By John Bohnenkamp
Iowa carries a four-game winning streak into Thursday’s game at Michigan, a run that has been led by a marked improvement in the Hawkeyes’ defense.
But coach Fran McCaffery said there is more to what the Hawkeyes are doing on the defensive end, and it shows in the numbers.
The four teams Iowa has defeated during this run — Rutgers, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State — shot 36% from the field, 30 percent in 3-pointers.
But what has also helped is the Hawkeyes are getting the edge in rebounding. They have a plus-35 rebound margin in the streak.
Contrast that to the struggles Iowa had before the streak. The Hawkeyes lost four of five games, with opponents shooting 42.9% from the field, 39.7% in 3-pointers, and holding a plus-23 rebounding edge.
“I think the only thing really to look at is consistency,” McCaffery said of his defense. “It’s consistently been better, and you want it to continue.
“But it also comes out of rebounding, so you’ve got to start … it starts with transition defense and then it goes to ball screen defense and then guarding dribble penetration, but rebounding that first miss is critical.”
Getting that rebound has allowed the Hawkeyes to turn up the speed on their transition offense. Iowa is shooting 47% from the field during the winning streak, 50% in 3-pointers.
“Like we always say, we run off makes and misses, but it’s much better to run off misses,” McCaffery said.
The Hawkeyes have been especially effective in their man-to-man defense, something that was a problem earlier in the season.
“We’ve just been better on our man-to-man,” McCaffery said.
“I think at the beginning of the season and in the middle, we might have stayed in the zone too long,” forward Joe Wieskamp said. “ It allowed teams to kind of adjust, kind of pick us apart and see areas that they could exploit. I think we’ve done a better job of mixing our man and our zone up.
I think it just comes down to guys really taking on that challenge of guarding guys in front of us. For the most part, the guys that we’re guarding are usually quicker and more athletic than some of us. So it’s really just a mindset that we have to have, and really defend the guy in front of you, and help (a teammate) if they get beat.”
Michigan’s offense is third in the Big Ten in scoring at 79.2 points per game. The Wolverines shoot 50.6% from the field, 38.7% in 3-pointers.
“It’s going to come down to locking in defensively, because they have so many threats that can score the ball — guys that can drive the lane and pass,” Wieskamp said. “They’re definitely a really complete team, and it’s going to take a full 40 minutes from us to get the job done.”
Photo: Penn State’s Myreon Jones looks for an opening in Iowa’s defense in Sunday’s game. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)