Opinion | Settle down and move on, Iowa men’s basketball fans

The loss to Illinois over the weekend hurts, but the pain shouldn’t linger.


Kate Heston

Friday, Jan. 29, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp (10) dribbles past Illinois Guard Ayo Dosunmu (11) during the Iowa v. Illinois basketball game at State Farm Center Friday night. Illinois beat the Hawks, 80-75.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Two weeks ago, the Hawkeye men’s basketball team was ranked No. 4 in the nation and just won its fifth conference game in a row, a 23-point thrashing of Northwestern on national television.

After Iowa’s 80-75 loss to No. 19 Illinois at The State Farm Center on Friday, the Hawkeyes are on a two-game losing skid and could be without starting guard C.J. Fredrick for multiple games.

So, now what?

The highly anticipated Iowa-Illinois showdown saw 23 lead changes in 40 minutes of play and was competitive from the opening tip. It was the best men’s college basketball game I’ve watched the entire season.

Iowa’s loss hurt, but settle down, Hawkeye fans. The pain shouldn’t linger.

And there are positives to take away from the performance.

The team played well when Luka Garza was forced to the bench with foul trouble, even though the lineup was already down a starter in Fredrick. And those same players will be key while Fredrick, who has missed the last 1.5 games and is listed as day-to-day, continues to recover.

Keegan Murray started his first game and tallied eight points and eight rebounds. Jack Nunge played stellar defense against Kofi Cockburn when Garza wasn’t on the court, blocking four shots. Joe Toussaint’s quickness and playmaking ability was on display.

Even freshman Tony Perkins contributed on the floor at crucial times.

“He’s figuring it out,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “… That bodes well for the future in terms of our depth. And we were in position to win, when Luka hardly played. That’s unfortunate. Other guys have to grow up, and they did.”

Garza sat on the bench for extended portions of the second half because of foul trouble and was victim to a very questionable fourth foul call (which is a kind way to describe it).

RELATED: Overturned goaltending call, missed opportunities late cost Iowa in loss to Illinois

The Hawkeyes only shot six free throws the entire game, and none in the final 10 minutes of game time. Garza was limited to only one free-throw attempt.

“That’s a great observation by you,” McCaffery said to a reporter after the game when asked about Iowa’s lack of free throw attempts, clearly venting his frustration toward the officiating. “You’re a smart guy. You really are a smart guy. Either that, or I’ve got to do a much better job of getting Luka Garza to the free-throw line, apparently. I’m just a horrendous coach. Just one free throw. That’s my fault. I’ll take full blame for that.”

Not to make excuses for Iowa, but that’s a lot to have to battle through to play as good a game as the team did on the road against Illinois (And I didn’t even get into the goaltending situation). With some better late-game execution, Iowa probably wins that game.

Moving forward, the loaded next week of Iowa’s schedule offers plenty of opportunities for the Hawkeyes to bounce back. Iowa went eight days without a game before playing Illinois. The team now has a scrunched schedule featuring three games in a six-day span.

First, against Michigan State — a typical conference power that is faltering this season, but still a team Iowa hasn’t defeated since 2016. Then, another home game against a top-20 team in Ohio State two days later on Thursday. And finally, on Sunday, a road game against Indiana that serves as a chance for revenge after the loss to the Hoosiers on Jan. 21.

Losing a close game against a rival is tough. And Iowa is dealing with that frustration right now.

That said, Iowa is hardly alone in losing over the weekend. On Saturday alone, the No. 8, 9, 11, 14, 15, 16, and 21 teams in the nation lost. In the Big Ten, a losing streak seems inevitable.

The most important takeaway from Friday was, even in a loss, nothing Iowa did or didn’t do against Illinois showed it isn’t still one of the best teams in the country.

Iowa will bounce back. Good luck to the teams who have to deal with that.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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