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Men’s hoops looking for redemption against Wildcats

BY SETH ROBERTS | FEBRUARY 17, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men’s basketball team had better pray history doesn’t repeat itself tonight in Evanston, Ill.

The last time the Hawkeyes faced Northwestern — on Jan. 12 in Iowa City — the Wildcats rained 3s all night long in a 90-71 blowout that Iowa coach Fran McCaffery called “disappointing.”

Now, a little more than a month later, his team gets its shot at redemption — and the Hawkeyes need it.

Iowa (10-15, 3-10 Big Ten) enters the game sitting in the conference cellar after a lackluster performance against Minnesota Sunday, and, with the end of the season looming, it’s time to start thinking about Big Ten Tournament seedings. A win over Northwestern (14-10, 4-9) would drop the Wildcats into a three-way tie with Iowa and Indiana, but the Hawkeyes would be in good position for the No. 9 spot thanks to conference tiebreaker rules.

Beating Northwestern is easier said than done, though, as the Black and Gold know all too well. The stumbling Wildcats have lost five of their last six games — and scored fewer than 20 first-half points in both of their past two — but McCaffery said he was wary of counterpart Bill Carmody’s multifaceted game.

“They do some things differently from everybody else,” McCaffery said in a teleconference on Monday. “They’ve got good shooters. They’re going to shoot 3s, and they’re typically going to make 3s, so you have to defend the line. Then they’re going to run cutters and post up.”

Northwestern boasts the third-best scoring offense in the league, and three Wildcat starters average double-digits. Junior forward John Shurna’s 17.3 points per game leads the way, and point guard Michael Thompson and forward Drew Crawford aren’t far behind.

Still, Iowa’s defense has been solid of late. The Black and Gold have held five of their past six opponents to 65 points or fewer.

Instead, the Hawkeyes’ problems in the past two games have been on the offensive end of the court. The team was simply terrible against Minnesota, scoring 45 points while shooting just 34 percent from the floor, and forward Melsahn Basabe disappeared because of early foul trouble.

Shooting guard Matt Gatens attributed the poor showing to a series of ineffective practice sessions, and McCaffery promised his coaching staff would “have [the team’s] full attention” in Monday’s practice.

Escaping the shooting doldrums won’t be easy against Northwestern. Statistically, the Wildcats have the worst defense in the conference, but McCaffery warned against overlooking Carmody’s schemes.

“He’s going to mix the 1-3-1 [zone] in there, and he’s going to switch and be physical defensively,” the first-year Hawkeye coach said. “They make it hard for you to score … they defend well, so a lot of times it takes the offense a while to get a good shot opportunity.”

Iowa had an extra day to practice, though, and should be well-prepared when it takes the floor at Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena. And as disappointing as the Minnesota game was for the Hawkeyes, it gave them plenty to think about.

“I think we were too stagnant,” point guard Bryce Cartwright said on Sunday. “We just didn’t have enough movement to create better offense as a team.”


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