Point/Counterpoint | Why is Iowa men’s basketball struggling?
Two DI staffers try to determine what has been ailing Iowa men’s basketball over the last few weeks.
February 9, 2021
C.J. Fredrick is out
It’s no secret that Iowa men’s basketball has been fighting through a midseason tailspin of late. The Hawkeyes have dropped four of their last five contests, and now sit at No. 15 in the AP Top 25 Poll — down from a season-high ranking as No. 3.
What does seem to be a mystery is the reason for which Iowa is struggling. Some might contend that the Hawkeyes’ defense is the source of their problems, while others believe coaching deficiencies are bogging Iowa down.
What’s plagued the Hawkeyes of late isn’t poor defense or coaching, it’s the injury bug. While Iowa isn’t nursing an array of its players back to health, it is still missing one key piece.
Sophomore guard and starter C.J. Fredrick is the only Hawkeye that has missed time with an injury this year. According to an Iowa men’s basketball spokesman, Fredrick has been dealing with a lower leg injury that’s held him out of the Hawkeyes’ matchups with No. 6 Illinois, No. 4 Ohio State, and Indiana.
Fredrick’s bum leg also forced him to miss most of Iowa’s Jan. 21 matchup with Indiana and its game against Michigan State.
The commonality in each of Iowa’s four most recent losses is Fredrick missing time or sitting the game out entirely.
Prior to Fredrick’s injury, Iowa was ranked fifth in the nation per the AP poll. The Hawkeyes had defeated then-No. 14 Rutgers on the road, thrashed the then-No. 19 Northwestern Wildcats by double digits twice, beaten Maryland by 22 points on the road, and downed then-No. 16 Minnesota at home by 15.
Then, Fredrick began missing time. When he sat out the second half of Iowa’s Jan. 21 matchup with Indiana, the Hawkeyes did not score for nearly 11 minutes and lost, 81-69.
After that, the Hawkeyes fell to Illinois, Ohio State, and Indiana by single digits.
On the season, Fredrick is averaging nearly nine points per game. Add Fredrick’s average nine points to the Hawkeyes’ totals in all four of their most recent losses, and Iowa would be 3-1 in those four games.
Yes, Iowa men’s basketball is slipping right now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t find its footing when Fredrick returns.
Defensive issues plague the Hawkeyes
Obviously, the absence of sophomore guard and starter C.J. Fredrick over the last couple of weeks has contributed to No. 15 Iowa’s recent skid. Even after Fredrick returns, however, the Hawkeyes will still face a bevy of issues.
The Hawkeyes aren’t balanced enough to consistently win in the Big Ten Conference. They have become too reliant on their offense to win games. According to KenPom, the Hawkeyes have the best offense and 121st-ranked defense in all of college basketball. Per KenPom, Iowa’s defense is the worst in the Big Ten.
Iowa’s elite offense allows it to get away with playing subpar defense at times, but that isn’t a recipe for a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Only one team has made the final four in the last decade with a KenPom defensive rating lower than 47th.
As good as the Big Ten is this year, Iowa can’t afford play poorly on the defensive end of the floor. Defensive stops are the key to winning games late. If Iowa is trailing late in games, it seemingly can’t get the stops it needs to win.
When the offense is firing on all cylinders, the Hawkeyes are almost unstoppable. If the offense struggles, however, Iowa struggles — primarily because its defense isn’t good enough to win games.
Iowa’s defensive problems are fixable. At times, the Hawkeyes have had nice spurts defensively. But until the defense starts to regularly play better, it’s difficult to see the Hawkeyes making a deep run in March.