By Tuesday night, a lot of Iowa basketball fans figured the sky was falling.
The Hawkeyes had suffered back-to-back losses to relatively unknown mid-major teams in the Cayman Islands Classic and if the social media Chicken Littles were to be believed, the season was over.
The panic actually started on Monday following an 80-71 loss to Louisiana, prompting Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon to take to Twitter himself with a one-word message: “Relax.’’
While it would have been better for the Hawkeyes’ resume if they had trounced their first two opponents and rolled into the tournament championship game against 12th-ranked Cincinnati, they may not have learned as much as they did by landing in the seventh-place game.
As it is, they got a little better in each of the three games they played in the Caymans. They improved. They grew. They matured.
It’s early. Relax.
This team has a batch of flaws that need to addressed. But the Hawkeyes seemingly learned some very valuable — and very hard — lessons.
First of all, those two teams they lost to were considerably better than the three cupcakes the Hawkeyes played at home before jetting off to the Caribbean.
Louisiana had a lineup that included transfers from South Carolina, Missouri, USC and BYU, and came into the tournament averaging 101 points per game. South Dakota State is a veteran team that played in the NCAA tournament last season. Both teams won two of their three games in the Caymans.
In truth, playing teams like Chicago State, Alabama State and Grambling State wasn’t a great way to prepare for this tournament. Against teams of that caliber, you can play hard in spurts and get by.
You can’t do that against better teams and it seemingly took the Hawkeyes a couple of days to figure that out.
But they did figure it out. They were in position to beat South Dakota State with five minutes to go on Tuesday and didn’t make the plays necessary to close it out. Placed in the same situation Wednesday against UAB, they did it, winning 95-85 and at least temporarily halting the social media angst.
“We lost to two good teams,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “That’s why we came to this tournament. The field was really strong. The two teams we lost to will win 20 games in their leagues and probably go to the NCAA tournament.
“So, we were tested. We had some kids who didn’t play well, then came back and played well. That’s why you come to these events.’’
There were all sorts of positives. The formerly gun-shy Isaiah Moss scored 54 points in three games and made the all-tournament team. Bohannon and Tyler Cook reached career highs in scoring Wednesday. Cook made 18 of 22 free throws. Ahmad Wagner and Jack Nunge played very well on Tuesday. Luka Garza and Maishe Dailey were good on Wednesday.
“This will help us get better because our goals at the end are large and we want to reach them,’’ McCaffery said.
The Hawkeyes still have flaws, mostly on defense. They also had some lapses in offensive execution, especially against South Dakota State, but ended up shooting 48.5 percent from the field in the tournament. That’s good enough to win a whole bunch of games.
The defense is another story. The Hawkeyes allowed 80 or more points in all three games in the tournament.
You could see even in the two earlier exhibition games against Division II opponents that they are vulnerable to quick perimeter players. They get gouged by dribble penetration, don’t help very well on the back end, give up way too many open threes. Those things all got exposed in a big way this week.
“I think we learned where we need to improve,’’ McCaffery said. “We’ve got to be better defensively. We knew that already.’’
If they’ve having trouble stopping quick little guards now, they obviously need to make progress to handle the quick big guards they’ll see in the Big Ten. And there's not much time to make those improvements. Because of the unique schedule this season, the start of the Big Ten season is only eight days away.
But the sky isn’t falling. Admittedly, the two losses are red flags. But it's too early to wave the white flag.
The Hawkeyes are 4-2. A year ago at this point they were 3-3 (on their way to 3-5) and they eventually came within a whisker of making the NCAA tournament.
Bohannon summed it up pretty well in another tweet on Monday.
“If everyone quit after a bad day in life, where would we be as a civilization?’’ he wrote. “Enjoy the ride through the highs and the lows and let’s keep working!!’’