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Hawkeyes have no time left for valleys

BY DANNY PAYNE | FEBRUARY 19, 2015 5:00 AM

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Two weeks ago, the Iowa men’s basketball team was at one of the highest peaks of head coach Fran McCaffery’s Iowa career. It had won at Michigan for the first time since 2008 and beat then-No. 17 Maryland by 16 points at home.

Then last week happened. There were the two losses, the worst coming to Northwestern Sunday in overtime, one that snapped the basement-dwelling Wildcats’ 10-game losing streak. And of course, there was the constant criticism of Adam Woodbury and Fran McCaffery.

But that’s in the past. Today, the Hawkeyes, sitting at 15-10 overall, 6-6 in the Big Ten, are scheduled to host Rutgers (10-16, 2-11) in a game that now holds more weight than the Hawkeyes may have hoped seven days ago.

“With six games left, there’s going to be a sense of urgency with every game left,” said Aaron White, who scored 6 points on 1-of-12 shooting against Northwestern. “You don’t like to look ahead, but obviously six games and where we’re at, every one is big and every one matters.

“Yeah, I’d say there’s a sense of urgency, at least from our end.”

As White said, although Iowa says it plays every game with a sense of urgency, the Hawkeyes — who, as of this writing, rank 56th nationally in RPI — cannot afford to give games away this late in the year.

It won’t be easy, either, even though Iowa isn’t scheduled to play any ranked teams. Its remaining opponents are a combined 84-69, and that includes Rutgers and another matchup with 11-14 Northwestern.

There is a positive to that, too. Should Iowa lose to a good team such as Illinois or Indiana, its RPI likely won’t drop too much, as it did last week. The Hawkeyes entered their Feb. 12 loss to Minnesota with the nation’s 36th-best RPI.

Even with that said, the key for the Hawkeyes finding their way back to the win column against a lowly team such as Rutgers starts with putting their foot on the gas from the get-go.

White said his team let Northwestern gain confidence by knocking down shots early in the game and the Hawkeyes playing out of sync offensively. That’s something that can’t happen against a similar-caliber team Thursday in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“We didn’t attack [the Wildcats] that well,” forward Jarrod Uthoff said. “We didn’t get the ball to the middle of the zone, we didn’t get to the baseline.”

Of course, that’s pivotal to Iowa’s success. The best basketball the Hawkeyes have played was against Maryland and Michigan, when the team worked the ball around the floor and found good shots, something it didn’t do against Minnesota and Northwestern.

The matchup should be favorable; the Scarlet Knights allow an average of 66.8 points per contest against league opponents, a number good for ninth in the Big Ten.

Should Iowa get its offense going and return to the positive form it has showed at times this year, it’ll be in good shape in the remaining schedule. However, should it not find that offensive consistency, the Hawkeyes could see weeks like last one and potentially find themselves on the outside looking in.

“We’ve played really well, and there are times we haven’t played as well offensively,” McCaffery said. “You just want to start being as consistent as possible as you go down the stretch.”

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa men’s basketball team.


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