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Archive for December, 2008

The right mindset

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008
Iowa basketball players found it difficult to stomach Wednesday's 68-65 loss at Ohio State. They downplayed talk about the the 19-point turnaround they mustered after falling behind by 15 early in the first Big Ten game of the season. Instead, they talked about the need for quicker starts. Slow starts have become a trend in recent games for the Hawkeyes and they would prefer to find a solution sooner rather than later. "We have to be aggressive from the start,'' guard Jeff Peterson said. "The older guys, we need to set the tone and get us going. That's part of our job.  We've seen too many times what can happen when you don't start well.'' Freshman Matt Gatens said Iowa needs to simply come out and play. "We were too tentative right away in this game,'' he said. "You can't do that. You have to compete. We shouldn't be getting down 15 points to anybody.''

Transition time

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008
As the Hawkeyes transition to the start of the Big Ten season, the Ohio State team Iowa faces in Wednesday's conference opener is in its a transition period of its own. The Buckeyes drew some early attention with wins over ranked Notre Dame, Miami (Fla.) and Butler teams, but coach Thad Matta has had to give attention to an adjusting roster in recent days and weeks. Ohio State will take the court against Iowa with just nine scholarship players available. Forward David Lighty, who averages just under 10 points and 6 rebounds per game, is recovering from surgery to repair a broken bone in his left foot. The junior is two weeks into a rehab period that is expected to last 8-to-12 weeks. Over the weekend, back-up point guard Anthony Crater surprised Matta by asking to be released from his scholarship. The freshman is apparently upset with a lack of playing time. He's been splitting minutes with juco transfer Jeremie Simmons. That has thinned the OSU backcourt even more. The Buckeyes will gain another body next week when former Iowa recruit Nikola Kecman becomes eligible. Kecman was forced to sit 12 games by the NCAA for participating on a team in his native Serbia that offered benefits to some players -- but not Kecman -- about allowable limits. The situation is similar to the one that forced Iowa State's Lucca Staiger to miss the 2007-08 season. Kecman was ordered by the NCAA to sit out two games for each of the six he played for the Serbian team. He'll be eligible to take the court for the first time next Tuesday against Michigan State.

From the board room

Sunday, December 28th, 2008
Iowa took several tiny steps forward in Saturday night's 58-43 win over Western Illinois. For example, the Hawkeyes defended more effectively and with more intensity than in their 17-point loss at Drake one week earlier. However, the Leathernecks became the latest to expose a glaring weakness of this Iowa team. Rebounding remains a concern as the Hawkeyes take a 10-3 start into Wednesday's Big Ten opener at Ohio State. Western Illinois outrebounded Iowa 30-28 on Saturday but when you dig deeper into the numbers, a clear illustration of Iowa's issues emerge. Cyrus Tate finished with just one rebound and was on the court for just 14 minutes against the Leathernecks. The Hawkeyes' rebounding leader must be more effective if Iowa is going to have any chance of winning in conference play. Iowa's second-leading rebounder, Anthony Tucker, didn't even play Saturday. The reasons remained cloaked behind the "coaches' decision'' explination, leaving the door open for all sorts of speculation about just why the Hawkeyes' scoring leader wasn't on the court. Coach Todd Lickliter brushed it aside by saying that Tucker simply needed more practice time after missing nearly two weeks because of a suspension earlier this month. Translation -- stay tuned. Iowa can win without Tucker. It cannot win if it doesn't rebound and beyond Tate, Saturday's numbers were not pretty. Jarryd Cole, Andrew Brommer and Aaron Fuller combined for three boards in 29 minutes of action. In the postgame, Lickliter questioned his team's willingness to rebound, a scary proposition 13 games into the season and on the eve of Big Ten play. "I'm afraid we lack the humility to block out,'' Lickliter said. "This could be dangerous in the near future if we decide to play without doing that.'' With four ranked opponents in Iowa's next five games, the coach knows what he's talking about.

Making the commitment

Friday, December 26th, 2008
Iowa's basketball team returned to the practice court Thursday night, greeted by a coach still feeling some pain from the way the Hawkeyes executed in last weekend's loss at Drake. Coach Todd Lickliter said during a teleconference this morning that the focus remains centered around core beliefs that will help Iowa progress as the Big Ten season nears. "It is important that we commit to the things we want to accomplish in practice every day. As we move forward, do that will help us compete,'' Lickliter said. "When we are playing the games, we have to be able to execute under pressure. Adjustments will be important as well, but what we have to do is commit to areas that will help us be successful. We've addressed those areas with the team in a meeting Sunday before our break and again when we returned to practice (Thursday) night.'' With classes out of session, there are no limits in the number or hours Iowa can practice during a week. It wasn't uncommon for Lickliter's predecessor to hold three-a-day practices at this time of year. Lickliter prefers to maximize time during two-a-days, something he believes can benefit this team in a big way. "Early on, we played so many games in such a short period of time we had little time for ourselves as we prepared for the next opponent,'' he said. "We have a team that can benefit from getting out on the court a couple of times in a day and learning. It is something that can help us a lot.'' Lickliter referred to the Drake game as a "wake-up call'' for his team and he said it "lingers'' with him and his players. "They controlled that game from start to finish and exposed some real deficiencies that we are working to address,'' he said, adding that he encouraged his players to "recover, relax and reflect'' during their three full days off before Iowa began to focus on Saturday's home game with Western Illinois.

A holiday break

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008
Iowa basketball players will have a few days to think about Saturday's loss at Drake. The Hawkeyes have been given most of this week off, but will return to Iowa City on Thursday night for a practice in preparation for Saturday's game with Western Illinois. The break comes at a decent time, on the back end of the first final exams experience for five Iowa players. Coach Todd Lickliter was asked last week if he had any academic concerns about his team at this point and he believes the Hawkeyes should not lose anyone because of grades for the second semester. "I don't have any worries about eligibility. We have such strong academic support here,'' Lickliter said. "My responsibility to promote proper study habits and support our players as much as I can. From what I've gathered, all of our guys are capable of doing well in finals and they have had time to prepare so I expect for them to perform well on their final exams.'' I'll be sneaking in a day or two off myself for the holidays, but I'll be back at it on Friday as Iowa prepares for its game with the Leathernecks in its final tune-up before next week's Big Ten opener at Ohio State. Best wishes to you and yours for the holidays and for the upcoming year. Merry Christmas, Steve

One tough final

Saturday, December 20th, 2008
During his weekly news conference last Thursday, Todd Lickliter pointed out that this was the first experience with finals week for five of his players and that final exams in the classroom would be followed by one big test on Saturday. Hopefully the Hawkeyes fared better in the classroom. Drake aced this one, playing like the veteran team it is in its 60-43 rout at the Knapp Center. Iowa's youth showed at times as much as it has in any game since West Virginia feasted on its physical advantage in a Thanksgiving weekend game in Las Vegas. The Hawkeyes won the tap, but watched the Bulldogs set an aggressive tempo from the start. "They had us playing catch-up almost right away. That's a tough way to play,'' Iowa guard Jeff Peterson said. The Hawkeyes learned from their loss to the Mountaineers and it's likely they will learn from this one as well. That's one thing Lickliter likes about this club. It's shown a willingness to learn and grow, one reason Iowa is 9-3 heading into next weekend's final nonconference game against Western Illinois. If nothing else, the holiday break will give Iowa players time to think about their last performance. "We've got a week to think about what happened and get ready to do something about it,'' guard Matt Gatens said. "This wasn't the way we wanted to go into Christmas break.''

Preparing for Tucker

Thursday, December 18th, 2008
Anthony Tucker's return to the practice court Thursday at Iowa isn't taking first-year Drake basketball coach Mark Phelps by surprised. A couple of hours before Hawkeye coach Todd Lickliter announced that the suspended guard would be rejoining the team for Thursday afternoon's practice, the Bulldogs coach said his team certainly had Tucker and his 44-percent shooting touch from 3-point range on its radar as it prepares for Saturday's 3 p.m. game at the Knapp Center. "Absolutely we are preparing for him,'' Phelps said. "We don't know what the final verdict will be as to whether he will play or not, but we will be ready for him. He's a terrific freshman and we're planning on him playing on Saturday.'' Tucker hasn't played in a game since Dec. 5, sitting Iowa's last two wins following his arrest on public intoxication charges. Lickliter said his performance in practice will determine if or how much Tucker plays against the Bulldogs.

Makeshift schedule

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
Finals week is always a scramble for college basketball teams. With exam schedules being what they are, there are days when putting anywhere close to a full team on the court at the same time can be a challenge. Iowa coach Todd Lickliter and his staff use a makeshift schedule of sorts early in exam week. Instead of attempting to run a full practice minus the players who are taking exams, the Hawkeyes are working out individually during the first few days this week. Lickliter believes that creates a more productive learning environment and allows players to receive some individual attention that might not be possible during a group workout. Iowa will move back toward team practices as the finals schedule lightens later in the week, preparing for Saturday's game at Drake.

Crank up the volume

Friday, December 12th, 2008
For the first time this season, it actually felt like there was a basketball game going on at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday night. There were no hyphens, no geographical directions on the jerseys of the opposing team. Iowa State brought both intensity and a crowd to what had been a gym filled with early-season quiet as the Hawkeyes built an 8-2 start. "There was an electricity that you could feel when you stepped on the court,'' Iowa guard Jake Kelly said. "I wish it were like that all the time.'' In reality, the crowd of 12,125 was the largest of the season at Carver-Hawkeye, but it was the smallest to watch Iowa and Iowa State battle in the venue's nearly 26-year history. "Hopefully, the people who were here will go out and spread the word that it was a pretty fun environment,'' Iowa coach Todd Lickliter said. Lickliter didn't mind the result either, saying that it is a lot more fun to be on the winning side of the rivalry. "I experienced the other side last year. That wasn't so much fun,'' he said. Lickliter found plenty to like about a team that is now 9-2 heading into a finals-week break. The Hawkeyes continued to show unselfishness on offense and made needed adjustments on defense, dictating a half-court game that allowed Iowa to pull away from a 34-32 halftime lead. "We felt that pushing the tempo would help us,'' ISU coach Greg McDermott said. "I felt we did a good job with that early.'' But in the end, he said, "The more disciplined team won. Our play at the start of the second half was much like the end of the Drake game when we let what happened at the offensive end affect our defense. I'm very disappointed in our effort.'' Lickliter said he is seeing his team developing the ability to understand and execute the adjustments that need to be made at halftime. "They're doing a good job with that and that is giving us a chance,'' he said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but we're making progress.''

Night class

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
Tuesday's 65-46 win over Northern Iowa provided Iowa with more than its eighth victory of the season and its sixth win in as many tries at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It also created more opportunities for a young Hawkeye team to learn as it works its way through the nonconference schedule. UNI's offense runs much of what it does through former Bellevue Marquette prep Jordan Eglseder in the post. The 7-foot-1 junior is growing into his role both at and away from the basket. Early, Eglseder and the Panthers had their way inside but with some defensive help and consistently strong effort from Cyrus Tate, the Hawkeyes slowly forced UNI to look for another path to the basket. "As the game progressed, our guards figured out the appropriate help they needed and that is what learning is about,'' coach Todd Lickliter said following the game. "We encountered good things and good players tonight and we grew a bit as a team.'' That is what December is about and UNI coach Ben Jacobson likes the potential he sees in this Iowa team. "They have more guys who can handle it and a number of guys that can make 3-point shots,'' he said. "As they gain more experience, they will be a better team. They already are certainly much better than a year ago. Their unselfishness is the key. That's something you can really build on and I think they're doing that.''