Northwestern is 1-4 in Big Ten men’s basketball and 6-9 overall, yet Iowa has every reason to be wary about its game against the Wildcats Tuesday night.
That’s because, quite simply, it’s at Northwestern.
Home has seldom been as safe and secure as it’s been in the Big Ten so far this winter. None of the league’s teams are ranked higher than No. 15 Michigan State. It’s not because 14 teams nationwide are better than all of the 14 in the Big Ten. It’s because the league has a lot of good clubs that are ferocious at home.
Before Sunday, Michigan State had been the last unbeaten team in Big Ten play. It visited Purdue and got trounced, 71-42. “That was probably the worst beating I’ve taken as a coach,” MSU’s Tom Izzo said.
A week earlier, Purdue had lost at Illinois, 63-37.
In 37 Big Ten games, the visiting team has won just five times. Iowa is 2-0 at home, with a 72-52 win over Minnesota and last Friday’s 67-49 pasting of then-No. 12 Maryland. The Hawkeyes, however, are 0-3 on the road.
Home-court advantage has been part of basketball as long as the court has been rectangular. Last Saturday, though, Baylor won at Kansas for the first time in its 18 visits. Clemson had been 0-59 at North Carolina until it prevailed in Chapel Hill the same day. Which makes what’s happening in the Big Ten seem all the stranger.
“I just think the benefit is always for the home team,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Monday, “and if all the teams are good then the numbers skew that way.
“I think we all know it’s difficult. I don’t care where you go, the percentages are going to be against you when you go on the road. You just have to have a certain toughness and certain mentality that we’re going to be connected and follow the game plan and we support each other and do the best we can to play well.”
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They’re all big games, but if Iowa escapes Evanston with a win it will be 3-3 in the league with three straight home games coming up, starting with Michigan Friday night. Home is where the Hawkeyes have made 19 of 44 3-pointers in league games while their opponents have shot 34.9 percent from the field and are 10-of-47 in 3s. On the road in the conference, however, Iowa is making 24.3 percent of its 3s.
First, though, is this thing at Northwestern. The Wildcats won at home last Saturday, beating Nebraska 62-57 for their first league victory. During the BTN telecast of that game, analyst Stephen Bardo talked about home-court advantage in the conference.
“It was brutal 30 years ago when I was playing (for Illinois) in the league,” Bardo said. “But it seems a lot tougher now.
“The recipe for a Big Ten title 30 years ago was take care of business at home and get half of the wins on the road. I tell you what, Michigan State appears to be the only team right now with a chance to win half their road games in this league.
“You have to be 10 points better than your opponent on the road. That’s an unwritten rule because you’re not going to get calls to go your way. The home team has the advantage of the energy from their crowd.”
Hawkeyes supporters always account for a portion of fans at Iowa-Northwestern games in Evanston. Maybe that will be enough to push the Hawkeyes over the top Tuesday. They’ll take whatever you can get on the road.
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