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Iowa’s role in the Big Ten is as spoiler

Four-game losing skid has Hawkeyes needing a major turnaround to save season.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Iowa State
Iowa State Cyclones forward Solomon Young (33) battle Iowa Hawkeyes forward Cordell Pemsl (35) and Iowa Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer (51) for a lose ball at James H. Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones beat the Hawkeyes 84 to 78.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawkeyes, who sit at the bottom of the Big Ten, have lost six of eight as the season creeps toward January. Barring a major turn around, Iowa will have to settle for the role of spoiler during the remainder of the conference schedule.

A team once hoping to build on its 19-15 record from a year ago with multiple key pieces returning is now hoping to salvage its non-conference schedule. Iowa sits at 5-6 on the year and has four opportune games to pick up victories before 2018 hits and the Hawkeyes find themselves back in conference play facing Michigan, Ohio State, and Maryland to begin the new year.

Iowa failed to capitalize on winnable games against Penn State and Indiana, as well as in-state rival Iowa State. In each of those games, the Hawkeyes turned the ball over 18 times.

"If you look at stats, we were 53-31 on the glass; you're supposed to win,” head coach Fran McCaffery told HawkeyeSports.com following the loss to Iowa State. “(We had) 12 turnovers in the second half, 18 turnovers in the game, leading to 28 points, that's why we lost."

The Hawkeyes have faced some tough breaks, but the team’s shooting, despite shooting at a Big Ten third-best 38.4 percent from three-point range, hasn’t been consistent enough to overcome a defense that has allowed the most points per game in the Big Ten (75.6 ppg). Iowa put up 36 three-point attempts against Iowa State but converted only 11 of them for a 30.6 percent clip.

Despite all of this, Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon have led the way for Iowa with 13.3 points per game each, and Bohannon ranks eighth in the Big Ten with 47.7 percent from 3-point range and tied-fifth with 4.4 assists per game.

Freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge have been pleasant additions to McCaffery’s club. Nunge is averaging 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest while shooting 41.4 percent from three-point range — second-best on the team. Garza is having 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds while hitting at a 54.5 percent clip from the field.

Iowa’s remaining five games of 2017 feature four mid-majors that shouldn’t pose any significant threat, and Colorado who is 7-2.

Any way you slice it, even if the Hawkeyes win all four games left in the calendar year, it will be highly unlikely for them to get back to last season’s 19-win mark. In that case, the Hawkeyes would need 10 wins in 16 remaining conference games. Like I said, unlikely. However, Iowa could prove to be a spoiler throughout Big Ten season. They have home games against the Big Ten’s powers No. 21 Purdue, No. 14 Minnesota and No. 3 Michigan State in a two and a half week span in late January and early February. If Iowa’s shooting gets hot like they have for a couple halves this season plus the home atmosphere of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, that could spell trouble for the team’s trying to compete for the conference.