By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
“Let’s look at this thing from a standpoint of status. What do we got on the spacecraft that is good?” — Ed Harris, Apollo 13.
Here at The Monday Tipoff, we sometimes do the “Apollo 13 test.”
It’s based on the quote from Harris’ character in the movie Apollo 13, when NASA engineers are trying to figure out what’s wrong with the damaged spacecraft, and it’s a good way to analyze what’s wrong with Iowa’s men’s basketball team
The Hawkeyes seem to be spinning out of NCAA tournament orbit with a three-game losing streak as it reaches the halfway point of the season. At 8-6 overall, 0-3 Big Ten and it’s easy to think that it’s not going to get better.
But this is still the same roster that was ranked in the top 25 before Thanksgiving, that won on the road at Seton Hall, dominated Iowa State at home, and was playing good basketball until the current losing streak.
There is a lot of basketball left to play, starting with Thursday’s home game against No. 15 Indiana, and there are a lot of opportunities to respond.
So what’s good with the Hawkeyes right now?
Kris Murray. It’s not a coincidence the Hawkeyes got out of rhythm around the time Murray went out with a lower left leg injury. Iowa went 2-2 in his absence, but had the Hawkeyes had their leading scorer and rebounder available for Wisconsin and Eastern Illinois, they probably don’t lose those games.
Murray had 17 points, but made just 6-of-15 shots, in last Thursday’s 66-50 loss at Nebraska. He looked more like himself in Sunday’s 83-79 loss at Penn State, scoring 32 points on 12-of-20 shooting, adding nine rebounds.
When he’s healthy, he’s a dominant player who can score inside and out. And he can take over games, as he did in the second half on Sunday, scoring 22 points as Iowa rallied. He’s averaging 20.4 points and 9.8 rebounds, and a player like that can get teams out of their funk.
“He’s just consistent,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said on Sunday. “He’s going to move without the ball and nothing’s gonna rattle him. If he’s open, he’ll shoot it, if he’s covered. he’ll pass it. I thought he played through contact. You know, they obviously were focusing on him and doubling him and you knew if we got it to him inside they were coming on him. But he didn’t rattle.”
Murray’s defense has also been missed.
“You sometimes take him for granted, but he’s a really good defender so when we didn’t have him and we didn’t have Connor (McCaffery, who was injured for the Eastern Illinois game). they’re our two best wing defenders. So you need both of those guys, and Kris gives you somebody at both ends. It’s really special.”
Filip Rebraca. Rebraca has been consistent all season. He has scored in double figures in the last eight games and in 11 of Iowa’s 14 games this season.
Rebraca is averaging 17.2 points in the last eight games. He’s a 60.3 percent shooter this season, 62.9 percent in the last eight games.
McCaffery expected Rebraca to be more of an offensive presence this season, and when Murray was out Rebraca became even more of a focal point of Iowa’s offense.
Connor McCaffery. The veteran guard has been mostly immune from the Hawkeyes’ shooting woes. He’s a 45.2 percent shooter from the field, 38.1 percent in 3-pointers.
McCaffery was 3-of-6 from the field, 2-of-3 in 3-pointers, coming off the bench in Sunday’s loss.
Losing streaks tend to lead to starting lineup changes, and it probably wouldn’t hurt getting McCaffery back into the lineup for Thursday’s game.
Good shots, but they aren’t falling. The Hawkeyes’ recent shooting struggles likely aren’t going to be a consistent thing. They rank eighth in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage and ninth in 3-point percentage. They’re not taking bad shots, either. The website ShotQualityBets.com gave the Hawkeyes a 72 score and had a 78 percent win probability for their shot selection against Nebraska.
Players like Payton Sandfort and Tony Perkins have been better shooters than they’ve shown. At some point the slumps have to end.
“We have a lot of different guys who can score, we have some guys that are struggling right now,” Fran McCaffery said. “We all know who they are. They know who they are. They’re grinding. All the guys that struggled the last couple games have really played well and shot well in practice. They’re getting extra shots up. We’re finding them, we’re looking for them, we’re encouraging them to continue to shoot.
“I’m very confident that it’ll turn around for those guys.”
Photo: Iowa’s Kris Murray is averaging 20.4 points and 9.8 rebounds this season. (Keith Gillett/Icon SportsWire)