The Iowa men’s basketball team has only played two of its 18 Big Ten Conference games, and yet questions about must-wins already have surfaced.
It happened Tuesday when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery met with reporters. He was asked if he liked using the must-win approach to prepare his team, which would fall to 0-3 in the Big Ten if it loses to Michigan State Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I don’t think about games that way,” McCaffery said. “We’re going to try and win them all.
“If we lose, we’re going to try and get better. There is no other way to approach it.”
Iowa was considered by some as a sleeper pick to make the NCAA Tournament this season after advancing to the second round of the National Invitation Tournament last season.
But it figured to be a brutal and sometimes humbling journey because of the Big Ten’s overall strength, which includes six teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll.
Iowa already has been humbled, losing to second-ranked Michigan 95-67 on Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich. Iowa’s other conference loss came against fifth-ranked Indiana on New Year’s Eve by a much closer 69-65 margin.
Thursday’s game against the 22nd-ranked Spartans will be Iowa’s third in a row against a ranked conference opponent.
“I think we’re significantly improved over a year ago,” Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said Tuesday. “But that doesn’t guarantee you anything. What Fran knows and what our players know is that you’ve got to go out every night.
“But you also can’t panic. You have to have prepared yourself for the fact that we’re playing in the most difficult basketball conference in the country. So you’ve got to show up every night. It’s not a must-win. But every night is a game you expect to win.”
Iowa hasn’t competed in the NCAA Tournament since the 2005-06 campaign under former coach Steve Alford.
It’s likely that Iowa would have to finish at least 9-9 in the Big Ten to have a realistic chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Lose to the Spartans, however, and it would take a 9-6 record in the remaining conference games for Iowa to finish .500 in the Big Ten.
“Michigan State is always going to have a terrific team,” Barta said. “But we know we have a chance to beat them. I’m sure that’s what everybody (on the team) is thinking.
“But we’re not going to beat them just because it’s a great crowd. We’re not going to beat them just because we’re at home. We’re going to beat them if we play our best basketball.”
Michigan State has won nine of the last 10 games against Iowa, with seven of the meetings taking place in East Lansing, Mich., or in Indianapolis, the site of the Big Ten Tournament.
Iowa’s lone victory during that span came by a 72-52 margin Feb. 2, 2011. That was also Michigan State’s last game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa has won six of the last nine games against Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
And though McCaffery refused to call Thursday’s game against the Spartans a must-win, he’s preparing as if it is. He hinted about lineup changes to the media and criticized his players for lacking toughness in the loss to Michigan, especially on defense.
“There’s always a sense of urgency,” McCaffery said. “Every night in this league you’ve got a handful.”
Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball