LINCOLN, Neb. — College basketball history is full of teams that wheezed to regular-season finishes before breathing fire in the postseason.
Iowa is wheezing, with four straight defeats. The latest indignity was a 93-91 overtime decision it coughed up Sunday at Nebraska, a game in which they led for almost 39 minutes and by as much as 16 points.
The Hawkeyes need some fire as they approach this week’s Big Ten tournament. At 21-10 overall and 10-10 in the conference, they went from near season-long residence in the Top 25 to a considerable slide in the eyes of NCAA tournament bracketologists.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for them,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said after this latest loss. “They have to understand we did some good things in this game and we did some things that weren’t so good. Eleven turnovers in the second half, obviously a bunch of (Nebraska) points at the end.”
Iowa (21-10) hasn’t advanced past Thursday at the Big Ten event since 2013. To do so this week, the No. 6-seeded Hawkeyes must win Thursday in its 8:30 p.m. game against the winner of Wednesday night’s game between 11th-seed Illinois (11-20) and 14th-seed Northwestern (13-18).
The Hawkeyes swept a pair of games from Northwestern, 73-63 in Evanston and 80-79 in Iowa City. They beat Illinois at home, 95-71.
But none of that matters now. Nor, to hear Iowa tell it, do the last four games of its regular season.
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“We’ve got another season starting this week,” said Iowa’s Tyler Cook. “We’re excited to learn fro, this and move on to the postseason.”
“Postseason, new season,” said Hawkeye forward Luka Garza, who scored 25 points Sunday. “Zero-and-zero. So that’s our mentality going into it. If we had four (consecutive) games we lost or 20 we won, it’s the same mentality. We’re zero-and-zero now.
“We’ve got to learn from it because we’re going to have leads in the postseason. We’ve got to be able to protect those leads and not have 11 turnovers in the second half, and make more free throws in the course of the game.”
“We’ve got to play well against a really good team,” McCaffery said, “whoever it is.”
You could argue Illinois and Northwestern aren’t really good teams. What’s more relevant is three of Iowa’s last four defeats came against clubs — Ohio State, Rutgers and Nebraska — that had losing records in the Big Ten.
Whatever problems the Hawkeyes may have at the moment, overconfidence is not among them.
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