IOWA CITY — There’s been a revolt in Big Ten men’s basketball this month.
Tuesday, once-lowly Penn State downed mighty Michigan. On Feb. 5, formerly down-and-out Illinois defeated powerhouse Michigan State.
The thing that has kept Iowa (19-5, 8-5) on the first-division side of the conference’s moat is it hasn’t lost games it was “supposed” to win. The Hawkeyes should be immune to complacency going into its game Saturday at Rutgers (12-12, 5-9) for one good reason:
Iowa was one of the league’s lower-floor tenants itself a season ago.
OK, there’s a second reason. Iowa came extremely close to losing its most-recent game, an 80-79 home win over Northwestern Sunday.
Oh, there’s also a third reason: Common sense.
“People look at the record and they just assume ‘Oh, this team is this and this. Iowa should kill them,’” said Iowa forward Tyler Cook. “But the record doesn’t mean anything.
“When you go either on the road or at home against anybody in this league, everybody wants to win. Everybody here’s on scholarship. Everybody plays high-level Division I basketball. ... Every single time you step on the court you’ve got to be ready for war.”
Did we mention there’s a fourth reason? Though they were 3-15 in the Big Ten last season, the Scarlet Knights rolled over the Hawkeyes 80-64 at Rutgers Athletic Center.
Which brings us back to the palace coup by the league’s have-nots. Rutgers isn’t NCAA Tournament-ready this season, but it’s not the program that entered the Big Ten as a doormat and got a lot of sneaker prints implanted on its back. The Knights went 2-16, 1-17, 3-15 and 3-15 in their first four seasons in the league. So 5-9 is progress in Year 5.
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“Rutgers has really been impressive because Steve (Pikiell) has had a chance to build it.” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “They’ve got more players now.
“They’ve got some good young athletic guys that can play in transition, that can play fast, that can play half-court. They can defend. They’ve always defended. So there’s a reason why they’ve got five wins in our league and have been real close on a few others.”
“They’re really disciplined this year,” said Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon, “one of the better defensive teams in the conference. So it’s going to be a grind.
“Geo Baker’s one of the better guards in the country.”
Iowa has gotten where it is in the Big Ten standings because it has won three road games, and hasn’t lost to a team in the bottom third of the league. But lately, you can’t distinguish the bottom third from the top third.
“You look at Penn State,” McCaffery said, “they beat Michigan, and everybody was like surprised. They have three players that are as good as any three players in the country. And you look at Rutgers’ talent now compared to what it was three years ago, it’s really impressive.
“I’m just pretty matter-of-fact about it. I know who’s on each team. I know the coach that they have, and every team is really good, and every team can beat you on any given day.”
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