Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball visits "new" Northwestern arena

Hawkeyes try to get second win in 4 days

Northwestern men’s basketball coach Chris Collins at the school’s renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena on Oct. 29, 2018. (David Banks/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Northwestern men’s basketball coach Chris Collins at the school’s renovated Welsh-Ryan Arena on Oct. 29, 2018. (David Banks/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Iowa had Big Ten men’s basketball games on Jan. 3 and 6, and will have them on Jan. 9, 12, 16, 20, 24 and 27.

That means you better not dwell long on defeats, and you mustn’t spend much time basking in wins. The Hawkeyes were able to shake off their 16-point loss at Purdue last Thursday, turning around to beat Nebraska Sunday at home, 93-84.

Now they must leave the warmth of winning at home behind and revisit road realities. They were battered in their only two true road games of the season, against Michigan State and Purdue. Northwestern awaits them Wednesday (8:07 p.m., BTN) at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The constant short turnarounds, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday, is “the challenge.”

“It’s the maturity your team has to have, to be able to process a scouting report, execute a game plan, deal with the outcome, and then move on to the next one in a professional way.

“We had a tough loss, (then) a really good win. I’m proud of the way the guys came back. Now you’ve got to turn around and do it again in a hostile environment against a really good team with a really good coach.”

Northwestern, like 12-3, 25th-ranked Iowa, is 1-3 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats edged Illinois 68-66 at home Sunday afternoon. They’re 10-5 overall.

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That doesn’t overwhelm. Look closer, though, and you see plenty of potential for the Hawkeyes to encounter more road trouble.

On Dec. 1, Northwestern lost at Indiana by two points. The Hoosiers now are 10-0 at home. Three days later, the Wildcats fell at home to Michigan, 62-60. The Wolverines now are 15-0. They’ve beaten Indiana by 11 points, North Carolina by 17, Purdue by 19, and Villanova by 27.

This is Chris Collins’ sixth season as Northwestern’s coach. This isn’t the perennially downtrodden program of decades past. The Wildcats won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in their history since Iowa’s last trip to Evanston, in 2017.

And, Welsh-Ryan is a far different Welsh-Ryan. The arena got a transformation as part of a $110 million project. Lighting, seating, video, the concourses, the restrooms — you name it, it’s vastly superior to the glorified high school gym it had been for so long.

“I thought when they hired Chris they were going to make a commitment to that program,” McCaffery said. “It’s reflected in the new facility. It’s no secret they had the worst facility in the league, and now they have a state-of-the-art facility.

“They committed to Chris. Not just whatever salary they’re paying him. They’re committing to that program being successful. ... They’re making some noise in the conference.”

As for Iowa’s task at hand, Northwestern starts three seniors and a junior. The top Cat is fifth-year senior Vic Law, an inside/outside player who averages 17.6 points and is a good passer and defender.

For once, at least as of Tuesday afternoon, Iowa had no “questionables” or “game-time decisions” for this one. Sophomore forward Luka Garza played 10 minutes Sunday after missing three games with a sprained ankle, and was effective with eight points.

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“The good news is he didn’t take a step back,” McCaffery said. “He’s getting closer to 100 percent.

“He was a big reason we won.”

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

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