McCaffery struggling with Iowa's defensive struggles

2012-02-01T16:00:00Z 2012-02-22T03:23:02Z McCaffery struggling with Iowa's defensive strugglesBy AARON BRENNER, abrenner@qctimes.com Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier
February 01, 2012 4:00 pm  • 

IOWA CITY, Iowa --- Nobody will confuse Fran McCaffery for a defensive wizard.

He comes right out and admits as such.

"Nothing's changed. Over the years, my philosophy is we want to go. We want to push the ball," Iowa's second-year head coach said. "I'm okay giving up a certain number of points as long as our offense is superior."

Oil and water might not be the proper metaphor, but, well, shootouts are something of a novelty in Big Ten Conference men's basketball. The idea of Indiana and Iowa playing a 103-89 game Sunday - which was higher-scoring than five out of eight NBA games played that same day - is fairly mind-boggling to a predominantly defensive-minded league.

The tempo is to McCaffery's liking. The results are not - five of six losses, allowing an average of 81.2 points during the stretch.

"I don't mind being in a 103-89 game. I just don't want to have 89. I don't want to give up 103," McCaffery said. "I want to score more, so I'm going to give up more. I'm okay with that. But we can't have the stretches where they're scoring 11 possessions in a row, or 21 out of 25 possessions in a row. You can't win playing defense that way."

The Hawkeyes (11-11, 3-6 Big Ten), who attempt to get back on track tonight against Minnesota (16-6, 4-5) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, have accomplished what their coaches want offensively, fostering the league's fastest offense at 69.9 possessions per game. However, by allowing 73.0 points over 22 games, Iowa also is the Big Ten's least efficient team defensively even after removing the pace factor.

"I think some of us want to get out and run, but we need to get the ball. That's number one," senior guard Matt Gatens said after Iowa was outrebounded 37-22 in Bloomington.

"That's something where all of us need to look in the mirror and concentrate on getting the rebound - then we can run."

History proves McCaffery's claim he doesn't mind the high scores - barring a dramatic turnaround, this will be his 13th team in 16 head coaching seasons allowing opponents 70 points per game on defense. He said he doesn't establish particular numerical goals or chart every possession.

"Along the way, you develop a sense of, we need a stop," McCaffery said. "We need to buckle down or slow it down or make it a half-court game. That's what my influences have been."

Those mentors are former Notre Dame bosses John MacLeod (1991-99) and Digger Phelps (1971-91) along with McCaffery's college coach at Penn, Bob Weinhauer.

MacLeod liked to run, but his teams would dig in defensively at half court. Phelps and Weinhauer cultivated a series of changing defensive looks.

"To be honest with you, I have never gone through, with any team I have ever been associated with, what we're going through right now," McCaffery said. "I am really working hard to try to get it corrected."

Iowa is currently on track to post the league's worst defensive output in the past decade, topping Penn State's 72.9 points allowed in the 2002-03 season. The Hawkeyes haven't allowed an average of more than 70 since 2000-01, a Steve Alford team that went 23-12 and reached the NCAA second round.

Freshman guard Josh Oglesby described a drill where scoring is contingent on stops, not scores, which Iowa does after poor defensive outputs. He believes Iowa is better on that end of the court than results have shown.

"We have strong, athletic guys," Oglesby said. "Matt is a good defender, (Devyn) Marble is quick, long and lanky, Bryce (Cartwright) is quick and strong. I think it's just our focus going into the game, locking down the person in front of you."

The frustration is clear. Whether Iowa can turn it around must wait for tonight and the remaining nine games.

"Way too many layups, way too many dunks, and we need to clean it up," Gatens said. "It's disappointing that they're that easy."

Iowa at Minnesota

When: 7:36 p.m., tonight

Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: WHO (1040 AM); WMT (600 AM)

Copyright 2015 Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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