Narrow focus for Iowa entering game at Northwestern

Hawkeyes play at Wildcats Sunday at 4:35 p.m.

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EVANSTON, Ill. — With the Iowa men’s basketball team locked in a three-game tailspin, most fans and media are focused on the big picture. Coach Fran McCaffery, however, looks strictly at his team with narrow vision.

The Hawkeyes (11-5, 0-3 Big Ten) dropped a 62-59 heartbreaker to No. 22 Michigan State on Thursday. It’s a loss that could prove fatal to the program’s hopes for an NCAA tournament bid — if the Hawkeyes can’t shake off the sting of recent defeats.

“I’m not thinking about that at all,” he said. “I’m just thinking about how we’re going to win the next game on our schedule.”

With just two days separating game dates, Iowa didn’t have long to dwell on the loss. On the surface, today’s match-up at Northwestern (10-6, 1-2 Big Ten) seems like a potential over-the-hump game for the Hawkeyes. But the Wildcats have won five in a row against Iowa and the last four at Welsh-Ryan Arena. It’s Iowa’s longest losing streak to Northwestern since dropping seven straight from 1928-31.

In the regular-season finale last year at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Northwestern rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to beat Iowa 70-66. The Wildcats’ 1-3-1 zone trapping defense shredded the Hawkeyes for nine turnovers in an 18-possession span to get back into the game. A missed 3-point attempt with three seconds remaining kept Iowa from taking the lead.

“We’ve just got to be aggressive,” Iowa forward Zach McCabe said. “Get rebounds, stuff like that. It’s going to be open. We’ve got to look for our guys inside; our guys inside have played well the last couple of games.”

After losing their first two Big Ten games by a combined 46 points, the Wildcats beat Penn State 70-54 on Thursday. Leading scorer Reggie Hearn (14.2 ppg) earlier missed two games with an injury but has averaged 12.5 points and 28.5 minutes since returning to the lineup. Dave Sobolewski averages 11.4 points and 4.4 assists.

Northwestern has improved defensively this year, allowing 6.4 fewer points than last year.

Diagonal passes are one way to attack the 1-3-1, McCabe said.

“Sometimes they defend the guy when he passes it up top and the corner is open,” McCabe said. “They don’t want us to look at that. We learned from that, I think. That’s what we’re going to be looking at.”

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