No guaranteed wins in Big Ten

BY BEN ROSS | JANUARY 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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The parity of the Big Ten basketball has reared its head this week. A 10-10 Penn State team took down a No. 24 Ohio State squad the same night No. 14 Wisconsin lost to 10-11 Northwestern, 65-56, on Wednesday. Northwestern’s win at Madison was its first win in the Kohl Center’s 16-year history. Ever.

If this week’s basketball outcomes teach us anything, it’s that there is no such thing as a guaranteed win in the best conference in college basketball. No. 15 Iowa (16-5, 5-4 Big Ten) should take that to heart when it travels across the river to take on Illinois (13-8, 2-6) on Feb. 1. The Hawkeyes are coming off a devastating overtime loss to No. 7 Michigan State, while Illinois is reeling on a six-game conference losing streak. Illinois’ last win came nearly a month ago on Jan. 4 over Penn State.

People were concerned that Iowa’s failure to close out a winnable game over the brand name of the conference greatly hurt its chances at a regular-season Big Ten title. That seemed to be the case, but after Ohio State and Wisconsin got toppled by seemingly inferior conference foes, anything is certainly possible.

“I won’t say [Big Ten title chances are] down the drain, but we’ll need help, of course,” Iowa leading scorer Devyn Marble said. “If we do our thing and finish with a few losses, a Big Ten title is possible. We’ll just have to do what we have to do, and if we come up short, and so be it. We do want to win it, but if you come up short, then you come up short.”

Sophomore guard Mike Gesell had a chance to send Michigan State into a second overtime, but his lay-up rolled out of the rim. If anyone had a right to be upset after the game, it was he, but Gesell just rolled answers off his tongue and spoke of his squad’s looming contest.

“We’ll watch this [Michigan State] film, learn from it, and get right back to work,” Gesell said. “We can’t let this loss affect us in the next practice even. We just have to move on from it and take a professional approach and learn from it.”

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was quick to shrug off questions of Big Ten titlehood, too. He pointed to March 6, when Iowa travels back to Michigan State but also made note of the games his squad has to play before that date.

“The game plan wasn’t good enough. Our effort wasn’t good enough; we weren’t tough enough, okay? Let’s go back to work, or let’s do better and try to win the next one. We get to play these guys later, but that’s down the road. We’ve got other people between now and then,” McCaffery said.

And right now Illinois stands between two tough home matches for Iowa: Ohio State and current conference leader Michigan. Getting a win in Champaign would build some much needed momentum for a Hawkeye team that still has national aspirations.

The Fighting Illini are led by Rayvonte Rice, who is averaging more than 16 points a game. He’ll be a tough match for Marble to guard, but in the end, Iowa has the skill and depth to blow an underachieving Illinois squad out of the water.

“Illinois is struggling a bit, but they’re at home, and that’s a hard to place to play,” Marble said. “They have one of the best student sections in the country. They have good scorers with [Rayvonte] Rice and seasoned vets like [Joseph] Bertrand. They’re going to be a tough team. They’re trying to get in the tournament, too. It’s not like there’s automatic wins.”

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