IOWA CITY — Members of the Iowa basketball team would prefer not to even look at the Big Ten standings right now.
It shows them at the very bottom with an 0-3 conference record, 9-7 overall, heading into another challenging matchup with Ohio State tonight at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
But the Hawkeyes insisted following a disheartening loss to Michigan on Tuesday that this is a temporary state of affairs. They don’t plan to live in the cellar all season.
"The wins will take care of themselves if we play the way we should," freshman Luka Garza said after the 75-68 loss to the Wolverines. "We’re not really worried about our record right now. We just need to go out and play hard. We’ve got a lot of games left, but at the same time we can’t just keep waiting for something to happen."
That seemed to be what the Hawkeyes were doing at times Tuesday: Waiting. They slid back into that familiar problem of starting slowly and playing hard only in spurts.
It cost them as Michigan rolled out to a big lead and held it, even after the Hawkeyes began playing with more intensity in the second half.
"The first half our energy wasn’t there so I think that has to be our focus going into Thursday," said sophomore forward Tyler Cook, who scored 28 points in defeat.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery admitted he didn’t see Tuesday’s lapse coming. Following a five-game nonconference winning streak, he thought his team was focused and ready.
"I thought it was pretty good coming in," McCaffery said. "It wasn’t what it needed to be in the game obviously, but I thought coming in they were good. I think they’ll be fine."
Tonight’s game doesn’t figure to be any easier than Tuesday. Ohio State is perhaps the most improved team in the Big Ten in its first season under head coach Chris Holtmann.
The Buckeyes are 11-4 overall and 2-0 in league play following victories over Michigan and Wisconsin in early December.
They also have one of the best players almost no one knows about in junior forward Keita Bates-Diop. The 6-foot-7 fourth-year junior missed much of last season with a stress fracture in his leg, but this season he is tied for second in the Big Ten in scoring (18.7) and fourth in rebounding (8.7). He also leads the Buckeyes in both blocked shots and steals.
The Buckeyes are among the most experienced teams in the league with two seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup.
"They’re playing really well," McCaffery said. "They’re athletic, they’ve got some veteran guys, and we just have to play better against them."
His players vowed that they won’t get off to another sluggish start, as they did Tuesday and in a handful of other games early in the nonconference schedule.
"We’ve got a locker room full of determined guys, and we’re going to do what we can to not let that happen again," Garza said.
"It’s a long season obviously," sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon added. "You never know what’s going to happen in the Big Ten. ...
"It’s going to take everyone in that locker room to turn this thing around."