116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
They're coming off their best game of the year after having thoroughly outplayed a team headed to the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
What, you thought this was about the Iowa Hawkeyes? Well, it is, this being an eastern Iowa publication and all. However, the very same can also be said about the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a team that has recently been playing like nothing resembling the league's last-place team.
No. 5 Iowa's game against the Huskers Thursday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena was supposed to be a rare chance for the Hawkeyes to exhale amid a grueling late-season stretch. Instead, it's against a team that isn't acting like it's 3-14 in the conference and 7-17 overall.
Monday night in Lincoln, Fred Hoiberg's Huskers led by as much as 30 points in dusting off Rutgers, 72-51.
'We always internally felt once we broke down that door, we could take off,” Nebraska assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih said.
'When we move the ball, we're as lethal of an offense as there is,” said Abdelmassih, who also assisted Hoiberg when the then-Mayor was Iowa State's coach.
Two days before the Rutgers win, Nebraska bounced Minnesota in Lincoln, 78-74.
This is impressive on multiple counts. First, obviously, is Hoiberg getting a team that had been 1-14 in the league to find a strong finishing kick. Second, the Huskers didn't play between Jan. 10 and Feb. 6 because of COVID-19 issues in the program, costing second-year Nebraska coach Hoiberg a lot of development time with his reconstructed roster.
Third, Thursday's game will be the Huskers' 13th in the last month. Yet, they have grown rather than gotten worn to a nub.
'I think you have to give a lot of credit to Fred,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday. 'When he got sick, when they first paused, he called me to tell me. He said ‘We're going to make up the games. We're all systems go. We'll get better.'
'Not only have they done that, they played well. They played really well yesterday.
'I think making a statement with, OK, we had some difficulties we had to overcome, but we're going to go ahead and finish out the schedule, continue to compete - you've got to respect that.”
Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes are coming off arguably their best game, a 73-57 win over then-No. 4 Ohio State in Columbus. Holding the Buckeyes 20 points under their season scoring average while surrendering just two offensive rebounds made for a virtuoso defensive performance.
In the last month, Iowa has improved from 134th in the nation to 58th in adjusted defensive efficiency in the KenPom.com formula.
'It's not complicated, it really isn't,” McCaffery said. 'You have to get down and guard the ball off the dribble, you've got to get back, you've got to rebound. It's all connected that way.
'I think our guys have really locked into personnel, scouting, really committed to playing defense on all levels, which is obviously transition, half-court, regardless of which defense we're in, and fighting people on the glass.”
Iowa (18-7 overall) is 12-6 in the Big Ten. If it beats Nebraska and defeats Wisconsin at home Sunday, it will finish in third-place and go directly to the conference's tournament quarterfinals next Friday in Indianapolis.
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