IOWA CITY — No matter who you speak to in the Iowa basketball program these days, the same word continually pops up.
The Hawkeyes have played very well in spurts so far this season, but haven’t sustained much of anything in getting off to a 4-3 start. They’ve been consistently inconsistent.
They would like to get that straightened out today when they open Big Ten play earlier than ever before with a 4 p.m. game against Penn State (6-2) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
There is no better example of the Hawkeyes’ inconsistency than their most recent game — a 79-55 loss to Virginia Tech on Tuesday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. They played perhaps their best first half of the season and were tied with the nation’s top-scoring team at halftime, then were an erratic, panicky mess while being outscored 41-17 in the second half.
“We were inconsistent in a lot of areas,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “There was times when we did everything we wanted to do, and there was times where we didn't do anything we were supposed to do, and that's obviously concerning. You've got to get that straightened out.’’
Sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon, who was held scoreless in the second half against Virginia Tech, said it’s reminiscent of last season when the Hawkeyes started 3-5 before getting their act together.
“We did the same thing where we wouldn’t put 40 minutes together last year,’’ he said. “We’re doing really well in some spurts through the games these first couple of games, but we’re not putting it all together.’’
While the shortcomings have been mostly on defense so far, the primary problem at Virginia Tech was at the offensive end of the court. The Hawkeyes got stagnant on offense, then began throwing up bad shots, missing 17 in a row. It just snowballed from there as the Hokies continually got easy baskets in transition.
“Bad offense led to bad defense,’’ junior Nicholas Baer said.
McCaffery admitted there is a little bit of a “learning curve’’ for his team. He has only one senior scholarship player (Dom Uhl) and he has played only 20 minutes in the first seven games. His top seven scorers are all sophomores and freshmen.
But he said the learning curve shouldn’t be this steep. Most of the same players performed well last season when his only senior, Peter Jok, was sidelined by injuries.
“We had a lot of guys who played a lot last year,’’ added Isaiah Moss, who had his worst game of the season while scoring just two points Tuesday. “Jordan, Tyler (Cook), Cordell (Pemsl), Baer, Ahmad (Wagner). Everybody played a lot. So there’s really no excuse.’’
Baer, who saw his first action of the season at Virginia Tech after missing six games with a broken finger, agreed with that.
“The other team doesn’t really care how young we are once we get out there,’’ he said. “It’s more about competing and we have to work on executing some of our sets, things like that. We just need to continue to compete hard and cover up some of those things with effort.’’
Both Baer and McCaffery said they felt much better after a surprisingly calm review of the video of the Virginia Tech loss.
“One thing that stood out to me about that was just how informative it was, just pointing out that there were things in the first half that we did really well, pointing out those things and that we need to continue doing that, but also pointing out the deficiencies, things we didn’t do very well,’’ Baer said. “It was kind of like a classroom setting, question and answer type stuff. I think we really grew from that film session and I think we’ll be a lot better on Saturday.’’
--Freshman guard Connor McCaffery still has not been cleared to practice fully after a recent bout with mononucleosis. Head coach Fran McCaffery said his son has been doing non-contact things in workouts and he’s hopeful he will receive medical clearance to do more next week.
--Coach McCaffery said junior forward Nicholas Baer probably was a little rusty while making just two of nine shots from the field in his return to action Tuesday night. “I think a little anxious, too …’’ McCaffery added. “I thought he was maybe a little overaggressive offensively, but typically he's really good.’’