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Once again, No. 15 Iowa loses a close game to an elite opponent

Jan 28, 2014, 10:19 PM EST

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For the fifth time this season, No. 15 Iowa blew a great chance to pick up a season-defining win.

They lost to Villanova in overtime in a game they led by nine at the half. They lost at Iowa State is a game they led by double figures late in the first half and lost when they couldn’t hit free throws late. They wasted a dominating first half performance at Wisconsin. They lost by eight at Michigan in a game they probably deserved to lose but were certainly never out of the game.

Four losses, four top 20 teams, none of which came in Iowa City.

Which is why Tuesday night’s visit from a injury-riddled No. 7 Michigan State was so important.

This was a chance for the Hawkeyes to finally pick up an elite win, and do it on their home court. But Fran McCaffery’s club failed to capitalize on the opportunity, going for 14 minutes without a field goal down the stretch in a 71-69 loss in overtime.

For a team known for their uptempo style and high-powered offense, Iowa allowed Michigan State to walk into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and completely set the tone the game. This was a low-possession, physical slugfest, one that saw the Spartans spend much of the game in foul trouble while working through an offense that looked atrocious at times. That’s what Michigan State does, though, and with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson out of the lineup, it’s not a surprise that Izzo was able to turn this game into a rugby match.

What is concerning for the Hawkeyes is that they once again lost a game against elite competition that they simply couldn’t close out down the stretch.

Iowa has the talent. They have the depth. They can score and they can beat teams up and down the floor. They have size, they have perimeter depth, they have shooters and they have guys like Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff that allow them all kinds of lineup versatility and the ability to use different defenses.

On paper, they’re awesome.

On the court, they’ve beaten the teams they’re supposed to beat, but to date, they’ve yet to be able to make the kind of a statement that you want to see out of a real Final Four contender.

Is Iowa really a contender?

Or is this team simply good enough not to lose to bad teams?