The Big Ten season is just one week old, yet there was one major upset, one team that is desperate and one team facing a very difficult week.
Unranked Iowa, a team whose five non-conference defeats came by double digits, went into the Kohl Center and shocked No. 11 Wisconsin 72-65 Saturday. The game was full of superlatives for Iowa, which had a nine-game losing streak at Wisconsin.
Iowa (9-6) also rallied from a three-point home loss to Purdue but were undaunted in facing Wisconsin and obviously not intimidated.
“I felt like the other night, we sort of played well enough to win,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said after the game. “You look at it and say, ‘We’re right there.’ But you give up 18 layups, can you really expect to win? Defensively, we were not where we needed to be in that game. So what did we do? We learned from it, and we focused. I mean, the film session was not a pleasant one. There’s two ways to approach that — you can point fingers at your teammates and your coaches or you can look in the mirror and effect change.
“The focus and concentration in practice that they had prior to this game was fabulous, and I felt like they bought in totally and completely to the game plan and then carried it out. You can’t come in here [to the Kohl Center] and lose the battle on the glass and expect to win. We out-rebounded them and we chased them off the three — we contested the three and then we executed the offense by pushing the ball.”
Iowa now is approaching the high expectations many had for the team before the season. Health and conditioning played a part in keeping the Hawkeyes from reaching their potential in non-conference play. Center Andrew Brommer sprained his knee and guard Devyn Marble suffered a concussion in training camp. Guard Bryce Cartwright struggled through illness, concussion-like symptoms and a hamstring injury for nearly a month. Forward Melsahn Basabe gained 25 pounds in the off-season and was lethargic until dropping more than 10 pounds by mid-December.
After losing at in-state rivals Northern Iowa (by 20) and Iowa State (by 10), the Hawkeyes are 4-1. They’re much more in sync at both ends of the floor. Cartwright and Basabe have made their biggest strides in Big Ten play. Cartwright has averaged 12.5 points (17 vs. Wisconsin), 4.5 assists and 1.0 turnovers while averaging 26 minutes. Basabe, who scored two points in four consecutive games, now has put up 14 in each of his last four. Basabe has averaged 8.5 rebounds and 33 minutes in Iowa’s two Big Ten games.
Marble is second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.2.
Iowa’s next game (8 p.m. Wednesday) is against perhaps the league’s most desperate squad in Minnesota. The Gophers lost power forward Trevor Mbakwe to a torn ACL in non-conference play but won 12 of its 13 games. But the Gophers have had two tough losses to open Big Ten play, losing in double overtime to Illinois and by five points at Michigan.
The Gophers hit 59.1 percent from the floor in the second half at Michigan but shot just 29.6 percent in the first half. Minnesota was out-rebounded by eight, an unthinkable stat a year ago. Last season the Gophers led the league in rebounding and Mbakwe was the Big Ten’s top rebounder.
To compensate for Mbakwe’s absence, Minnesota has used a three-guard attack with none of three seeing valuable time last year. Still, Maverick Ahanmisi, Julian Welch and Austin Hollins can handle the ball and forwards Ralph Sampson III and Rodney Williams are experienced.
Minnesota has beaten Iowa six straight and the last three in Minneapolis by double digits.
Wisconsin faces the league’s toughest week among Big Ten contenders, playing host to Michigan State and then traveling to Michigan. The Spartans have won 13 straight after dropping their first two games. Michigan State beat previously unbeaten Indiana 80-65 and then popped Nebraska 68-55.
Michigan has won seven straight games and are unbeaten at Crisler Arena. The Wolverines feature talented freshman Trey Burke, who scored a career-high 27 points against Minnesota. Burke has scored in double-digits 12 times this season. He was named the Big Ten’s Co-Player of the Week on Monday, along with Michigan State’s Keith Appling.
Indiana bounced back nicely from a 15-point loss against Michigan State to stop No. 2 Ohio State 74-70. The No. 13 Hoosiers (13-1) have beaten both No. 1 (Kentucky) and No. 2 (Ohio State) in the same month at Assembly Hall.
“The building was electric,” Indiana Coach Tom Crean said. “The Hoosier Nation is so incredible. To have that kind of energy in the building without the student here obviously due to break was awesome. I do not know if I have ever heard it louder when Victor (Oladipo) got the steal at the end of the first half and took it in for the dunk. It was incredible. The fans and those who support this program are as much a part of this victory as anybody else.”
Nebraska received a tough draw entering its first Big Ten season. The Cornhuskers shot just 30.6 percent in a 64-40 loss to No. 11 Wisconsin. Against No. 16 Michigan State, Nebraska built a 30-29 halftime lead but allowed the Spartans to shoot 54.5 percent while it sank 30.8 percent.
“I don’t think they did anything that we weren’t expecting,” Nebraska Coach Doc Sadler said. “They score in transition and they score on offensive rebounds, and then they grind you on the offense when they don’t get one of those two things and that is what they did today. I couldn’t be prouder of my team. I thought we played as hard as you can play, and I think we did it for 40 minutes. We made some mental mistakes that I don’t know if it is from fatigue or what.”
The road gets even more difficult this week. The Cornhuskers play at No. 2 Ohio State, then travels to Illinois. The Illini stumbled 75-60 against Purdue after beating Minnesota in double-overtime.
Looking ahead …
No. 16 Michigan State (13-2, 2-0) travels to No. 11 Wisconsin (12-3, 1-1) on Tuesday in a high-profile match-up. No. 13 Indiana (13-1, 1-1) hosts another top contender in No. 18 Michigan (12-2, 2-0) on Wednesday.