Iowa looks to rectify defensive issues that led to last year’s season-ending skid

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Last season the Iowa Hawkeyes entered Big Ten play with an 11-2 overall record and had the look of a team capable of contending in the Big Ten. With Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White leading the way offensively for a group that didn’t lack for depth, Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes entered January with expectations of not just factoring into the Big Ten race but possibly playing well into March as well.

Things didn’t work out that way obviously, with Iowa losing seven of its last eight games with the final defeat coming in Dayton, Ohio against Tennessee. A once-promising season ended in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, and Iowa’s struggles on the defensive end of the floor had a lot to do with the disappointing finish.

Each of Iowa’s final eight opponents shot 44 percent or better from the field, with this contributing to their woes despite committing nearly four fewer turnovers per game during that stretch than their opponents (9.8 compared to 13.5 for their opponents). And according to Don Doxsie of the Quad City Times, McCaffery isn’t in the mood to hear that the team “running out of gas” was the reason for their season-ending skid.

The head coach wants his team to be better defensively, and that’s a point of emphasis for Iowa as it begins practice this weekend.

Although some of his players made references Thursday to “hitting the wall,’’ McCaffery said he doesn’t buy that.

“I don’t think we ran out of gas,’’ he said. “We got away from defending the way we should be defending. Was that fatigue? It shouldn’t be, because we were playing 11 … I didn’t think we had tired personnel. I thought we relied too much on our offense.’’

To McCaffery’s point ten players played at least 11 minutes per game last season, with Peter Jok not far off at 9.4 minutes per contest. That’s unlikely to be the case this season, with players such as Marble, Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe having moved on. Those departures, especially Marble, will require others to step forward offensively with Mike Gesell and Jarrod Uthoff following White on the list of Iowa’s most productive returnees.

More importantly, losing their best offensive weapon means that Iowa has to step forward as a group defensively if they’re to rid themselves of the bad taste that last season’s ending left in their mouths.