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Hawkeye men's basketball heads to Northwestern

BY BEN SCHUFF | FEBRUARY 09, 2012 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's basketball team is trying to accomplish something it hasn't done in five years: Win three-straight Big Ten games.

Iowa (13-11, 5-6 Big Ten) will play at Northwestern (14-8, 4-6) tonight, and the Hawkeyes hope to build off the success of last week's victories over Minnesota and Penn State.

Hawkeye guard Devyn Marble said the key to winning the team's third in a row is to not think about such a streak at all.

"Just by preparing mentally and physically the right way for each and every game, and just thinking about the game that is ahead of you and taking it one at a time — that's how you rack up the wins in consecutive games," he said.

Iowa will have plenty else to think about — the Wildcats boast two of the Big Ten's top scoring threats. Forward John Shurna leads the conference with 19.6 points per game, and wingman Drew Crawford is fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 17.2 points per contest.

Shurna has been playing particularly well of late. The senior scored 28 points against Nebraska on Feb. 2 and 24 points at Illinois on Feb. 5 in Northwestern's first conference road win of the year.

Shurna will likely be a problem for Iowa for all of tonight's contest — he's played 37 minutes or more in each of the Wildcats last 12 games.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said Shurna has been "phenomenally impressive" since McCaffery arrived in Iowa City.

"You talk about consistency — he plays with such a great energy level," the Hawkeyes' second-year head coach said. "Everybody is focused on stopping him, yet he always seems to be open — and if he's open, he puts it in the hole.

"He's played with a confidence level of a guy who expects to be a first-team all-league player, a guy who wants to play when he's done at Northwestern, and I think that's really helped that team."

McCaffery was asked during a league teleconference on Monday what concerned him the most among Shurna, Northwestern's Princeton offense, or Northwestern's 1-3-1 defense, and he said, "I don't think it's one. I think it's all of that."

All of that has given Iowa fits in Welsh-Ryan Arena over the past few years. The Hawks haven't won in Evanston, Ill., since Todd Lickliter's first season with the program, in 2007-08.

Despite his recent success at home against the Hawkeyes, Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody acknowledged both teams have changed since their previous matchups.

"Last year was Fran's first year; he was getting used to them, and they were getting used to him," Carmody said in the league teleconference. "They're playing very well right now, at a pretty high level. He's got a lot of different guys, a lot of different combinations of guys that can score. [Iowa is] really a different team than in the past."

Iowa would seem to have the statistical advantage heading into tonight's game. The Hawkeyes average almost 8 more points per game than the Wildcats, while Northwestern allows about 3 fewer per contest than Iowa.

But McCaffery recognizes the threat Northwestern presents, he said on Monday.

"You look at them right now, they're a team I think is making a run to get into the NCAA Tournament," he said. "I think right now, they're probably playing as well as they've been playing all year long."

Follow DI men's basketball reporter Ben Schuff on Twitter.


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