Fran McCaffery

Iowa's Mike Gesell (10) and Illinois' Khalid Lewis (3) battle for a loose ball as an official tries to break them up in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

No. 20 Iowa loses to Illinois, suffering fifth loss in its last six games

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Having lost four of their last five games of the regular season, No. 20 Iowa looked to establish some positive momentum at the Big Ten tournament this weekend. A team that some believed to be the best in the conference at the end of January has fallen on hard times of late, and that continued Thursday afternoon as they lost to Illinois 68-66 in Indianapolis.

Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes have now lost five of their last six games. And even with their efforts to fight back from double-digit deficits on multiple occasions Thursday, one has to wonder if this team has the confidence needed to turn things around ahead of the NCAA tournament.

Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok, who have led the way offensively all season long, combined to score 50 points for Iowa. But, as has been the case in multiple games during this streak of losses, they didn’t receive much help from the supporting cast. Remove the eight points scored by Nicholas Baer off the bench, and the other Hawkeyes combined to score a total of eight points. It’s incredibly tough to win games when that’s the case, whether it’s against another NCAA tournament-caliber team or one in Illinois that’s playing simply to keep its season alive.

Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell combined to dish out 14 assists, but they also combined to score just three points (all from Gesell) on 1-for-13 shooting from the field. And center Adam Woodbury shot 1-for-7 from the field, scoring two points and grabbing ten rebounds.

During their 2-6 run, with the wins coming over Minnesota and Michigan, the lack of production from the “supporting cast” has been a major issue for Iowa. And given how long this has been the case, does Iowa have what it takes to turn things around? It would be unfair to hold the last two seasons against Iowa because this is a different group, but given past setbacks that’s going to be a question that asked quite often between now and next week.

The NCAA tournament is about match-ups, but a team’s mindset is also an important factor. And in the case of Iowa, they’re mired in a slump at the worst possible time.

No. 8 Iowa loses at Ohio State, suffering fourth loss in five game

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, center, argues with the referees during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won, 68-64. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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In early February the debate regarding No. 8 Iowa wasn’t only whether or not they were the best team in the Big Ten, thanks to their sweeps of both Michigan State and Purdue, but also whether or not Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes had a case as the best team in the country. Jarrod Uthoff was playing at a first-team All-America level, Peter Jok was much improved from his first two seasons, and the Hawkeyes were receiving contributions from other players as well.

Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes those discussions have come to a halt, as they’re limping to the finish line. Sunday, Ohio State handed Iowa its fourth loss in the last five games by the final score of 68-64.

This was a big win for Thad Matta’s Buckeyes, who despite having 11 conference wins still have work to do when it comes to getting into the NCAA tournament. Of those 11 wins just three have come against teams not in the bottom five of the Big Ten standings, with their win over Iowa qualifying as the best of the bunch. Marc Loving led the way with 25 points, Keita Bates-Diop added 19, six rebounds and four blocks and Kam Williams scored 11 second-half points as Ohio State picked up its best win of the season to date.

As for Iowa, a team that appeared to have turned the corner when compared to past editions under McCaffery that would struggle to stop negative momentum is right back in a familiar spot.

One issue during this stretch is that Iowa, beginning with Uthoff, hasn’t been as good offensively as they were earlier this season. In Iowa’s last four losses the All-America candidate has shot just 35 percent from the field (21-for-60) and 25.9 percent from three (7-for-27). Jok’s been better during that same period, shooting 41.7 percent from the field, but neither has been as efficient as they were when the Hawkeyes were rolling through their schedule.

In these situations the supplementary players are needed to step forward, and outside of Mike Gesell (16 points) that did not happen against Ohio State. As a team the Hawkeyes shot just 40.7 percent from the field, with Uthoff (16 points), Gesell and Jok (12 points) responsible for 44 of the team’s 64 points. Shooting better than 43 percent in just one of their last five games (46 percent in a loss at Indiana), Iowa’s obviously struggled to make shots. And the task of finding quality looks becomes more difficult when opponents are essentially able to focus their defensive efforts on two players.

The question now is whether or not Iowa has what it takes to turn things around heading into the Big Ten tournament. If they can, given how college basketball as a whole has been this season, they’re still a team that can play deep into the NCAA tournament. Uthoff’s still a force to be reckoned with, and with Jok as his sidekick Iowa has two players teams will have to work to slow down. But the crisp ball and player movement that Iowa rode to the top spot in the Big Ten has been absent in recent weeks, resulting in this current stretch of four losses in their last five games.

After appearing to have taken the step forward that past Iowa teams under McCaffery struggled to navigate, these Hawkeyes find themselves in a similar spot. The hope now is that experienced players such as Uthoff and Jok, who have experienced many peaks and valleys during their time in Iowa City, can use the lessons learned then to spark a turnaround in advance of the NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin beats No. 8 Iowa, continuing recent hot streak

Wisconsin forward Khalil Iverson dunks the ball over Iowa guard Brady Ellingson, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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As one of the Big Ten’s most improved players, Iowa’s Peter Jok has become a primary offensive option alongside Jarrod Uthoff for one of the conference’s best teams. And in the first half of Wednesday’s game against Wisconsin the junior was nearly unstoppable, scoring 17 of Iowa’s 34 first-half points. Wisconsin needed to slow him down in order to win, and thanks in large part to the defense of Zak Showalter the Badgers managed to do just that.

Jok scored just four points in the second stanza thanks to Showalter, and thanks to contributions throughout the lineup Wisconsin produced a 67-59 victory in Iowa City. At one point 9-9 on the season (1-4 in Big Ten play), Wisconsin’s now won nine of its last ten games. And at 10-5 in conference play Greg Gard’s team is still a factor in the Big Ten title race, something that few envisioned for this team six weeks ago.

Bronson Koenig scored 15 points and Nigel Hayes ten, and while they’ve matured throughout the season so has the rest of the roster. The role players made the difference Wednesday night, be it Showalter with his defense or reserves such as Charlie Thomas and Khalil Iverson providing a needed spark off the bench. Wisconsin received 23 points from its bench compared to four for Iowa, and that combined with Wisconsin’s defense was the difference.

Jok was quiet in the second half thanks to Showalter, and Wisconsin also limited Jarrod Uthoff to 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting. Earlier in the season Iowa was receiving points from a host of players, so even with Uthoff playing at an All-American level and Jok not far behind Fran McCaffery’s team proved incredibly difficult to slow down offensively. That hasn’t been the case of late, one reason why Iowa’s lost three of its last four games.

If Iowa, which now trails Indiana by a game in the Big Ten standings, is to win the conference title it will need more from the likes of Mike Gesell (four points, 2-for-9 FG) and Dom Uhl (two points, 1-for-4 shooting) than they’ve received in recent games.

With its defense Wisconsin made those players beat them, and Iowa couldn’t get it done. Hayes and Koenig will continue to lead the way for the Badgers as this team approaches the NCAA tournament. But the reason why Wisconsin will hear its name called when the field is announced, not to mention be a threat to win once there, is the fact that the players who aren’t the headliners have improved throughout the course of the season.

And that’s a credit to the players and their head coach, who continues to strengthen his case to have the interim tag removed.

Jok scores 23 to lead No. 5 Iowa past Illinois, 77-65

Iowa's Peter Jok (14) shoots over Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Just over three minutes into the second half, Iowa’s Peter Jok stole the ball from Illinois guard Khalid Lewis and glided to the other end of the court for a two-handed dunk.

It was part of a 5-minute span after halftime in which the junior scored seven of the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes’ points, pushing their lead to 15 and delivering a blow the Illini wouldn’t recover from.

Jok finished with 23 points and Iowa (19-4, 10-1 Big Ten) coasted to a 77-65 victory.

Jok is playing with confidence, and doing that at both ends of the court, Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said.

“I think you’re seeing a much more complete player,” McCaffery said. “You’re watching a guy who, when he was young, made some mistakes. And he’s not doing that anymore.”

Jok said Iowa, whose only serious tests Sunday came in the game’s opening minutes and the handful of times the Illini would later cut the lead to single digits, has grown up as a team.

“It’s because of our experience,” Jok said. “When teams are coming back, we don’t rush anything. We know what we have to do to win.”

The loss was the fifth in seven games for injury-plagued Illinois (11-13, 3-8).

“Defensively, what hurt us more than anything was their transition game and the rebounding,” Illini coach John Groce said.

Iowa outrebounded the Illini 43-32. Illinois has been outrebounded in 10 of its 11 conference games.

Jarrod Uthoff added 18 points and 12 rebounds for Iowa and Adam Woodbury had 10 points and 14 rebounds.

Jalen Coleman-Lands led Illinois with 17 points, going 5 of 11 from 3-point range.

Jok’s dominant spell to open the second half was the difference in a game that Illinois had been finding a way to stay in.

And his confidence was visibly high.

Just under 5 minutes into the second half, he fired a low-trajectory 3-point attempt that somehow touched nothing but net. Jok flashed a big grin as he jogged back on defense and the Hawkeyes were up 53-38.

When Jok wasn’t scoring, he was providing.

Moments later he missed a jumper and the ball bounced away from the rim with Illinois’ Malcolm Hill close behind it, scrambling for the rebound.

But Jok, laying on his back at the top of the key, found himself with the ball. Looking right, he saw Uthoff alone behind the 3-point line and fed him the ball.

Uthoff buried the shot and the Hawkeyes went up 56-38.

“That play in particular I think really crushed them,” Uthoff said. “It really took the air out of their sails.”

Iowa would push the lead to as many as 20 points midway through the half.

Iowa looked like the Big Ten title contender it is, and Illinois – which has settled into the back of the conference pack – did not.

“They’re good enough, they’ve got a chance to beat anybody,” Groce said of the Hawkeyes. “They look like they’ve played together a long time.”

Even when the Hawkeyes were off, it didn’t matter.

Illinois closed within 73-63 with 2:03 to play on a layup by Michael Finke. But the Illini could get no closer.

Hill finished with 14 points and eight rebounds.

REBOUNDING PAYOFF

Iowa’s rebounding edge led to 26 second-chance points. Illinois had just six. McCaffery gave most of the credit to Woodbury.

“Adam has really established himself as a premier rebounder in the country,” McCaffery said. “It makes such a difference to your defense when you only give them one shot.”

DOUBLE TROUBLE

Coming into Sunday’s game, Hill and Kendrick Nunn had both scored in double figures in every Illinois game they had played in this season, 23 for Hill and 17 for Nunn. That ended for Nunn who had six points in 26 minutes Sunday. Hill’s points were tough to get, coming against frequent double-teams that limited him to just nine shots.

TIP-INS

Iowa: The Hawkeyes were coming off a win over Penn State in which they gave up just one 3-pointer on 20 attempts. … Guard Mike Gesell finished with eight points, leaving him two short of 1,000 for his career.

Illinois: Finke returned to the lineup after missing the Rutgers game with a bruised knee he suffered against Wisconsin. He finished with five points and four rebounds. … Coming into Sunday’s game, three of Illinois’ past four games had gone to overtime, including Wednesday’s 110-101 triple-overtime win at Rutgers. In those three games, Hill averaged 43.7 minutes a game and Nunn 42.7.

UP NEXT

Iowa: Plays at No. 22 Indiana on Thursday.

Illinois: Plays at Northwestern on Saturday.

No. 9 Iowa beats No. 22 Purdue, moves to 7-0 in Big Ten play

Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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Given the shift in momentum in the first meeting between No. 22 Purdue and No. 9 Iowa, Sunday’s rematch in Iowa City set up to be an interesting contest. And while the shift from one half to the next wasn’t as drastic this time around, the Hawkeyes once again took control of the action in the second half. Fran McCaffery’s team won 83-71, moving to 7-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since the 1969-70 season.

A theme in both games between the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers was turnovers, with Purdue once again struggling to take care of the basketball. In West Lafayette, Iowa called upon pressure defense throughout most of the second half to turn a 17-point deficit into a seven-point victory. Sunday afternoon Purdue committed a total of 17 turnovers, with Iowa converting those mistakes into 24 points on the other end.

There were times when Iowa went to their trapping defense and they were successful with it, but for most of the game they played their standard man-to-man. It was another example of the one concern many had about Purdue before the season began: did they have the ball-handlers needed to get the team into advantageous situations on the offensive end of the floor? P.J. Thompson, who scored 16 points off the bench, had just one turnover on the day but Rapheal Davis racked up four and Johnny Hill had as many turnovers as starting center A.J. Hammons (three).

Given Iowa’s offensive options, led by national Player of the Year candidate Jarrod Uthoff and much-improved Peter Jok, those turnovers can be turned into points either in transition or in the half-court.

Uthoff scored 22 points against Purdue, which ultimately had to change its lineup to account for his skill set at the four with Vince Edwards shifting to that spot and Caleb Swanigan playing the five. But for as good as Uthoff’s been this season, stopping Iowa requires a lot more than simply keying in on the senior forward. Jok added 13 points as did senior center Adam Woodbury, who also grabbed ten rebounds, and Anthony Clemmons added ten points and six assists.

With their ball and player movement Iowa’s done a good job of finding quality looks on a consistent basis this season, and against one of the nation’s better defenses the Hawkeyes shot 50 percent from the field and 11-for-20 from three.

With Iowa now claiming season sweeps of both the Boilermakers and No. 11 Michigan State, underestimating this group’s chances of winning the Big Ten would be a fool’s errand. And with their league slate being front-loaded for the most part, Iowa can take another step in that direction with a win at No. 7 Maryland Thursday night. Having already experienced significant success on the road, Iowa won’t lack for confidence heading into that game either.

Jok has a career-high 29 as No. 9 Iowa beats Rutgers

Iowa guard Peter Jok (14) dunks a basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Rutgers, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Piscataway, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
AP Photo/Mel Evans
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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Peter Jok scored a career-high 29 points and No. 9 Iowa shook off pesky Rutgers in the second half in posting a harder-than-expected 90-76 victory on Thursday night.

Jarrod Uthoff and Anthony Clemmons added 20 points apiece as the Hawkeyes (15-3, 6-0) won their eighth straight game and their 12th in a row in the Big Ten Conference, dating to last season.

Iowa used a zone defense late in the first half in a 16-7 run that gave it a 45-37 lead, and it opened the game up in the second half with its long-range shooting.

Mike Williams had 17 points to lead Rutgers (6-14, 0-7), which was coming off a 50-point loss to No. 22 Purdue on Monday, its worst home loss.

Jonathan Laurent, who was returning after missing four games with a concussion, added 14 points and Corey Sanders had 12 for the Scarlet Knights, who have lost their last 22 conference games, including tournament play.

Jok, who is the conference’s reigning player of the week, hit 10 of 19 from the field, and matched his season-high with five 3-pointers. He scored 10 of the Hawkeyes first 13 points and his last basket cut short Rutgers final rally.

His previous high was 24 points against Florida State earlier this season.

The Scarlet Knights put up a much better fight than against Purdue on Monday as they rallied from an 11-point first-half deficit and took a 30-29 lead on a basket by Williams with 4:26 to play.

Iowa soon switched to a zone and it opened a 45-37 lead as Clemmons scored six points and Jok and Uthoff added five in the 16-7 run.

The Hawkeyes were never threatened in the second half as Uthoff hit three 3-pointers in helping build a 19-point lead with 7:23 to play.

TIP-INS

Iowa: The Hawkeyes No. 9 ranking is the highest since Fran McCaffery took as the head coach in 2010, and the lowest since a No. 7 in November 2001. It also marks the first time Iowa has had its football and basketball teams ranked in the top 10 in the same season.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights picked up their board game just days after Purdue outrebounded them 69-23. Iowa only held a 38-33 advantage with Adam Woodbury leading the way with 11. D.J. Foreman had nine for Rutgers.

UP NEXT

Iowa hosts No. 22 Purdue on Saturday.

Rutgers visits Michigan on Wednesday.

Online:

AP college basketball website: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/