In their most-recent men’s basketball games, Minnesota lost to a final-second shot at sixth-ranked Michigan and Iowa fell at home to No. 5 Michigan State after an eight-point second-half lead disappeared.
Sunday at 4:05 p.m., the Hawkeyes and Gophers have to remove themselves from self-pity. They meet in Minnesota’s Williams Arena in one of those games that could make a big difference come NCAA Tournament time.
No. 21 Iowa is 16-4 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten. Minnesota is 14-5, 4-4. If you’re the Hawkeyes and want to make headway, you beat a team like Minnesota on the road. If you’re the Gophers and want to make headway, you beat a Top 25 team at home.
The Hawkeyes’ mood was indigo Thursday night after they shot 38.6 percent from the field and suffered an 82-67 loss to Michigan State. Oh, what a win would have meant. It seemed there for the taking, with Iowa ahead by eight points on three occasions in the first half. Then, a 24-2 MSU run put an end to all that.
Likewise, Minnesota. The Gophers led Michigan by seven points early in the second half Tuesday in Ann Arbor. But they managed just 21 points in the final 18:14.
You either regroup quickly in this league, or you get stepped over. Sunday, someone does the stepping and someone gets footprints on their backs.
“It’s a bounce-back game,” said Iowa center Luka Garza, who has a streak of three straight games of at least 20 points. “We know what we have to do. Every next game is the most important. That’s our mindset.”
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Garza and his frontcourt mates need to neutralize Minnesota’s 6-foot-6, 250-pound Jordan Murphy, who averages 14.6 points and is second in the nation in rebounding with 12.1 per game.
The Gophers have wins over Washington (15-4, and the Pac-12 Conference-leader) in Vancouver, B.C., and Wisconsin (13-6) at Madison. Iowa is pursuing its third-straight Big Ten road win.
“Obviously, Michigan State’s a tough opponent,” Iowa’s Nicholas Baer said after Thursday’s game. “We have another tough opponent coming up in Minnesota. That’s the nature of this league, understanding that each night’s a beast.”
This is the second of four straight games in which the Hawkeyes had or have much more to potentially gain than mere victories. Winning at Minnesota or at Indiana on Feb. 7 would have great value to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, as would beating Michigan at home this Friday night.
“That last time we lost a game we went back to work and went on a five-game winning streak,” Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon said after Thursday’s loss. “We have a chance to do that again. The sun comes up tomorrow. The league’s not set up for us to dwell on any games.
“The leaders in the locker room, me and T.C. (Tyler Cook) and Baer, we just have to get the guys to stay connected. There’s a lot of season left. We can still have a very good record. We have a lot of good guys in that locker room and we still can do something special.”
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