A quick multiple-choice question for Michigan coach Tommy Amaker: Why have the Wolverines faired so poorly on the road?
Is it due to: A) A lack of confidence B) inexperience C) lack of toughness in critical moments or D) bad breaks?
“I think we”ve been able to subscribe to all of the above for our team in regards to (our road woes),” said Amaker, whose team is 1-8 on the road this season and has won away from Crisler Arena just three times in the past 398 days.
Luckily for Amaker, tomorrow his Wolverines will face a team on the road with many of the same problems maybe even more.
Iowa (4-10 Big Ten, 15-13 overall), a preseason pick to win the conference, has nearly hit rock bottom. Coach Steve Alford has admitted that he lost his team, and the Hawkeyes have responded by losing their last five games. Alford has benched star players Luke Recker and Reggie Evans for reasons such as missing class, not producing on the floor, not showing proper leadership and complaining about pregame meals.
Suddenly the optimism of a 12-3 start and Final Four aspirations have turned into turmoil and a team that is clinging to a possible NIT bid.
Amaker is quick to remind people how Iowa lost seven of its final eight games to close last season before running the table at the Big Ten Tournament and earning a NCAA Tournament bid.
“It shows you how fragile things can really be and shows you that it doesn”t take long for it to ignite and rise to the top or sink to the bottom,” Amaker said. “You”re dealing with a bunch of egos and issues.”
Amaker has sent the same message as Alford, benching LaVell Blanchard and Bernard Robinson for lack of consistency and effort in practice.
But the biggest similarity between the two teams, other than a failure to live up to preseason expectations, is the fact that Iowa is 0-8 on the road in the Big Ten this season.
In fairness, playing on the road in the Big Ten has been a nightmare all season. Conference teams were 5-34 on the road from Jan. 14 to Feb. 11.
But Alford chalks up his Hawkeyes” road problems to not having the toughness in key situations and not being able to buckle down and stop big runs by opponents. Alford says that his Hawkeyes are a “great practice team,” but can”t transfer the same intensity to games.
Sound familiar? It should, as the Wolverines have faced the same problem. “Energetic” and “spirited” workouts haven”t necessarily been visible on gameday.
“A lot of it is mental,” Michigan assistant coach Chuck Swenson said. “When you”re coming off a losing season, guys are hoping that they can win. But they”re not always sure that they can win and get it done in tight games.”
Michigan should have some confidence against Iowa as the Wolverines beat the Hawkeyes twice last season, including a 70-69 win in Iowa City.
But the Wolverines don”t have much time to cure their road woes, and their performance away from home will determine whether they improve on last season”s dismal 10-18 record. After Iowa, Michigan travels to Wisconsin on Wednesday before returning home for its Big Ten finale next Saturday against first-place Ohio State.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines are just as clueless as the Hawkeyes are about finding an instant road fix.
“I don”t know what to say,” said senior tri-captain Chris Young, who has a career 7-33 road record in his four years as a Wolverine. “I don”t know if it could be something as simple as how we travel or what we eat. I really don”t know what could make it better.”