For fans looking for defense and rebounding out of the Iowa basketball team the past two games….keep searching.
In back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Minnesota the Hawkeyes have put forth two of their worst efforts of the season in those areas. Not surprisingly, they lost both times.
So what’s happened?
In part, Iowa ran into two opponents that for stretches (in the case of Wisconsin), and an entire game (in the case of Minnesota) had out-of-body experiences shooting the basketball. However, there was also the case of the fourth leading team in America in terms of rebounding margin being outworked on the glass twice in four days.
Some hysterical fans have taken the approach that the sky is falling in Iowa City, and I will gladly share their perceived peril should the Hawkeyes crash and burn the rest of this season. Until then it’s time someone took a more rational look at the situation at hand.
If one takes the time to calm down and examine this team carefully, they will notice a common denominator that was missing from the Iowa lineup each of the last two disappointing times it took the floor.
The senior forward has had a serious case of flu-like symptoms stretching back to last weekend. Basabe tried to give it a go against the Badgers on Saturday, but lasted all of 30 seconds before being pulled from the game for good. He was on the bench in warm-ups last night at Minnesota, though he never entered the ballgame.
Basabe’s absence has not only altered Iowa’s rotation in each game, but caused the Hawkeyes to use a different starting lineup for the first time all year.
Aside from the obvious change in continuity created by his vacated power forward position, his impact on the floor should now be recognized and appreciated by Iowa fans more than ever.
As I mentioned, the Hawkeyes were out-rebounded against both the Badgers and Gophers, two teams that have no business beating Iowa on the boards. What does Basabe do better than just about every other Hawkeye? Rebound.
At 6-7, the senior is an athletic and energetic presence on the interior. He has been increasingly effective in recent weeks, upping his Big Ten averages to over 8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on 59% shooting from the field. Basabe also led the Hawkeyes in blocks each of his first three seasons. Without him on the floor Iowa loses some of the length and rim protection that help to offset a lack of foot speed on the perimeter.
With Basabe gone against Wisconsin, coach Fran McCaffery inserted Zach McCabe into a starting role (ask an Iowa fan how that experiment went and you’re bound to get a dirty look). Last night in Minneapolis McCaffery replaced McCabe with sharpshooter Josh Oglesby, who despite playing very well, still sent a bit of a ripple effect down the rest of the normal rotation.
The Hawkeyes have certainly had other troubles as of late besides Basabe being out, but any tendency for fans to overlook him as a key cog in the success of this Iowa team is foolish.
Iowa needs to get back on track as the Big Ten regular season schedule comes to a close and tournament play begins. The return of Melsahn Basabe will play a greater role in doing that than many Hawkeye supporters realize.