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Iowa’s NCAA hopes alive and well (for at least another game)

[ 0 ] February 18, 2013 |
Iowa's Eric May was Sunday's feel-good story vs. Minnesota

Iowa’s Eric May was Sunday’s feel-good story vs. Minnesota

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Sherman Dillard returned to his Carver-Hawkeye Arena office at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, and got back to work.

“I’ve got the Nebraska scout,” said Dillard, one of Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery’s assistants.

Hours earlier, Dillard was on the bench as the Hawkeyes dismantled Minnesota, 72-51, the program’s most one-sided victory over their neighbors to the north since 1996.

The Hawkeyes, riding a three-game Big Ten winning streak for the first time since 2007, will try and keep the string alive at Nebraska on Thursday. The game with the Cornhuskers is big if Iowa wants to keep its realistic NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

So were the previous three games. The four that follow the trip to Lincoln won’t be important if the Hawkeyes, 6-7 in the Big Ten and 17-9 overall, don’t take care of business.

Iowa needs to win four more games to get to 10-8 in the Big Ten. Joe Lunardi of ESPN’s Bracketology said that 10-8 would give the Hawkeyes a shot at the field of 68. With a game remaining on the road at No. 1 Indiana still to play, that brings added importance to Thursday’s game as well as home dates against Purdue, resurgent Illinois and the Cornhuskers.
Dillard’s arrival back at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Sunday followed the team’s one game at a time mantra. After gut-wrenching losses at Minnesota and Wisconsin, Iowa’s postseason backs were against the wall. But instead of thinking, “We’ve got to win eight of the last nine to get an NCAA sniff,” McCaffery has preached the next game. Only the next game.

“I am a firm believer that you can’t look one, two, three, four, five, six games down the road,” McCaffery said Monday. “You have to look at one game, and win that game. We are literally in control of our own destiny. But we have to take care of business, and beat the teams on our schedule.”

With just three victories over Top 50 RPI teams (according to the NCAA’s RPI), an 0-5 record against rated teams and eight victories over teams with 200-plus RPIs, the Hawkeyes have no wiggle room. They can ride the powerful Big Ten’s coattails. And playing meaningful games after Valentine’s Day is something this program hasn’t experienced since the 2005-06 season.

McCaffery inherited a 10-win program in 2010. His first Iowa team won 11 games, then 18. Sunday’s 17th win had a distinctive Todd Lickliter taste to it. Eric May, the only Hawkeye on the roster to play for Lickliter, was Sunday’s feel-good story with 10 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

Then there were Devyn Marble and Zach McCabe, who were signed by Lickliter but never played for him. Marble had 15 points against the Gophers. McCabe got an Iowa offer only after Marshalltown’s Chanse Creekmur backed out of a verbal commitment.

McCabe had 10 points, five rebounds, two steals and was at the front and back of Iowa’s stunning first-half comeback.

Iowa was down, 21-5, when McCabe was forced to put up a 3-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock about to expire and Austin Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi draped all over him. It went in.

“I miss two wide-open 3s, then I make that one,” McCabe said.

McCabe was also fouled by Trevor Mbakwe with a second remaining in the first half as he shot a 3-pointer.

McCabe made all three free throws to complete a 29-8 run and a 34-29 halftime lead. Iowa had played its way out of a sizeable Gopher hole, and kept its NCAA dreams above ground.

“This one is in our back pocket now,” May said. “And it’s on to Nebraska.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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