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No misprint: Northwestern in 2nd place in Big Ten men’s basketball standings
Led by “elite” guards, Wildcats bring 6-3 conference record to Iowa for game against 5-5 Hawkeyes on Tuesday
Northwestern has the best story in Big Ten men’s basketball so far this season, but Iowa doesn’t want the Wildcats to add another page when the teams meet Tuesday night at 8 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
In October, a league media poll slotted Northwestern 13th in the conference. At 6-3 on the last day of January, the ‘Cats are in second place. At 15-5 overall, they have matched their win total from last season when they went 15-16, their fifth-straight losing season.
Pete Nance, a 6-foot-11 senior, transferred from Northwestern to North Carolina in the offseason. Ryan Young, a 6-10 senior, transferred from Northwestern to Duke. No first-year Wildcats are in coach Chris Collins’ starting lineup.
So does being 6-3 and 15-5 make any sense? Does it make any sense that the Wildcats won at Michigan State and Indiana, who are a combined 20-1 at home otherwise?
“I’m not surprised,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I really liked the personnel they had back. They’ve got one of the best coaches in the country, and I mean that sincerely. He and his staff know what they’re doing.”
What Collins has is an experienced lineup led by a pair of senior guards from New York state who are playing wonderful ball. Chase Audige is averaging 15.8 points, Boo Buie 15.7.
Buie averages 4.4 assists. Audige leads the Big Ten in steals with 2.6 per game and is one of 15 players on the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Watch List.
“Veteran guards, really good decision-makers,” said McCaffery.
Northwestern has been outshot and out-rebounded by its league foes. However, it has committed fewer turnovers than its opponent in its last 13 games. It had a mere four to Minnesota’s 14 in the Wildcats’ 81-61 win over Minnesota Saturday in Evanston, Ill., and single-digit turnovers in seven of its last eight contests.
After Saturday’s game, Collins said his team is “really together. They fight and they compete. All they’re trying to do is win.
“When you have those qualities you have a chance, especially when you have two elite guards like we do.”
One can only wonder what the Wildcats would be like had Nance and Young not departed. But why would you be wistful when you’re ahead of everyone in the Big Ten but the nation’s No. 1 team, Purdue?
McCaffery: “I’ve been really impressed with the fact two guys left. ‘Oh, if we had so-and-so back.’ They don’t go there. ‘We like who we have.’”
Iowa is 4-0 at Carver in 2023. Each of those vanquished teams are currently at .500 or better in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes are fresh off a 93-82 home win over Rutgers Sunday, giving them five Quad 1 wins. Only eight teams in the nation have more.
The numbers that matter, though, are their five wins and five losses in league play. Beat Northwestern, and the Hawkeyes will be one game out of second place in the conference’s loss column.
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