Hawks get ready for Big Ten tournament


Sophomore Jake Kelly’s thoughts on his second Big Ten Player of the Week honor captured the mood of Iowa’s first shootaround of the postseason on Monday.

“Pretty cool,” he said.

After a win in its home finale and a day off Sunday, Iowa hit the hardwood with its regular uncertainties but aware of an unpleasant ultimatum — beat Michigan Thursday or start a long spring break away from basketball.

The pre-practice was hardly a case study of urgency and the human response, a nonchalant gathering of 13 players that together earned the label as the Big Ten’s 10th-best team.

Junior David Palmer shot 25-foot jumpers with regularity and relative ease. Kelly drank water out of a Dixie cup to calm his coughing after a virus infection sent his temperature into the 100s over the weekend. Senior J.R. Angle’s first shot was a half-court heave that sailed wide left of the glass backboard.

It’s difficult to measure how it all matters with the knowledge that Palmer has made one 3-pointer in the last month, Kelly had a double-double on his sick day, and Angle hasn’t played since Jan. 18. A microcosm of understanding Iowa basketball is understanding what really matters at this point in the season, but the team’s indefinites have clouded any clarity that might’ve been established Monday.

Sophomore Jarryd Cole and senior Cyrus Tate, the team’s most effective post players, spent significant time on the floor together March 7 during Iowa’s win over Penn State. Both are certain the Hawkeyes gain an advantage when they are on the court; neither have any idea if it will happen again this week.

“I think that Cyrus and I playing together is a really good combination,” Cole said. “Maybe we’ll see a little more of it at the tournament, maybe not. Who knows?”

Big Ten basketball teams rarely have a new experience during the 31st game of the season. Tate called Iowa’s post collaboration a “new weapon” in what could be the final week of his Hawkeye career.

“Now’s a new era to try new things,” he said. “Going into the tournament, teams realize we live and die by the 3. After the Penn State game, we think, O.K., we’ve got a new weapon. That’s a good thing to carry over into the tournament.”

Kelly, playing in sophomore Jeff Peterson’s absence, has excelled in his role as floor general, averaging 21 points as point guard in the team’s last six games. Peterson, still experiencing soreness in his right hamstring and dealing with a broken wrist, said his chances are “50-50” to play in Thursday’s game.

“I don’t want to go out there and be a liability to the team,” he said. “It’s hard to say right now. I haven’t really practiced since I went down, so it’s hard to say.”

With recent rumors on the Internet that Kelly was considering transferring, the first question of his postseason didn’t even address Iowa’s game with Michigan. He quashed any notion that he’d be leaving after the season and took care of at least one uncertainty for the program.

“I’m here, and it’s where I’m going to be,” he said.

The injuries and personnel uncertainties will matter in some capacity Thursday, but past meetings and statistics are a more concrete indication of what to expect in the opening round. Where Iowa is good, Michigan has been better, leading the conference in free-throw percentage (.754) and 3-point field goals per game (8.6), just ahead of the Hawkeyes in each category.

This season, Iowa is just 3-13 when its opponent shoots more free throws. In contrast, the Hawkeyes are 11-1 when they get to the line more.

In the teams’ first meeting, a 64-49 Michigan win on Jan. 11, the Wolverines held the charity stripe advantage, 12-10. In Iowa’s 70-60 overtime win on Feb. 22, the Hawkeyes doubled Michigan’s free-throw output, 18-9.

Such a trend is only one indicator for a week that must see plenty of questions answered both before and after tip-off Thursday.

“We’ve got a new season in front of us, and a new opportunity,” Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said. “We’ll have to prepare well and play at an incredibly high level.”

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