IOWA CITY — Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery doesn't see any way his basketball team overlooks Penn State on the road Thursday.
"I don’t see how they could, based on how Penn State played us at our place," McCaffery said Monday. "They fought us right to the very end. That was a tough, tough game. Then, you look at film of all of their games, they are right there. They battle offensively. They battle on the glass. They run good offense. They’ve got two guys that can really score the ball. They’ve got some other guys that are really, really improving."
The Nittany Lions (8-15, 0-11 Big Ten) have played just one Big Ten game decided by fewer than nine points in league play this year. Among Big Ten teams, Penn State ranks 11th in points scored and last in points allowed. But that doesn't matter to Iowa junior Melsahn Basabe, who experienced the Nittany Lions' toughness in person in a 76-67 Iowa win on Jan. 31.
"They battle like no other team," Basabe said. "They probably have one of the harder teams to play in college since I’ve been here, even though they don’t have the best record or the public perception of a talented team. You’ve got to respect those guys, and we’re on the road."
Penn State Coach Pat Chambers recruited Basabe when Chambers coached at Boston University.
"I’m very familiar with him," Basabe said. "I know who he is and how familiar he does things."
Chambers, like McCaffery, hails from Philadelphia, and coaches with tenacity. Despite the final result, Penn State has played hard in every game.
"He's incredibly positive and they are going to work and they are going to battle," McCaffery said. "They are going to battle you as hard and as long as anybody else in college basketball. That's who he is and I think what he's been trying to do with that program."
The Nittany Lions lost all-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier to a torn Achilles tendon after the fourth game and have had to compensate with guards D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall. They've combined to average 30.5 points a game, more than half of Penn State's average total.
Iowa (15-9, 4-7 Big Ten) has lost its last five games at State College dating to 2006. Only one of the losses was a blowout, but that's something still in the back of McCaffery's mind.
"We haven’t won there, certainly since I’ve been here," he said. "So there are so many factors that I think enter into this situation where without question Penn State has earned our full attention."
After facing Iowa, Penn State will play four of its next five on the road. Its final two home games are against Michigan and Wisconsin.