Big Ten opposition won't sleep on Iowa in 2013-14


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It’s no secret this year’s Hawkeye squad is one with higher expectations than any Iowa team in recent memory. With possibly 11 regular contributors to the rotation, the Black and Gold may be the deepest team in the conference.

The usual suspects — Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, and Wisconsin — are expected to compete for this season’s Big Ten title. But coaches and players from those schools have noticed the rapid improvement of the conference, and they chose to single out Iowa as an example of the Big Ten’s depth and skill level during Thursday’s Big Ten media day.

“In a sum sort of way, I think it’s [the Big Ten] going to be better,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “I think what’s happened is our teams like Iowa — I don’t want to single Franny [McCaffery] out, but I might as well put pressure on him — but those teams are teams that weren’t as good the last couple of years are getting better.

“But I think the league, the difference in this league, when I think back a few years ago, when we were ranked and we played one ranked team in the league, and this last couple of years it could be seven, it could be eight teams, you start playing seven, eight teams and you play them twice, that’s 12, 14, 16 games against ranked teams, and that’s pretty awesome.”

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta admitted to paying more attention to his own squad rather than his conference foes. But heading into his 10th-year as the Buckeyes’ leader, Matta can’t recall an Iowa team with this much talent.

“I don’t ever look into the Big Ten until, really, right around Christmas,” Matta said. “… But I think he’s [McCaffery] recruited the guys that fit his system. He’s done a great job of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. And in an essence, I think that’s what coaching has become, and he’s doing a great job with it.”

Having a target on their backs may increase the difficulty of the Hawkeyes eventually achieving every goal they’ve set for themselves in 2013-14. It’s a certainty that they won’t be able to sneak up on anyone this season. And because of that, players and coaches know they cannot take any team — whether in-conference or not — lightly.

“I think we’ve earned a significant amount of respect,” junior forward Aaron White said. “People aren’t coming into our game and expect to walk all over us. We have the players and talent to compete with every team in the league. And I think other teams realize that. It’s good that we’re finally getting recognition.”

In terms of preseason hype, McCaffery hopes it will serve as some type of lesson for his players. With real expectations, the Hawkeyes will be faced with some added pressure this season. And he’s well aware it will be a serious test for some players who have never experienced this much buzz and hype.

The team’s response to the exposure will reveal the character of the Hawkeyes, McCaffery said. Because if players cannot rise to the occasion in the face of expectations, the team didn’t deserve to be met with applause before that first game anyway.

“I hope it affects them and makes them understand that they better be ready every night,” McCaffery said. “You have to meet that challenge. Because now, everybody thinks you’re going to do it. But now you have to go do it.”

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