Sideways No More
Jan. 3, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa men's basketball program that was "sideways" in late November has traveled a straight path of late.
It remains to be seen if the Hawkeyes (9-6 overall, 1-1 Big Ten Conference) will follow their upset win at Wisconsin on Dec. 31 with another strong effort at Minnesota on Wednesday.
UI head coach Fran McCaffery spent 15 minutes with reporters on a teleconference Tuesday. He explained how the program forged ahead after starting the season 3-0 before losing by 23 against Creighton on Nov. 20, and by 16 at hone to Campbell on Nov. 23.
"We have good kids in the program and they're going to keep fighting," McCaffery said. "Our team was sideways at both ends of the floor. When you factor Bryce (Cartwright) back in (from an injury), and Aaron White and Josh Oglesby have been very good as freshmen, and they needed to get their feet underneath them.
"A lot of things have to take place in a course of a long season and I think that's what you're seeing. We just kept working and we insisted that (the players) kept working and believing."
The Hawkeyes have won four of their last five games. Three days after opening the league season with a three-point loss at home to Purdue, they went on the road and shocked No. 11 Wisconsin, 72-65.
McCaffery let the players celebrate Saturday, but the attention shifted to Minnesota on Sunday.
"We had a big win Saturday, but it doesn't mean anything," McCaffery said. "We have to come back and have the same kind of effort on the road in a very difficult environment (Wednesday) night. So we'll see if we have the kind of maturity to handle that."
Minnesota went 12-1 in nonconference games, but since then suffered Big Ten road losses at Illinois (81-72 in overtime) and at Michigan (61-56). The Gophers are 10-0 at home and have won the last six meetings against the Hawkeyes.
"(Minnesota head coach) Tubby (Smith) has some young guys playing well and he has some players playing different positions than they played last year," McCaffery said. "They're 0-2 (in Big Ten play), but I thought they played well in both games. They're quick and they have a lot of athletes they can run at you."
Minnesota continues to adjust without senior forward Trevor Mbakwe, who suffered an ACL tear on his right knee in November. In two conference games, the Gophers have been led by Ralph Sampson III (14.0 points, 9.5 rebounds per game) and Julian Welch (13.0 points, 5-of-9 3-pointers).
Minnesota can alternate between a small, quick lineup, and a taller one...and the Hawkeyes will probably see glimpses of both.
"They have a lot of wing athletes and those guys are slashing," McCaffery said. "You're going to see pressure and fast break -- they're going to be smaller and quicker at times. That seems to be one that's been effective. They can also go big -- they still do that, so (Smith) has a couple ways he can go and he's doing both."
When it comes to lineups, McCaffery continues to be quizzed about the progress of guards Roy Devyn Marble (11.1 points, 3.7 assists per game) and Bryce Cartwright (6.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), and the likelihood of them being on the floor at the same time. While Marble and Cartwright will indeed be on the court at the same time, McCaffery doesn't overlook the contributions from junior Eric May.
"I don't want to underestimate the quality of play we're getting from Eric May and how hard he's worked," McCaffery said. "A lot of times it's the defense that gets overlooked and he's been tremendous in that area."
May is averaging 7.3 points and 3.2 rebounds a game.
While McCaffery is searching for signs of across-the-board consistency, two glaring areas that go hand-in-hand are defensive effort and rebounding. The Hawkeyes have won the rebounding battle in three of their last four games, including a 41-37 edge at Wisconsin.
Iowa and Minnesota tip off at 8:06 p.m. (CT) on Wednesday from Williams Arena. The game will be televised by BTN (HD). The Hawkeyes return home Saturday, Jan. 7, to play Ohio State at 2 p.m.