The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Iowa’s Lack of Toughness Strikes Again in Loss to Illinois


One of the words that Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery chose to describe his team was fragile.

Illinois head coach John Groce, on the other hand, used words such as resiliency, toughness, and heart to describe the Fighting Illini.

It’s easy to see how a close, back-and-forth game would go the Illini’s way.

After Iowa’s overtime loss to Michigan State back on January 28, McCaffery questioned his team’s toughness, placing the blame for the loss to the Spartans on the Hawkeyes’ lack of it. At the time, it seemed like a one-game lapse that had angered the Iowa head coach. After all, the Hawkeyes were 16-5, even after the loss.

In retrospect, McCaffery seemed to unknowingly foreshadow the reason his team would fall apart in the final two weeks of the season.

In Iowa’s skid of five losses in six games, the Hawkeyes have repeatedly displayed a lack of toughness, and it’s the reason the Hawkeyes will play on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament, and quite possibly wear dark jerseys in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa’s defensive woes have been well-documented over the past few weeks. The Hawkeyes don’t lack the ability to play great defense — the final 33 minutes of Saturday’s game prove it. The Hawkeyes only allowed 46 points over the last 33:49 of the game, a total that would result in just 54 points if held for a full 40 minutes.

Iowa’s defensive woes aren’t physical. It’s a mental issue. It’s said often that defense is mostly effort and toughness, and Iowa has shown to lack it at many points throughout this stretch. When players such as Will Sheehey and Charles Buggs are scoring career-highs on you, that is a problem.

The Hawkeyes are an easily rattled team. The last time Iowa produced in an end-of-game scenario, Todd Lickliter was still the coach, and Cyrus Tate was the player that produced it. It’s an issue that has plagued the Hawkeyes for years, and shows no signs of being remedied.

There is still time for the Hawkeyes to recover from this skid. Even if Iowa loses to either Northwestern or Purdue on Thursday in Indianapolis, an NCAA Tournament berth is all but assured. If Iowa can figure it out between now and then, Iowa has the talent and depth to win in the Big Dance.

They just need to find the toughness necessary to do so.