The fun of being nationally ranked is fine, but the reality of the Big Ten men’s basketball season is something quite different.
Illinois took its No. 13 ranking to Rutgers Sunday afternoon and lost, 91-88. Michigan State took its No. 4 label to Northwestern Sunday night and got taken down, 79-65.
“Other leagues have good teams,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Monday, “but every team in our league is really good.”
Iowa dropped a spot to No. 4 Monday after its 99-88 loss to Gonzaga Saturday in South Dakota. It’s no time to exhale. The Hawkeyes know all too well that they can’t just show up and mow down unranked Purdue Tuesday night in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
For one thing, the Boilermakers (6-2) won their Big Ten-opener last Wednesday by beating — what else? — a ranked team. It was 67-60 over No. 20 Ohio State at Purdue. Then Purdue downed Notre Dame Saturday in Indianapolis, 88-78.
Also, Purdue was the only team that beat Iowa twice last season, and has four straight wins against the Hawkeyes. All were by at least nine points, and the game at West Lafayette last season was a 104-68 embarrassment for Iowa.
Add this: Iowa’s only loss in its last 20 games at Carver was against Purdue, in last season’s home finale.
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“Losing to them on our home floor on Senior Day is something that definitely doesn’t sit well with me, or anybody on our team for that matter,” Iowa’s Luka Garza said.
So, Iowa has to buckle down or Purdue will “Boiler Up!” as its people like to say.
“I love the physicality Purdue plays with and everybody plays with in the Big Ten,” Garza said.
Purdue can combat the size of Iowa’s 6-11 guys, Garza and Jack Nunge. Trevion Williams is a 6-10 junior who had this stat line against Ohio State last week: 16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists.
“He’s been really, really good since he got to Purdue,” said Garza.
Add 7-foot-4, 285-pound freshman Zach Edey of Toronto. He didn’t play organized basketball until three years ago, preferring baseball and hockey. He has averaged 11.3 points in just 15 minutes per game after scoring about five points per game last year at IMG Academy in Florida.
“He’s definitely really good for a freshman,” Garza said. “He has a nice touch, is very athletic, and moves his feet well for how big he is.”
Those feet require size 20 shoes, by the way.
Edey is one of four freshmen in Matt Painter’s rotation, and all are among the top 12 freshman scorers in the Big Ten. Garza scored 26 points in both games against Purdue last year, but it wasn’t nearly enough either time.
Iowa’s focus, said guard CJ Fredrick, is righting some wrongs from the Gonzaga game. The Hawkeyes’ defense was a sieve, and they got out-rebounded by 12, allowing 16 offensive rebounds.
“We’ve just got to be a tougher team and we’ve got to win the war on the glass,” Fredrick said Monday. “That’s going to be a key for us tomorrow.
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“We all know what’s coming. This is one of the best leagues in the country and every night will be a grind.”
It would also help if Iowa returns to the kind of 3-point shooting it did in its first six games, all at Carver, rather than the 4-of-22 it posted against Gonzaga in Sioux Falls.
Senior Jordan Bohannon was 0 of 5 from that range in that game, and is 16 of 55 for 29.1 percent overall. Iowa cut Gonzaga’s 20-point lead after sophomore Joe Toussaint replaced Bohannon at point guard and repeatedly drove to the basket in amassing 14 points in 18 minutes of play.
“I won’t tell (Bohannon) anything different,” McCaffery said. “I trust him. Keep firing. He made seven to beat (North) Carolina, that tells you what he’s made of. We already knew that.
“He had a few more turnovers Saturday than he normally does, but he’s not a turnover guy at all. I just think the more games he gets under his belt, the better he’ll play.”
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