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Hot Illinois is first barrier for Hawkeye men as they try to climb February wall
2 teams that are playing well and 2 programs that have done well in recent Februarys clash in Carver Saturday afternoon
While many of us try to endure and survive February, the Iowa men’s basketball program has thrived in the month.
The Hawkeyes are 23-9 over the last four Februarys, with four wins over Top 25 teams. The month is a time when teams either hit mental and physical walls or climb over them. In those last four years, Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes have been climbers.
“I don’t think it’s anything genius that I’ve been doing,” McCaffery said Friday. “We had the National Player of the Year (Luka Garza in 2021), we had a first-team All-American (Keegan Murray last year).
“We had good players. We had a point guard, Jordan Bohannon, who was a consummate winner. You have guys like Connor McCaffery who just knows and understands how to win. You think about Joe Wieskamp and Kris Murray, and just keep going, Tony Perkins. … Filip Rebraca, how he has been. Patrick (McCaffery).”
The mental game has to come through for the final one-third of the regular season to be successful.
“We just have had guys that, as the season goes on, they are professional in how they take care of their bodies,” McCaffery said, “how they prepare and how they understand how each team we play in this league is really good in so many ways, really different.
“I think sometimes that’s the hardest thing when you go game to game, the games started coming quick, and then you get into February. And every game is as difficult as the one before. The maturity of your approach and your professionalism has to be there, and those guys have always done that.”
Well, Iowa’s first 2023 February game is at home Saturday afternoon against Illinois. The Illini are tied with Rutgers for second in the Big Ten at 7-4. The Hawkeyes would be no worse than tied for third at 7-5 if they can beat Illinois to sweep their three home games this week.
Iowa beat Rutgers 93-82 Sunday and Northwestern 86-70 Tuesday to get above the .500 mark in conference play and set itself up to make a run at higher ground in the league.
Illinois, which has won seven of its last eight games, is not the team that tied Wisconsin for last season’s Big Ten regular-season title.
Point guard Andre Curbelo transferred to St. John’s and wing Jacob Grandison went to Duke. Center Kofi Cockburn turned pro. Guards Trent Frazier and Alfonso Plummer, two of the team’s top three scorers last season, are now playing pro ball.
So coach Brad Underwood hit the transfer portal hard. He brought in senior forward Michael Mayer and sophomore forward Dain Dainja from Baylor and point guard Terrence Shannon from Texas Tech.
Mayer was in the rotation of Baylor’s 2021 national-championship club. Shannon was on last year’s Big 12 All-Tournament team, then scored 20 points in an NCAA tournament second-round game. Shannon averages 17.2 points, Mayer 11.5.
“They both can really score,” McCaffery said. “They don’t rattle. They make plays.”
Oh, Illinois is 12-4 over the last two Februarys.
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