INDIANAPOLIS -- Welcome to the Big Ten Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. For the second consecutive season, Iowa and Northwestern meet in the 6-11 game in the first round. The winner faces Michigan State (23-8, 12-6) at 8 p.m. Friday. Iowa won last year's first-round game 73-59.
Iowa (20-11, 9-9) scorched the Wildcats (13-18, 6-12) twice by 26 points. The first was a borderline massacre with the Hawkeyes winning 93-67. In reality, it wasn't even that close. The second time also was a pounding at 76-50, but Northwestern hung for most of the game.
"We played them twice during the regular season and the first game was not competitive at all," Northwestern Coach Chris Collins said. "They pretty much beat us in every facet of the game from the opening tip and the second time we played them we hung tough for 20-25 minutes. Then they turned it on and beat us easily again."
The game's star attraction pits the Big Ten's active scoring leaders. Northwestern forward Drew Crawford has scored 1,884 points in his career, while Iowa guard Devyn Marble sits at 1,662 points. Marble was named a first-team all-Big Ten selection while Crawford picked up third-team honors.
In conference play, Marble ranked second in scoring at 18.3 points a game. Crawford was eighth at 14.9.
Likely starters for Iowa: Mike Gesell, Devyn Marble, Adam Woodbury, Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe; Likely starters for Northwestern: Dave Sobolewsky, Tre Demps, Alex Olah, Drew Crawford, Nikola Cerina
Game officials: Terry Wymer, D.J. Carstensen and Bill Ek. The standby official is Gene Steratore.
ESPN2 announcers: Mike Tirico, Dan Dakich, Allison Williams
Iowa players are wearing warm-up T-shirts in support of Fran McCaffery's 13-year-old son, Patrick, who will have surgery next week for a thyroid tumor. The front of the shirt reads "P-Mac" and the back reads #teampat 22.
Both teams limp into the tournament with significant skids. Northwestern has lost seven of its final eight games, while Iowa dropped five of its last six. While overconfidence could be a problem for many teams in Iowa's situation, that's hardly the issue entering this game, Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said.
"I don't think that our guys have ever done that (looked past an opponent)," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "I think we're mature enough to know and understand. I think we're respectful of that program. We've had some very difficult games with them. Everybody knows how good Drew Crawford is.
"They are also intelligent enough to recognize when guys are making strides. Like you look at a guy like (Alex) Olah. You look at him last year, you look at him now; they are two different players. He is really†a guy that you say, he can get 20 and 10if you don't play him right, if you don't work as hard or harder than he does.
"A guy like Tre Demps, who a year ago was just kind of a microwave off the bench, this year established himself as one of the premiere players of our league. Great late-game shot-maker."
For Collins, limiting Iowa's transition is crucial to staying in the game.
"Thatís going to be our challenge to be able to do it for 40 minutes and try to keep the game at a manageable level and not let them get out and get their runs going where itís a 12-0 run," Collins said. "Eight points in a row ,where for us itís been hard to come back when we get down. So we have to keep the game at a manageable level, keep it to our tempo, hopefully keep the score down a little bit and give ourselves a chance down the stretch to be able to have a chance to win."
Crawford ranks first in Northwestern history in games played (141) and games started (140). He's one of three players (Creighton's Doug McDermott, South Carolina-Update's Torrey Craight) with 1,800 points, 700 rebounds and 200 3-pointers. He led the Wildcats in scoring (15.5 per game) and rebounding (6.6).
Crawford is a bit mercurial with his scoring output on the road and at home. In Big Ten games he averaged 10.8 points at home, while he averaged 19 on the road. In this final three home games he combined for 17 points. In his final three road games he scored 46 points.
"Obviously you donít want to talk about it much during the year because it can become mental," Collins said. "Weíre going to view this game on Thursday as a road game in his mind, and hopefully heíll have a great game for us."
Iowa was one game behind Michigan and Michigan State in the loss column on Feb. 22. Then the Hawkeyes dropped five of six to fall out of contention and all the way down to the sixth seed.
"I just think the leagueís tough as it is, everyone took their lulls and unfortunately for us ours was the last six games of the year," Iowa junior Aaron White said, "whereas Ohio State was in first couple six, Wisconsinís was in the middle couple six, ours came at the end. All the top teams ... Michigan State in the middle couple six. Every team had it. Ours wasnít the best timing, but thatís what this league will do to you. Youíve got to stay strong, fight through each day and get better."
"We canít forget that just about a month ago, we were 10th in the country and we didnít get there by accident," Iowa guard Mike Gesell said. "We worked hard to make our way up there. We hit a little rough patch, like almost every team in the Big Ten has hit a rough patch at some point in the season. I think weíre past that now.
In the first half, Iowa struggled to gain separation and was tied 31-31 at halftime. The Hawkeyes led 28-21 after a Devyn Marble three-point play with 3:46 left in the half, but the Wildcats rallied to score on five of their last seven possessions.
After Marble's three-point play, Tre Demps scooped in an awkward shot to to cut the deficit to five. Then Kale Abrahamson scored and followed two possessions later with a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 28-28 with 42 seconds left.
Iowa milked the clock on its final possession, then Marble drilled a 3-pointer at the top of the key with six seconds left to take a 31-28 lead. Northwestern raced up the floor and Demps knocked down a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer for the tie.
Statistically, some of the same concerns over the past two weeks continues to dog Iowa. Northwestern shot 50 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Hawkeyes 17-11. Entering the game, the Hawkeyes were plus-7.4 this year and the Wildcats were minus-4.1 in rebounding. In their two previous meetings, Iowa outrebounded Northwestern by a combined 37 rebounds.
Iowa did have some bright spots, however. Jarrod Uthoff hit three 3-pointers to notch his highest scoring output in two months. Marble added 12 points in the first half. The Hawkeyes forced seven turnovers and scored seven points off those turnovers. But Northwestern topped Iowa in bench points 12-6.
Iowa took a 9-6 lead at the first media timeout. Five of Iowa's first six shots were 3-point attempts and the only make was from forward Aaron White.But Iowa kept settling for 3-point attempts and missed seven of its first eight attempts. The Hawkeyes were 4-of-13 from the floor by the second media timeout to trail 11-9.