Iowa hosts surprise Wildcats tonight


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Two years ago, the Northwestern Wildcats weren’t just an afterthought — they were an abomination, a sorry excuse for a Division-I basketball program, and a near-certain win for the opposing team.

Head coach Bill Carmody’s team went 8-22 during the 2007-08 season, making Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter’s 13-19 season look like a rousing success.

Now, nearly 23 months after that eight-win season, Northwestern (16-7, 5-6) sits on the cusp of its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid. The Hawkeyes (8-16, 2-9) could derail the Wildcats’ tournament hopes today when the teams face off at 7:36 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“I think everybody was surprised initially,” Lickliter said on Monday. “But now after you watch them play, you’ve got to really like what Bill does up there.”

Indeed, Carmody’s Princeton offense fits his personnel perfectly.

Wildcat 6-8 sophomore John Shurna, who is averaging 20.3 points per game in his last six outings, has scored in double-figures in 14 of his last 15 contests. On Jan. 30 against Michigan State, the forward netted a career-high 31 points against the usually stout Spartans defense.

Freshman Drew Crawford has been remarkably consistent, scoring in double-figures in every conference game except one. But perhaps no one on the roster is more responsible for the Wildcats’ turnaround than junior point guard Michael Thompson, who plays nearly 38 minutes per game.

“You just go down the list; I think they’re really skilled basketball players in a very well-executed system,” Lickliter said.

Junior Jarryd Cole said defending against Northwestern’s Princeton offensive could be a challenge.
“There are a lot of screens being set, a lot of back-cuts,” he said. “I think they play off of trickery. You have to be solid and sound defensively in order to stop it.”

The Hawkeyes struggled defensively against Ohio State on Sunday, allowing Evan Turner to score a career-high-tying 32 points.

Iowa sophomore Anthony Tucker, who has missed the last 13 games after an alcohol-related arrest, dressed against the Buckeyes but did not play. Lickliter and company could use Tucker tonight against the Wildcats, but his status remains unknown.

In Tucker’s absence, Eric May has elevated his game, averaging 10.2 points in the last 13 games. The freshman scored 16 against Ohio State, but he wasn’t too impressed with his performance.

“I shot pretty well [on Sunday], but there are thing I could have done differently,” May said. “It’s not like I played an outstanding game — especially on defense.”

While Northwestern has seen its standing within the Big Ten rise, Iowa’s stock has remained dormant over the past three seasons.

In fact, the Hawkeyes’ 8-16 record is the worst it has ever been in Lickliter’s three years on campus. Iowa is in the midst of a four-game losing streak, its second such slump of the season.

Still, Lickliter and his players have maintained their record isn’t representative of the team’s level of play. In recent weeks, the Hawkeyes have taken quality teams such as Michigan State, Illinois, and Ohio State (twice) down to the wire, losing all four of those contests.

“We’re playing so well to not get the win, in my opinion,” Lickliter said. “I just think we’re playing with some really good toughness. We’re showing some poise. And it’ll be an unbelievable test on Wednesday.”

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