INDIANAPOLIS — Statistics often verify performance, but they are a difficult barometer to assess a basketball program.
Iowa’s men’s basketball team won two more games this year than it did during the 2007-2008 season. But Iowa lost one more Big Ten game. The Hawkeyes have dropped the Big Ten Tournament opener for three straight seasons, including the last two years to Michigan.
Is that progress or running in place? Second-year coach Todd Lickliter said the program is moving forward, just not at the pace her prefers.
“It’s hard when you’re competing to gauge progress if you’re not winning,” Lickliter said. “But they’ve set a foundation, I think, that we can build upon and it’s not the year we wanted, but the way that they played and the way they approached it. I’m proud of this team.”
Iowa averaged 60.2 points a game, up 4 points from last year. Iowa’s field-goal percentage increased by 1.9 percent and cut its turnovers from 504 to 401. But opponents’ field-goal percentage increased by 3 percent and scored 1.9 more points per game. Iowa’s rebounding total dropped from 1,039 to 928.
Iowa lost eight games in 2007-08 by 10 or more points. That total dropped to seven this year. But the raw data doesn’t show the full story.
Entering this season Iowa had lost five players from last year’s team totaling about 55 percent of the minutes played in 2007-08. This year, Iowa loses two seniors totaling about 8 percent of minutes played. There’s potential for one or more players to leave the program, such as junior David Palmer, who didn’t play in Iowa’s last four games. Freshman Andrew Brommer didn’t play in 10 of Iowa’s last 13 games and totaled only eight minutes in Iowa’s final 14.
Palmer told reporters after Thursday’s season-ending loss that he plans to return to Iowa. He barely played early or late, but in the middle he scored 19 and 21 points, respectively, against Purdue and Wisconsin. He didn’t play in Iowa’s final four games, including the Big Ten Tournament.
Of the players returning, several have injuries requiring serious rest or surgery. Point guard Jeff Peterson, who missed Iowa’s last seven games with a pulled right hamstring, has surgery scheduled for Tuesday on a broken bone in his left wrist. He suffered that injury on Dec. 31. Sophomore Jake Kelly suffered a broken finger before the season that might require surgery as well as several other nagging injuries. Sophomore Jarryd Cole is still recovering from tearing his ACL in his left knee in late 2007.
Senior Cyrus Tate missed nine games with a severely sprained right ankle. But no player had as many ups and downs as freshman Anthony Tucker. After scoring at least 10 points in each of Iowa’s first six games — including an Iowa season-high 24 against West Virginia — Tucker was suspended for two games after an alcohol-related incident. He then struggled with mononucleosis before he was ruled academically ineligible. He finished the season as Iowa’s fourth-leading scorer at 10.4 points a game.
“There was a lot of adversity this year, a lot of injuries, suspensions and whatnot,” Iowa freshman Matt Gatens said. “This team showed a lot of heart at times.”
Iowa did have some bright spots. Kelly, who replaced Peterson at point guard, scored 17 or more points in each of Iowa’s last seven regular-season games. Twice he led Iowa to overtime victories and played all but 9 minutes over that span. He recorded double-doubles in Iowa’s final two regular-season games and nearly notched a triple-double in an overtime win against Michigan. He finished the season scoring 11.7 points a game, the team high.
Gatens, who was named to Big Ten’s all-freshman team, led the league in free-throw percentage and averaged 11.1 points, second best on the team.
Iowa loses Tate and J.R. Angle and has two signed recruits — guard/forward Eric May of Dubuque Wahlert and post Brennan Cougill of Sioux City Heelan. Iowa has one more scholarship to give for next year.
Overall, it was a sour end to a mediocre season for the team. Gatens said the team has learned from the season and hopes to take its lessons into off-season workouts.
“There were a lot of games that could definitely go our way and didn’t, and we fought hard all year long,” Gatens said. “Hopefully it will motivate us and we’ll learn from it and get better in this off-season.”