Kansas State 84, #4 Iowa 83: Defenseless

I’m an optimist at heart. Before last season, I told myself that Iowa’s defensive problems in the 2020-21 season were partly due to the inexperience of its key players. I thought Iowa would commit to improving their defense and make big strides in 2021-22.

Iowa’s defense did improve, but not nearly as much as I had hoped. Instead, Iowa played shootout after shootout last year and won quite a few of them. But the fatal flaw of always relying on your offense is that if it fails in a game, you’re in serious trouble. We saw that all too well in last year’s NCAA tournament against Creighton.

But despite a second straight year of fatally flawed defense, I convinced myself this year would be different. Iowa would have more depth. One or two really good newcomers. A transfer of effects. Even with physical limitations, I figured this would be the year Iowa would finally take the next step on defense and do just enough.

The Drake game really should have been the wake-up call that wasn’t the case. But it wasn’t. Even then I told myself that Iowa was going to have bad games. Iowa State fought Northern Iowa. Top 10 Louisville struggled with Belmont. Preseason top 5 Tennessee lost to both Ohio State and Indiana.

But today’s game against Kansas State cemented the reality for me. Iowa will not improve defensively. At least not enough to really matter.

Iowa will always have an offense that can beat almost anyone. Perhaps the stars will align in March and the Hawkeyes will do just that. But Iowa will always be one shaky offensive performance away from an upset. And that will always make her an underdog to make the Final Four.

recap

The first 6-7 minutes of today’s game showed why I was optimistic for so long. The Iowa defenders sold out to stay ahead of their player. Off-ball defenders played decent auxiliary defense and even forced a few steals by swiping at the ball when a Kansas State player drove near them.

But all of that great effort was lost in the final minutes of the quarter when Kansas State hit a few shots and made a big run. Overall, Iowa led 21-19 after the first quarter. Iowa led by seven several times late in the quarter before K-State’s run.

The second quarter was characterized by extreme runs on both sides. Iowa won the game early and held a 7-point lead twice more. But K-State went on another run, cutting Iowa’s lead to one.

Iowa then rejoined defensively, limiting K-State to long jumpers. That helped Iowa get stops and get off in transition, which helped the offensive thrive. Iowa continued their biggest run of the game, and with just under four minutes left in the first half, the Hawkeyes led 40-28.

Then Iowa gave Caitlin Clark a breather and things fell apart. Molly Davis switched to point guard but had a couple of poor turnovers. The turnovers led to defensive collapses, and K-State made a few three-pointers as well. In less than two minutes, Iowa’s lead was reduced to 40-38. Clark came back, calmed things down a bit and Iowa went into halftime with a 47-43 lead.

Kansas State blazed offensively in the third quarter and briefly took a 54-52 lead. Iowa responded by attacking the basket from dribble. Clark in particular was successful at either getting to the basket or drawing a foul on her shots. And Hannah Stuelke started off the bench with great minutes. Iowa went into the closing period of the game with a 68-63 lead.

Iowa also led for most of the fourth quarter but was never able to pull off the defensive stop needed to end the game. Instead, Kansas State hit a late run and tied the game at 78. The two teams battled back and forth, but with less than 10 seconds to play, K-State had the ball on their own end with an 83-tie.

Much of K-State’s success in the 4th quarter came from spreading the ground and then letting one of his guards attack the basket from dribble. More often than not, the K-State player either made the basket or was fouled.

K-State returned to this strategy on its final ownership. Kate Martin ended up guarding the K-State player. You have to give Martin credit for playing possession well. She cut off the K-State player’s path to the basket and forced the K-State player to make contact.

That contact knocked Martin to the ground and caused the K-State player to lose the ball. As she tried to retrieve it, she tripped over Martin and the referee whistled. K-State went 1/2 from the line.

On the other hand, Iowa tried to get the ball to Clark on his final possession, but she twisted her ankle. Somehow she got the ball back and got it to McKenna Warnock, who passed it to Czinano off the post. Czinano went up to the shot and was fouled. Unfortunately for Iowa, officials noted that the replay showed the foul to have occurred just after 12:00 am. Kansas State pulled off the fuss 84-83.

box score

Clark led Iowa with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. She shot poorly again (6/17) but made up for it with a 13/16 at the free throw line. Czinano scored 18 points but didn’t play much of a role on offense until the fourth quarter. McKenna Warnock was the last Hawkeye in double digits at 12. She also had 8 rebounds. A box score for the game is here.

Did Martin commit a foul?

After the game, I saw a lot of talk about whether Martin’s foul on Kansas was really a foul. I’m certainly not a neutral observer, but I would say no.

First, my general position is that umpires should not call fouls in the last few seconds unless they are clear. It’s just too easy to look back and find dozens of examples of harder contact that haven’t been called up throughout the game.

Second, the referee apparently decided that the first contact was accidental and allowed play to continue. It’s brutal to call a player to trip when the other player was at least 50% responsible for that player being down in the first place.

But I also have to acknowledge that the referees counted many weak contacts as a foul throughout the game. This certainly benefited Iowa at times throughout the game. The simple truth is that Iowa shouldn’t be able to let one call decide the game.

And that’s why my optimism died tonight. Because at least half a dozen times that game, Iowa was a defensive stop or two from winning. And every time it just couldn’t make those stops.

Caitlin Clark injury status

Clark seemed to roll his ankle on the last play. She had to be helped onto the bench by employees from Iowa. There was no indication of the severity of her injury after the game, but we will provide any updates here if and when they become available.

next up

Iowa returns to action at home against Belmont on Sunday, November 20 at 2:00 p.m. CT. As previously mentioned, the Bruins fielded #6 Louisville last Sunday. They are also the preseason favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference. The game will be streamed on BTN Plus ($).

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