Archive for February, 2009
Iowa has emptied the training room for today's game at Northwestern. All 12 players the Hawkeyes have eligible for today's game are dressed and warming up to face the Wildcats. If he sees action, Jeff Peterson will be playing for the first time since suffering a hamstring strain midway through the second half of a Feb. 11 game at Wisconsin. The sophomore who leads Iowa in assists has missed the team's last three games. Jermain Davis has not played in the Hawkeyes' last two games since suffering a knee bruise during an accident in practice on Feb. 19. If either or both see action, it should ease pressure on a backcourt that has seen starters Jake Kelly, Devan Bawinkel and Matt Gatens play all 85 minutes Iowa has played in two games this week, a Sunday overtime win over Michigan and a loss Wednesday at Michigan State.
Wednesday's game at Michigan State provided Iowa basketball coach Todd Lickliter with another opportunity to mention the value of seating students courtside, something he would like to see happen at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as part of the renovation work that is expected to begin next summer. "I've been impressed with venues where students are close,'' he said. "I'm impressed with our students, but some of them are far away and that makes it difficult to feel the energy that they bring.'' At Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois, students ring the lower portions of the arena, supporting the home team and making it a challenge for the visitors to think, much less compete. Lickliter singled out the raucous groups at Illinois and Michigan State as examples of student groups that do it the right way, raising the volume at their arenas and making it a difficult place for opposing teams to play. A re-seating is part of the plans at Carver, and it is likely that students will move to lower seats in at least a portion of the arena. That's something Lickliter likes to hear. "At some of the places we've been, the students bring so much energy to the court At some, they are physically involved, jumping up and down and you can't deny the support they bring.''
The biggest news at Michigan State's Breslin Center on Wednesday probably centered around the fact that Iowa hung with the ninth-ranked Spartans throughout the Big Ten game. Michigan State wasn't at its best in a game sandwiched between a come-from-behind victory over Wisconsin on Sunday and this weekend's road trip to Illinois. But, it still is progress of sorts for an Iowa team that has been blown out early and often in its most recent visits to East Lansing. The Hawkeyes haven't won here since 1993 and the eight-point margin Wednesday was the closest game between the teams here since 1997. Still, Todd Lickliter wasn't interested in a history lesson following his team's 10th straight road loss. "The only thing that concerned us was what happened here tonight. These are two new teams, teams that haven't had much to do with what happened in the past,'' Lickliter said. "There were stretches when we competed fairly well and overall, we hung tough, so there are some positives that we can take from this.'' That was the message Lickliter painted early and often to his team and it is valid. Iowa hung close, but was unable to overcome a 6-of-21 game from 3-point range that saw no Hawkeye shoot over 50 percent from behind the stripe. "We had some open looks. We just didn't knock them down,'' guard Jake Kelly said. Kelly was one of three Hawkeyes who played all 40 minutes Wednesday, joining Matt Gatens and Devan Bawinkel in playing 85 minutes in Iowa's two games so far this week.
Todd Lickliter isn't thinking about the NCAA, the NIT or the CBI. The Iowa basketball coach is thinking only about MSU -- the ninth-ranked Michigan State basketball team that his Hawkeyes face on Wednesday night. During a teleconference this morning, Lickliter was asked if he had given much consideration to the benefits of having his team compete in a postseason tournament if Iowa should finish the regular season strong. "I haven't though much about that at all,'' Lickliter said. "Somebody once told me 'Don't build bridges you may never have to cross' and that's a good philosophy. We're taking care of today and doing what we can to prepare well for Michigan State. They demand every bit of our attention.''
Iowa's basketball team will have a new look and some old problems today when the Hawkeyes host Michigan. Iowa is breaking out new gold uniforms for the 4 p.m. game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but the Hawkeyes will likely have less depth than at any point this season. Jermain Davis is not expected to play against the Wolverines because of a bruised knee, an injury suffered during Iowa's practice on Thursday. Rebounding leader Cyrus Tate, assist leader Jeff Peterson and of course, ineligible Anthony Tucker are also expected to miss today's game. Tate and Peterson are in uniform and Tate did shoot with his teammates during warm-up. Combined, the four players iowa will be without have started 61 of the 82 games they have combined to play, averaging 25.3 points, 11.2 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. The four account for 41.8 percent of Iowa's points, 47.6 percent of Iowa's rebounds and 51.4 percent of Iowa's assists.
Todd Lickliter isn't sure when it will happen, but new uniforms are on the way for the Iowa basketball team. The Hawkeye coach said during a news conference earlier this week that he believed that Nike is working on a new look for the Hawkeyes. He said he isn't sure when it will be unveiled and offered few clues as to what the new uniforms might look like other than to say that he did not have any input in their design. "I hope not, anyway,'' Lickliter said. "LaVall (Jordan, an Iowa assistant) has always been in charge of equipment and jerseys. I know he's had contact with Nike and I think something is in the works, but I don't when they'll be ready.'' Lickliter did know one thing about the new uniforms. "I know they've got names on the back,'' he said, referring to a frequent complaint of Hawkeye fans throughout Steve Alford's tenure as Iowa's coach and a change he quickly made once arriving in Iowa City from Butler.
In addition to addressing his team's ongoing injuries issues, Iowa coach Todd Lickliter talked about the defensive nature of the game in the Big Ten today as well as discussed what Iowas has to play for during the final weeks of the season. Lickliter insisted that he isn't getting ahead of himself. "I'm going to prepare them to win every game this season,'' Lickliter said. "Our focus is on improving each day. That doesn't change. We'll continue to utilize our time well to develop and grow, but the focus is on this year and winning the next game on our schedule.'' Lickliter has been pleased with his team's growth defensive and practice time lately has focused on improved offensive performance. "We need to put more points on the board, so that makes sense,'' guard Jake Kelly said. Lickliter isn't overly optimistic that Jeff Peterson or Cyrus Tate will be available for Sunday's game with Michigan. Neither have practiced this week as they continue to deal with injuries -- Peterson a hamstring and Tate an ankle sprain. He said both are "day to day'' and detailed the situation for both, something that will appear in a story elsewhere on Hawkmania later today. Lickliter walks a fine line, saying that he has to respect an athlete's opinion when he decides if it is wise to play or not. Tate, for example, has been cleared to play by Iowa's medical personnel, but hasn't felt comfortable enough to take the floor in a game. Lickliter said he continues to take Tate at his word, pointing out that athletes can be cleared to play before they are at 100 percent. Tate says he must be smart about it, especially after having setbacks following two attempted returns to the court in the weeks following his Jan. 8 injury. In some respects, the only senior in the Iowa lineup may not exactly be doing the same thing his coach encourages. While Lickliter is playing for now and trying to find ways to win, Iowa's rebounding leader may be looking more toward his own future instead of any potential benefits he could receive out of playing for now.
Saturday's loss to Purdue assured Iowa of something that has been 107 years in the making. The Hawkeyes will finish with at least 10 losses in conference play in back-to-back seasons for the first time in the program's history. That's not necessarily something to celebrate, but it does illustrate the reality of the situation for a program that has finished over .500 against its conference peers on just three occasions in the past 10 years. Why? There isn't any one reason, just like there will not be any one solution. Some of it has to do with talent. As injury issues have illustrated this season, Iowa's depth is not where it needs to be to successfully compete at the Big Ten level. That speaks to recruiting, an issue that predates Todd Lickliter's arrival in Iowa City. Gambles taken by the previous staff have not put Iowa in a position to compete today. Some of it has to do with facilities. Iowa cannot break ground on new practice and weight training facilities fast enough. Think of it in these terms. If the first spade of dirt is turned late this summer as planned, Matt Gatens will be a senior when the Hawkeyes first have a place to work out and develop skills and strength when Carver-Hawkeye is being used for other activities. With no game on the schedule this week and a number of players dealing with nagging injuries, Todd Lickliter gave his team Monday off. In reality, he didn't have much of a choice unless he wanted to move his team's workout to a rec facility across town. Iowa's arena was hosting a women's gymnastics meet Monday night. Those areas alone do not equate to the losses that Iowa has recorded, but they do illustrate the challenges that any coach would face as the head of Iowa program right now.
Todd Lickliter is no fan of the three-game weeks that his Iowa basketball team faces three times this week. One byproduct, however, is some space between other games. The Hawkeyes have this entire week off before hosting Michigan next Sunday afternoon and given the health status of several Iowa players, this break may come at a perfect time. "We've got to look at it as a positive,'' Lickliter said. Iowa coaches met with the team Sunday to go over Saturday's four-point loss to Purdue and before turning their thoughts to the Wolverines and the first of three games next week -- road trips to Michigan State and Northwestern follow -- Lickliter expects to give his team a couple of days off to rest. "We'll try to use the time wisely,'' he said. "We'll freshen up our bodies and minds and prepare for the stretch. We have a lot of games coming up and we'll add a wrinkle or two that can help us moving forward.'' By giving his team two days off this week, Lickliter won't have to give Iowa a day off next week. The NCAA mandates one day off per week, but recently changed its rule to allow teams with three games during a given week to either take the day as they normally would or take two days off in the week leading up to or in the week after the three-game week. Lickliter has done both already. Iowa took an off-day during its first three-game week of the Big Ten season, then took two days off the week prior to their second three-game week. "It's an interesting schedule,'' Lickliter said. "I'm not sure there is a right way or wrong way to schedule the off day. I think it has a lot to do with where your team is at and how the schedule sets up as far as home and road.'' With Jeff Peterson needing to heal a hamstring injury and Cyrus Tate still nursing an ankle sprain, time to rest probably isn't a bad thing for Iowa, which will need wins in three of its final five regular-season games to match last season's Big Ten record.
Iowa has 10 players warming up for today's game with 20th-ranked Purdue, meaning that Cyrus Tate is sharing conversation on the bench with Jeff Peterson and Anthony Tucker as the Hawkeyes work through a lay-up drill. Tate is in uniform, but is not expected to play again because of the ankle sprain that has plagued him for more than a month. Peterson and Tucker are in street clothes and Peterson has his injured wrist protected by a cast -- a sign of the times these days for a wounded Iowa basketball team.