Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball can't let guard down vs. Northwestern

An upset loss to Northwestern would undo recent good work

Iowa’s Luka Garza (55) shoots under pressure from Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon during the Hawkeyes’ 77-70 win over the Wildcats last Feb. 25 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa’s Luka Garza (55) shoots under pressure from Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon during the Hawkeyes’ 77-70 win over the Wildcats last Feb. 25 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

The Iowa men’s basketball team just completed a four-game gauntlet.

In that 15-day stretch, the Hawkeyes met Big Ten powers Michigan State and Michigan at home and traveled to Minnesota and Indiana. They went 2-2, keeping themselves nationally ranked and in the first division of the conference standings, positioned for a run at the NCAA Tournament.

But it’s really a 20-game gauntlet in the Big Ten, and taking games off is a good way to go from bracketologies to apologies.

“Any win in this league this year is huge,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said after his team’s 77-72 victory at Indiana Thursday night.

Many might suggest a win at Assembly Hall would dwarf a home win over Northwestern, 3-8 in the Big Ten. That may be true when it comes to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But if the Hawkeyes lose to the Wildcats on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, guess which result will have more impact with the tournament selectors.

Saturday, that committee released its top 16 seeds (1-through-4 in the four regions) if the pairings would have been announced that morning. Michigan and Michigan State were No. 2s, Purdue was a No. 3, and Wisconsin was a No. 4. Iowa State also was a No. 4.

At 18-5 overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten, Iowa is in the near vicinity. Andy Katz of NCAA.com has Iowa as a No. 5. Winning Sunday against Northwestern would keep it there, at the worst.

What the Hawkeyes haven’t done through 23 games is lose to anyone that clearly isn’t headed to the NCAAs. Losing Sunday would change that.

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The Wildcats are 3-8 in the Big Ten, and are fresh off a 59-52 home loss last Monday to Penn State, which had been winless in league play.

“Things change quickly in this league,” Northwestern Coach Chris Collins said. “You have an opportunity to win a game, or put a couple together and win and get your confidence going, you can change it quick.”

Iowa might be playing as well right now as it has in the last three seasons. Consecutive wins over Michigan and Indiana had two statistics that spoke especially well for the Hawkeyes. They had just 19 turnovers over the two games, and their opponents combined for an icy 27.8 percent (15 of 54) from 3-point distance.

After the Indiana game, McCaffery said “We’re thrilled with how we played and how we played together. But it just makes the next one bigger.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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