IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — There might not be a team in the country as unlucky as Iowa.
The Hawkeyes (14-9, 3-7 Big Ten) have lost once to each of the top seven teams in the Big Ten standings. Five of those defeats have come by four points or less with the game in doubt in the final minute.
They had a decent chance to win every one of those close ones. The Hawkeyes didn't, though, and the team's confidence level was a major topic of conversation ahead of Saturday's game against Northwestern (13-10, 4-6).
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday he is satisfied with his team's approach to adversity — which seems like the only thing the Hawkeyes have faced of late.
"It seems like the ball has not bounced our way a couple times. I will say this: I think they have really good perspective," McCaffery said. "Sometimes you get the feeling that they're saying what they're supposed to say. But I really think they believe in themselves and they believe in what we're capable of doing."
Iowa's once-promising season has devolved into a series of agonizing losses against strong teams in the nation's toughest league.
— Iowa could have knocked off Indiana in the league opener, but shot 3 of 17 from 3-point range and lost 69-65.
— Michigan State broke open a tie game with a steal of freshman Mike Gesell with 49 seconds left and went on to a 62-59 win.
— Junior Devyn Marble missed a jumper at the regulation buzzer at Purdue. The Hawkeyes went without a field goal in the final 2:50 of overtime of a 65-61 Boilermakers victory.
— Iowa had Minnesota all but buried in Minneapolis last Sunday. But Austin Hollins capped a game-ending 7-0 run with a 3 with 11.6 seconds left and Gesell front-rimmed a 3 for another 62-59 defeat.
The finish in Madison on Wednesday was the cruelest yet.
Josh Oglesby's 3 as time expired circled around the rim and spun out, saving the Badgers from a rare home defeat. Iowa forced a second OT, but fell 74-70.
"We're making a lot of really good plays. We're making some mistakes. We're not executing at times. We've got different people stepping up. We're not shooting the ball that well. So that's a problem," McCaffery said. "If you're not shooting it well and you soften up, then you're going to get drilled. They're showing a lot of fight in that respect. Now we just have to be able to play better in the last couple minutes."
By far the biggest issue the Hawkeyes have in late-game situations is the lack of a true go-to guy.
Marble was supposed to be just that for Iowa, but the junior swingman is mired in a major slump.
Marble entered Big Ten play averaging 15.7 points per game, but he's shooting an utterly dismal 21 of 83 from the floor since. McCaffery sat Marble for nearly the entire second half of the loss to Minnesota before reinserting him for the final minute. But Marble tossed the ball out of bounds rather than take an open shot, and Hollins buried the eventual game-winner.
Marble remained in the starting lineup against the Badgers, but was a dreadful 1 of 10 shooting. He said he has been working getting more arc on his shot — which could be related to ankle and toe injuries suffered last month — and finding more ways to be involved beyond scoring.
"I've never been through nothing like this. But you've got to be challenged somewhere," Marble said. "So, this is the challenge in my life right now."
Though Iowa's coaches and players aren't leaning on it to bail them out, the fact is that the schedule sets up for a potentially strong finish. Save for a trip to Indiana, seven of Iowa's final eight games appear winnable on paper. The Hawkeyes play struggling Nebraska twice, get winless Penn State on the road and host Purdue, Illinois and Minnesota.
Iowa's margin for error has essentially been erased because of its 3-7 start. But if the Hawkeyes can wipe away their late-game blunders, take advantage of a more favorable schedule and catch a few of the breaks that have eluded them, the 2012-13 season might not end up being so agonizing as it is right now.
"We've got a lot of winnable games left, so if we take care of business we're still in control," senior Eric May said. "It's all about finishing them out."
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