Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa goes for hat trick against Minnesota ... in basketball

For Hawkeyes to make any kind of impact in Big Ten tournament, they must first win Thursday

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Joe Toussaint (1) drives against Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Marcus Carr (5) in the first half of
Iowa Hawkeyes guard Joe Toussaint (1) drives against Minnesota Golden Gophers guard Marcus Carr (5) in the first half of their NCAA men's basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

UPDATE: The Big Ten men's basketball tournament has been canceled

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ORIGINAL STORY:

OK, so this will be a basketball story. ...

“It’s so hard to beat a team three times in a row.”

That’s supposed to be a truism in college basketball. Teams are overly familiar with you by a third meeting in one season, and thus your advantage over them is reduced.

Iowa plays Minnesota Thursday afternoon in the second round of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Golden Gophers (15-16) are the only team Iowa (20-11) has defeated twice this season.

“It’s so hard to beat a team three times in a row.”

Says who? Says Minnesota Coach Richard Pitino. At least he did at the 2014 Big Ten tourney, after his first Gophers team knocked off Penn State for the third time that season.

Now it’s this season’s Iowa-Minnesota III. Is it “so hard” to beat a team three times in a row?

Ask Northern Iowa. The Panthers downed Drake twice in the regular season, but got bulldozed by the Bulldogs in last Friday’s quarterfinal round of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The consensus is that knocked the regular-season MVC champs out of the NCAA tournament.

On the other hand, East Tennessee State, coached by Lone Tree native Steve Forbes, downed VMI, Western Carolina and Wofford to win the Southern Conference tourney championship to sweep three-game season series against all three foes.

It’s so hard to beat a team three times in a row?

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“I think the numbers tell you that that’s false,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday, “so I don’t worry about that at all. If we end up playing somebody three times that we have already beaten twice or vice versa, I don’t really put much credibility into that at all. We’re just going to go to the next game, put a game plan together, and try to win.”

Hawkeye senior Ryan Kriener, however, thinks there’s merit to the third meeting being the hardest.

“It’s always hard to beat a team three times just because they learn a little more every time you play them,” Kriener said. “So do you. Maybe the stuff that worked the first two times won’t work a third time.”

Certainly, the Hawkeyes don’t want to lose and worsen their NCAA tournament seeding. Also, they would prefer not to enter the big tourney with their first three-game losing streak of the season.

For a third, it would hurt Luka Garza’s remaining national Player of the Year candidacies if the Hawkeyes have people around the country thinking The Sporting News’ choice for that honor is on a team that hit a wall.

Most importantly, Iowa wants to win to, well, win. If it prevails Thursday, it gets the chance to beat a fellow ranked team in Illinois Friday and go on to reach the weekend at this event for the first time since 2006. That would mean playing Saturday on CBS, getting Garza’s story told to the masses, and injecting some end-of-season enthusiasm into the program.

But first, it’s a Thursday afternoon game against Minnesota that will interest few beyond the Upper Midwest. It is a task the Hawkeyes must endure and overcome if they are to be part of something meaningful before the weekend is done.

OK, now about the real-life portion of this. There will be no fans at the game other than what the Big Ten called “immediate family members of the participating teams.”

So this will be studio basketball, an extremely strange thing in an extremely strange time.

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“Kind of like a closed scrimmage, but obviously more on the line,” said Gophers guard Payton Willis.

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