Men's hoops hosts Nebraska

BY BEN SCHUFF | JANUARY 26, 2012 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's basketball team won't face a nationally ranked opponent or a perennial Big Ten powerhouse when it hosts Nebraska tonight.

Instead, the Cornhuskers will bring a pair of conference victories into Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the first time as a member of the Big Ten.

The contest, set to tip off at 6:02 p.m. on ESPNU, features two teams from the bottom half of the conference standings. Both Iowa (11-9, 3-4 Big Ten) and Nebraska (10-9, 2-6) opened league play with difficult schedules, playing Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin in their first five games.

Now, the two squads will try to start a somewhat easier portion of their schedules with a win tonight.

"From the outside looking in, somebody might say, 'Oh, you guys got Nebraska. Nebraska should be [an] automatic win,' " forward Melsahn Basabe said. "When you really look at it, they're just as dangerous as somebody like Michigan State in the scheme of things, because everyone is beating each other [in conference] now."

Basabe was referring to Nebraska's 70-69 upset of then-No. 13 Indiana eight days ago.

Performances like the one the Cornhuskers had against the Hoosiers caught the attention of Basabe and the rest of the Hawkeyes.

"Those teams [like Nebraska] are even more dangerous because they have the scrappy attitude like we have," Basabe said, noting that Iowa may have snuck up on Wisconsin and Michigan in upset victories of their own. "These games can be more dangerous than other games because they see it as, 'Oh yeah, we definitely can get these guys.' It's not a lack of respect for us, but if you look at the standings, we're not ranked. So they're looking at someone like us and thinking, 'We have to win this game.' "

Nebraska is led by senior Bo Spencer, a 6-2, 193-pound guard who averages almost 15 points per game and has scored at least 20 points five times this season. Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said on Tuesday he plans on using "different looks" to stop Spencer, including throwing three different primary defenders at him: Guards Matt Gatens and Devyn Marble and forward Eric May.

Stopping opposing teams' leading scorers has been a problem throughout the year for Iowa. The Hawkeyes have allowed the opponents' top scorer to surpass his scoring average in all nine of their losses.

Iowa's defensive effort has improved in recent performances — the Hawkeyes displayed stretches of great defense against Michigan and Purdue, for example — but Gatens said there's still room to improve the consistency of effort.

"A lot of it has to do with communication, staying in your stance, and handling on-ball situations," he said. "We've done a better job of late against the 3-point line. We need to continue working on that and work in practice."

Iowa had plenty of time to work on whatever needed fixing following its 8-point loss to Purdue on Jan. 17. McCaffery said the team didn't start planning for the Cornhuskers until Tuesday, but said that's more than enough time to get ready.

"I think Nebraska has our full attention," McCaffery said. "I think they've got everybody's full attention."

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