IOWA CITY — The Iowa men’s basketball team went through the necessary exercise of routing Northwestern Thursday night.
No one got hurt, and no one got ejected. Woe to Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State, who only get to play the Wildcats once in the regular-season.
The Hawkeyes meet Northwestern again on Jan. 25, a nice chance to catch their breath in Evanston between a game at Michigan and a home date with Michigan State.
Presumably, Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery was able to watch this 93-67 affair in his Carver-Hawkeye Arena office without any need for drywall repairs or furniture upholstery on Friday.
OK, that’s a cheap attempt at humor. But the Hawkeyes and their fans better laugh now and laugh fast. Things again get real serious this weekend, when Iowa goes to No. 3 Ohio State Sunday.
McCaffery will be there for that one after serving his one-game suspension from the Big Ten. Will his team? For 40 minutes, that is.
We know the Hawkeyes will compete. They haven’t failed to do so yet. The three games they lost — against teams with a combined total of one defeat — weren’t about them getting manhandled. Rather, it was double-digit leads being surrendered away from Carver, and unhappy endings to glorious starts.
Iowa’s last true road win was March 27, at Virginia in the NIT. Just like Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin were when they rallied to beat the Hawkeyes, Ohio State’s better than that Virginia team.
“Obviously, we’re in this to win a Big Ten title,” Iowa forward Aaron White said after going off for 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against the Wildcats.
“They’re going to be one of the teams in our way.”
As good as the Buckeyes are — their lone loss was in overtime at Michigan State Tuesday — the pressure builds for the Hawkeyes to win a game like this to establish themselves as more than a good team.
Beat the Buckeyes in Columbus and the script gets flipped. You go from moaning the one that truly got away in Madison to stamping Iowa as a team that honestly can be included in Big Ten title-discussion.
The teams that are playing for the league’s championship in the first part of March are the ones that have won the occasional road game against a first-division team, and there are only so many opportunities.
Michigan State snapped one up last week when it won at Indiana, though the Hoosiers are shells of what they were a season ago when they won the regular-season crown.
Ohio State has won at Purdue, and Michigan has won at Minnesota and Nebraska. Any road win is a nice win, but those don’t compare to prevailing at Ohio State. Or Michigan State. Or Wisconsin.
If the Hawkeyes can’t get out of Columbus with a win, it really wouldn’t be the end of the world. Fourteen-eighteenths of the Big Ten schedule and lots of golden opportunities will still remain.
But that 900-pound gorilla would still hang on this team’s back, and those things get heavy after a while.
It was clear from the way Iowa players Aaron White, Adam Woodbury and Melsahn Basabe teased acting Iowa head coach Kirk Speraw in a Carver hallway after the game that they were fond of him.
Speraw was a head coach for 480 games over 17 seasons at Central Florida, and took UCF to four NCAA tournaments when it was playing in a one-bid conference, so his coaching credentials have never needed explaining to the team.
But you either connect with players or you don’t, and the 57-year-old Speraw clearly has the Hawkeyes’ respect.
“He’s a great guy,” Woodbury said. “He really takes care of us a lot.
“He was the Sioux City connection I had in the recruiting process.” Both are Sioux City natives.
“He didn’t say much (about being in the saddle again for one game), but we all knew he’d prepare like crazy.”
Speraw himself didn’t want to talk about walking the sideline as the coach in charge for the first time in four years.
“It was just a fun evening, I think, for our guys to get out and play another Big Ten team. So I just try to fill in how I need to fill in. And that was a big part of me coming up here with Fran, and (I) appreciate the opportunity, and whatever I can do to help out.
“But it certainly wasn’t me out there tonight. It was the players and the entire coaching staff.”
Speraw’s last game as a head coach was a 76-54 loss to UTEP in the second round of the Conference USA tournament. That ended a 15-17 year, just UCF’s second losing season in Speraw’s last nine seasons.
When it was suggested that McCaffery would be happy with how he and fellow assistants Andrew Francis and Sherman Dillard handled things in the boss’ absence, Speraw said “I think so.”
And now, on to Ohio State. It’s a CBS game (12:37 p.m., CT), Iowa’s first CBS appearance in the McCaffery Era, and first in long time.
“First time in my career on CBS, right?” White said. “That’ll be cool.
“It shows Coach McCaffery and his coaching staff have put our program on the map, to get a CBS game.”
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