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Hawk way of Hoosiers

BY RYAN PROBASCO | FEBRUARY 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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No one, not even its veteran coaches and players, have been able to figure out what’s going on in the Big Ten this season.

Indiana, after being ranked No. 1 in the country at times a year ago, has been the best example of how competition throughout the conference has affected its top programs. The Hoosiers have wins over ranked squads Michigan and Wisconsin. But with losses to every team in the bottom half of the Big Ten (minus itself) and a 4-8 conference record, many wonder if Indiana is even NIT-worthy.

“I don’t know why everybody’s surprised,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said on ESPN analyst Dan Dakich’s radio show Monday morning. “When I look at this league — and I try to be as objective as possible — and when people from the media interview you, they think you’re giving them the coach speak, politically correct answers; but from the beginning, I looked at this league as it was expected to be.

“… Who’s bad? You look at every other conference, it has bad teams. They just do. Somebody is going to finish at the bottom of our league. But there are not any bad teams.”

The Hoosiers are led by sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell (17.9 points per game) and Noah Vonleh, who nearly averages a double-double and is projected to be a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft.

“Anytime you play on the road in the Big Ten, you have to bring your A-game,” Iowa guard Mike Gesell said following Iowa’s win over Penn State on Feb. 15. “It’s an awesome atmosphere in Indiana; it’s going to be another battle.”

“Personally, I think Indiana is one of the hardest places to play in the country,” senior guard Devyn Marble said. “[The Hoosiers] are going to come ready to play, trying to make a late-season push to try to get in the tournament. They’re going to play with a lot of hunger.”

As much as the Hawks know they won’t be able to coast their way to victory in Assembly Hall, Indiana is aware of how talented Iowa is and how well it’s been playing of late.

“Iowa is very hard to get ready for, and that’s why they are so successful,” Indiana’s head coach Tom Crean said during Monday’s Big Ten teleconference. “They have excellent players, and Fran is one of the top coaches in our league and in the country.

“Preparing for Iowa reminds me of us from last year. They have an explosive running game, excellent shooting, and veteran leadership. We are going to have to be very good in transition defense, active on the glass, and keep drivers from creating havoc while making the simple plays on offense.”

In the past two seasons, Indiana and Iowa have each experienced stretches on the opposite ends of the spectrum in the Big Ten.

But with Iowa playing as well as it has on the road and Indiana’s struggle to find a consistent identity in 2013-14, this must be a win for the Hawkeyes if they intend to take advantage of the door that’s been opened in the conference’s regular-season race.

“To get through this league and play the teams we have to play, you can’t bring your B-game; you can’t,” McCaffery said on Dakich’s show. “You bring your B-game on the road, you’re getting crushed. You bring your B-game at home, you’re losing. I’ve coached in a lot of leagues, and you could bring your B-game and be just fine if you were good, but not in this league.”


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