Men's hoops trying to correct issues of focus


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No Division-I basketball game is easy, but Iowa basketball's contest against Drake on Saturday should be a simple one.

Key word: should.

The Hawkeyes (5-5) travel to Des Moines for their last nonconference road game and their final test against an in-state rival. Drake (4-4) presents a challenge unlike many that Iowa has faced this season — the Hawkeyes will actually go into the game as the favorite.

The Bulldogs are young, too. They will presumably start a freshman and two sophomores, and the team presents a balanced scoring attack with three players that are averaging double-digit points per game. On paper, this game, along with the team's next matchup —a home tilt with 8-4 Louisiana Tech on Dec. 21 — should be simple warm-ups before conference play starts on Dec. 29.

But Iowa players aren't presuming an easy victory in either of the team's final two matches.

"We're 5-5, we're not 10-0," freshman forward Melsahn Basabe said. "And we aren't picked to win the national championship, so who are we to go into a game not paying full respect to our opponents?"

Drake has been blown out more than once this season, losing by 48 to Iowa State in November and 43 to St. Johns in a tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. But Iowa's head coach is still cautious that Drake's scoring attack could pose problems for the Hawkeyes.

"They've got a number of different players who can shoot the ball," Fran McCaffery said. "They can spread you out … They've got a lot of different weapons."

The primary weapon for Iowa's only D-I private school is freshman guard Rayvonte Rice, who is averaging a team-leading 12.3 points per game this season. Throw in sophomore center Seth VanDeest, averaging 12.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, and the Bulldogs could be dangerous to those who aren't wary.

But it seems that from top-to-bottom, the Hawkeyes are ready to avoid another let down.

A seemingly random lack of energy within games has been a big flaw this season. There's been second-half meltdowns despite big first halves — see: versus Iowa State or at Wake Forest. Or falling in an early hole against a good team, only to discover they can compete after it's too late — see: Xavier.

Correcting this ebb and flow is easy if you ask freshman guard Roy Devyn Marble.

"[It's about] sticking to the game plan," he said. "Making sure you know personnel at all times, that's just been the biggest things we need to remember."

Finals week is here, though, and with it, many possibilities for a lack of focus. But according to players, finals aren't a distraction.

Many on the team said the odd schedule of exam week may have helped the team stay more focused.

For some players it's a week in which they don't have classes and just one or two exams. Marble said he has one test today — his sole exam of the week. Thus, Monday through Thursday were a chance for all basketball all the time, save for a study session every now and then.

So no matter who Iowa is playing, or what week it is, issues of focus appear to not be issues with this team anymore.

"We're coming into each game feeling that we need to win this game," freshman forward Zach McCabe said. "We're not going to take an opponent lightly ever."

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