A week ago, Iowa was still in contention for a Big Ten regular-season title, and even pegged by some as a dark horse Final Four candidate.
The Hawkeyes have since tumbled out of contention with three straight losses. If they can’t end their skid soon, an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament could be in jeopardy, too.
No. 20 Iowa looks to avoid losing four in a row for the first time in three years Sunday when it hosts Purdue.
The Hawkeyes (19-9, 8-7) were two games out of first place with six to play after beating Penn State on Feb. 15, but haven’t won since. A narrow 79-74 loss to then-No. 16 Wisconsin on Feb. 22 didn’t seem too deflating. And while a 95-89 road defeat to a desperate Minnesota squad on Tuesday was seen as a setback, it wasn’t as disconcerting as the defensive performance in Thursday’s 93-86 loss at Indiana.
Iowa is in danger of its first four-game slide since losing six in a row in 2011, but coach Fran McCaffery didn’t exactly sound ready to sound the alarm.
Most pundits have penciled the Hawkeyes into the NCAA tournament, though their end-of-season slate includes a contest Thursday at No. 18 Michigan State. They close out their schedule next Saturday against suddenly hot Illinois, which won at Michigan State on Saturday.
"You have to talk to guys individually, you have to boost their confidence if they’re struggling," McCaffery said. "At some level you have to look at the things that we did wrong, but at some level you have to just move on and say, ‘OK, we’re going to be better. Collectively, we’re going to be better coaches, you’re going to be better players.’"
Roy Devyn Marble scored 20 against the Hoosiers and is averaging 21.7 points during the losing streak while shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range. Aaron White had 19 points and 10 rebounds, two days after scoring 21 against Minnesota on 8-of-11 shooting.
However, the Hawkeye defense has suddenly faltered, surrendering 90-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time since losses to Michigan and Michigan State in 2001. Iowa was limiting opponents to 69.1 points per game on 41.3 percent shooting in 12 Big Ten contests prior to its skid. Indiana came in averaging 59.5 points and shooting 41.6 percent over its previous 10 games before shooting 51.7 percent Thursday.
The Hawkeyes have also lost three of four at home after starting 11-0 in Iowa City. They had lost 11 of 12 overall to the Boilermakers prior to a 58-48 home victory last February, when Marble and White each scored 18.
Purdue (15-13, 5-10) remains the lone Big Ten squad without a win over a ranked team, squandering all six of its chances. The Boilermakers came close on Wednesday, falling 77-76 to No. 16 Michigan in overtime. Glenn Robinson III – son of the former Purdue great – banked in the winning shot at the buzzer.
Purdue was a perfect 17 of 17 from the free throw line until Kendall Stephens missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 12.2 seconds left on the previous possession.
The Boilermakers led by as many as 19 points in the first half.
"It’s just heartbreaking," said Ronnie Johnson, who scored a season-high 21 and was credited with seven assists. "Everyone came out and fought. We did our job most of the game."
Iowa had won 30 straight home contests against unranked opponents prior to a 76-69 loss to Ohio State on Feb. 4.