Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa basketball tries to go from 4-14 to 5-0

Iowa, Illinois collide in Big Ten tourney opener in New York

Big Ten men's basketball tournament
Big Ten men's basketball tournament

NEW YORK — What the Iowa men’s basketball team hopes to do beginning Wednesday isn’t unprecedented. In fact, it happened right here in Madison Square Garden.

Win five games in five days in a conference tournament? Connecticut did it in the 2011 Big East tournament in the Garden. Which is what the 12th-seeded Hawkeyes need to do in the Big Ten tourney that opens Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. when they play 13th-seed Illinois if they are to (ahem) extend their season into the NCAA tournament.

OK, the two situations aren’t quite the same. UConn entered that tourney as a No. 9 seed, with a 9-9 league record and 21-9 overall mark. It went on to win the national championship. Iowa comes into Wednesday’s game 4-14 in the Big Ten, 13-18 overall.

UConn had a junior guard named Kemba Walker. He averages 21 points a game for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets these days. He scored 130 points over those five days of 2011. Walker, Iowa men’s basketball Coach Fran McCaffery noted, isn’t available to the Hawkeyes this week.

However, he said “it’s important to bring up” UConn’s 2011 Big East run to his players.

Five conference tourney games, five days, five wins.

“It has happened,” McCaffery said.

Once.

Monday, Hawkeye guard Jordan Bohannon group-messaged his teammates with the odds someone or another posted about the Big Ten tourney. Iowa was 100-1. Internet basketball number-cruncher Ken Pomeroy says the Hawkeyes have a 0.08 percent chance of winning the event.

“We have no pressure on us,” Bohannon said. “Why not? Why don’t we just win five in a row, who cares?”

Winning one game at this tournament has been challenging enough for this program, even when it’s had good teams. Iowa has been ousted in its last four openers. It’s 2-7 in the tourney under McCaffery.

Plus, the Hawkeyes haven’t won two straight games since late December. The Hawkeyes knocked off Northwestern, 77-70, Sunday night in Iowa City.

Also, Iowa hasn’t won away from home since Jan. 11 when it rallied from a 20-point deficit for a 104-97 overtime win at ... Illinois.

The Fighting Illini won 75-62 at Rutgers Sunday and have two wins in their last four games, making them the hottest team in the Big Ten’s Pit of Misery, er, bottom four teams.

Since that loss to the Hawkeyes in Champaign, “I think we’re playing a lot better offensively and we’ve grown some defensively,” Illinois Coach Brad Underwood said. “We’re shooting the ball better, which also helps.”

The Illini packed for a weeklong stay out East starting with Sunday’s game at Rutgers, 30-some miles from midtown Manhattan.

“I brought enough clothes,” Underwood said. “My whole closet’s here.”

That’s optimistic. Optimism is what these two teams are clinging to after getting battered for much of the last two months.

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“We’ll do what it takes to try to get five wins,” said Iowa freshman forward Luka Garza. “To win five, you’ve got to win the first one.”

If Garza or someone else on Iowa’s team wants to go all Kemba Walker starting Wednesday, that wouldn’t hurt.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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