Busting Brackets

Iowa Basketball: 5 reasons not to panic despite a slow start

Despite a slow start, Iowa Basketball fans need to pump the brakes and give this team a chance to turn its season around.

Michigan v Iowa
Michigan v Iowa / Matthew Holst/GettyImages

Though we are in the early stages of the 2023-24 college basketball season, some fanbases are already losing their minds. Some, such as Louisville, have the right to be frustrated with the direction their program is heading in. But, others are just simply looking for a simple excuse to hate on their team, rather than show some optimism for the future.

Through the season's first 11 games, the Iowa Hawkeyes are off to a rather uninspiring 6-5 start. With three consecutive blowout losses to Purdue, Iowa State, and Michigan, Hawkeye fans have been venting on social media. Some are even calling for head coach Fran McCaffery's job, despite his success in revitalizing the Iowa program.

Without a doubt, a 6-5 start is not ideal for any team, but is there really a need to panic so early in the season? There are some issues to pick out from this Hawkeye squad, but I don't think Iowa fans should hit the panic button yet. Here are five reasons why Hawkeye fans shouldn't be alarmed despite a rough start to the season.

5. They nearly pulled off a huge win at Creighton

Entering the season, Iowa was picked to finish ninth in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes didn't have high expectations entering the season, and in just their third game of the season, they had to make the trek to raucous Omaha, Nebraska, to take on the Creighton Bluejays, who are seen as a Final Four contender this year.

Despite being huge underdogs, Iowa and Creighton were trading buckets right from the opening tip. By the end of the first half, the Hawkeyes found themselves in a 43-43 tie with the No. 8 team in the country on the road. Shots were falling, and the Bluejays found themselves in an offensive lull.

Although Creighton was able to pull away in the second half, a young Iowa bunch proved that it can play with the big dogs. It's worth noting that the Jays were up by as much as 16 points after the break, but the Hawkeyes showed their resiliency and fought until the final buzzer to make the score 92-84.

Despite the favorites winning, national pundits and experts were surprised at Iowa's steller performance. Now, I'm not the type of person that acknowledges moral victories, but the Hawkeyes proved that they can play with the contenders. I know they haven't fared well against tougher competition since, but this performance should continue to give fans some optimism when Big Ten play resumes in January.

4. There are plenty of opportunities ahead

A 6-5 record is cause for concern when you're talking college football. After all, there are only 12 games in the regular season, and a mediocre bowl game awaits. But, this is college basketball -- where over 30 games are played in the regular season. There are always opportunities for teams to get themselves on the right side of the NCAA Tournament picture.

It seems that Iowa fans have forgotten that they play in the Big Ten, one of the most prestigious conferences in America. Unfortunately for Iowa, the conference is in a down year, so the chances of getting a Quad 1 win for most of the conference season are not going to be there this year. But, there are certainly opportunities for the Hawkeyes down the road.

In January, Iowa will have two Quad 1 opportunities against Wisconsin on the road, as well as a rematch with Purdue in Iowa City. A potential third Quad 1 chance awaits in Bloomington against Indiana to end the month. In February, the Hawkeyes will host Wisconsin, and heated rival Illinois is on the schedule twice. As of now, these would be the best chances for Iowa to get quality wins, but any win in the Big Ten is a good one.

The bottom line here is that the Hawkeyes have plenty of opportunities to get themselves in the NCAA Tournament picture. Iowa has dug itself into a 0-2 hole in conference play, but the Big Ten plays a 20 game schedule for a reason.

3. They play their best ball late in the season

For the the first 10 seasons of the McCaffery era, the Iowa program was often ridiculed by fans for suffering embarrassing collapses in the month of February, which often dropped the Hawkeyes down several seed lines, or out of the tournament. These collapses were nicknamed the annual "Franuary Fade" by Iowa fans.

But, in 2022, the Hawkeyes put away the "Fade" for good and won nine of their last 10 games of the season, including the Big Ten Tournament title. Last season, Iowa earned key victories against Michigan State and Indiana to help secure an NCAA Tournament bid.

The Hawkeyes still have some question marks as we get into the heart of the Big Ten season, but it's worth noting that in those last two aforementioned seasons, Iowa found themselves 0-2, and 0-3 in conference play. Despite the long odds, both of those squads found themselves in the Tournament at season's end.

McCaffery's teams have proven that they can figure it out as the season progresses, and Iowa fans will have to hope that this team can get it together before it's too late.

2. This freshman group has talent

Lost in the 6-5 start is how well Iowa's freshman class has performed so far. Owen Freeman (9.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg) has won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors four times, becoming only the 16th player in conference history to do so. Freeman is a solid scorer, but his short Hawkeye career has been defined by his stellar defense. In a game against North Florida, the 6-foot-10 forward blocked three consecutive shots, earning him a standing ovation.

Fellow freshman Brock Harding (4.2 ppg, 2.5 apg) was Freeman's high school teammate at Moline High School, and it's easy to tell how much chemistry the duo has with each other. Harding is an elite ball handler, and his court vision is what makes him stand out in this freshman class. He's also not afraid to get to the basket and finish with contact.

Another freshman that has shown flashes early on is Ladji Dembele (3.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg). Standing at 6-foot-8, Dembele has the size and strengh to battle down low and cause some trouble for opponents. Not only that, he can also shoot it from deep, shooting at 35 percent clip so far.

This has the potential to be the most talented freshman class that McCaffery has ever had at Iowa, and though there will certainly be some growing pains this season, Iowa fans should be very excited about this group's ceiling down the road.

1. The team has veteran experience

Though Iowa has a young roster, there is also plenty of veteran leadership mixed in. Payton Sandfort (13.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is Iowa's most dangerous threat from three-point range. When he is on, he is one of the best and most lethal shooters in the country. However, the junior has been plagued by inconsistent performances over the last two seasons, including cold shooting nights against Iowa State and Michigan.

But, when the Hawkeyes were nearly dead in the water last year, he saved them with clutch, timely shots in games against Michigan and Michigan State. If it weren't for Sandfort, Iowa wouldn't have made the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes desperately need their sharpshooter to get going, and if he does, then Iowa will be tough to beat.

Other notable veterans on this squad are seniors Tony Perkins (12.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Ben Krikke (16.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg). Perkins is known for his ability to get to the rim, as well as his tough and agressive defense. He is the lone senior on the roster, and the Iowa coaching staff hopes that he will be able to help fill the scoring void left by Kris Murray.

Krikke transferred to Iowa in the offseason from Valparasio, where he led the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring a season ago. The Edmonton, Alberta, native has adjusted very well to life in the Big Ten, and he currently is the team's leading scorer. His quickness and mid-range ability have been crucial to Iowa staying in games.

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Once these veterans settle into their new roles, the Hawkeyes should become a tough out in the Big Ten and give the program a chance to make the Big Dance for a sixth consecutive season.