear to McCaffery that, while he doesn’t have to completely change his philosophy, defense certainly needs to be a bigger focus.

“We really have spent a lot more time talking about defense, and defensive drills, and emphasizing defense, and trying to hold them accountable,” McCaffery said.

What exactly have the Hawkeyes been working on defensively?

“Everything,” said center Luka Garza. “Everything from our rotations to our close-out to our man [defense]. Coach has had a huge emphasis on that. Most of the drills have been defensive.”

Part of the defensive struggles from last year could have been from a lack of experience — 11 of 16 players were sophomores or younger.

Having another year working together while having the added focus on all things defense will certainly help improve last season’s dreadful defense.

“Not everyone last year had the best understanding of our defense,” Garza said. “This year, there has been more of an emphasis on everybody understanding it.”

One thing that a year’s experience helps with is chemistry, and where there is good chemistry, there is good communication.

That is something that has impressed senior Nicholas Baer.

“I’ve seen some improvement with our communication,” he said. “Our rotations are a lot better than they were last year already.”

Something that could help the defense this year would be creating more turnovers. Iowa struggled with that last season finishing 320th in forced turnovers, managing just 365 of them, which is around 11 per game.

That has to change, especially when the offense struggles with turnovers itself. Fixing the lack of turnovers has a lot to do with fundamentals and being prepared.

“If you’re where you’re supposed to be, you’re going to get more deflections and steals,” McCaffery said. “Because if you’re reacting, then you’re not going to steal the ball.”

What that means is preparation is of paramount importance. A player can’t anticipate what his opponent is going to do if he hasn’t seen what his opponent has done in the past.

Spending extra time in the film room this season will help the Hawkeyes be better prepared mentally this season, which might lead to more turnovers.

“Outside of effort, it’s all mental and preparation,” Tyler Cook said. “I think preparing for each and every opponent, just having a heads up and knowing going into the game what to expect. I think if we do that, and we focus in on being together on the defensive end, we’ll be in good shape.” 

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