March 6, 2012
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa head men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery knows that winning four basketball games in four days doesn't happen often, but it does happen.
That is the assignment for McCaffery and the Hawkeyes as they advance to the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday with a 16-15 record. Iowa, the eighth seed, plays Illinois (17-14), the ninth seed, with a 10:30 a.m. (CT) tip from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
"It's one of those things where if you're playing well and intelligently and you're defending and staying with the game plan, and your key guys are doing what they're supposed to do and you're getting contributions from the bench, then it can happen," McCaffery said Tuesday at a gathering with reporters in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena Media Room.
Iowa will try to duplicate the magic it had in 2001, when the Hawkeyes defeated Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana within 96 hours to secure the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. McCaffery thinks the topic of that run in 2001 will come up in the next few days, but not from him -- his focus is squarely on Illinois.
"It's been an interesting year (for Illinois), because they were 15 3 and ranked, and lost some close games," McCaffery said. "There were some games where they lost to really good teams but played very well. They certainly beat us. They can beat anybody in our league -- they beat Michigan State and Ohio State and played fairly well against Michigan."
The Big Ten Tournament hasn't been kind lately for the Hawkeyes; they have lost five games in a row since defeating Ohio State, 67-60, to win their second championship in 2006.
This will be the first postseason experience for Hawkeye freshman forward Aaron White. White, who on Monday was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team by coaches, and honorable mention All-Big Ten by media, grew up in Strongsville, Ohio, watching the Big Ten Tournament on television.
"You see teams make runs in the conference tournament and it's always exciting," White said. "I think we have a great opportunity at that. It will be something special to be part of and something I've looked forward to since I was a little kid."
It will be the second meeting between Iowa and Illinois in 11 days. The Illini benefitted from a cool shooting performance by Iowa (36.7 percent for the game) on Feb. 26, and pulled out a 65-54 decision in Champaign, Ill. UI senior Matt Gatens played the entire game, scoring 22 points and making 5-of-6 3-pointers. Roy Devyn Marble added 10 points with six assists and four steals.
"I think it's a little bit fresh. But I don't know if it's a benefit because they're in the same boat," McCaffery said.
"We have to defend," Marble said. "I think we did a fairly good job of defending them there, we just had a really hard time scoring."
A win against Illinois would put the Hawkeyes against top-seeded Michigan State on Friday at 11 a.m. (CT).
"There is not a team in this league that we can't beat; there are some that we didn't beat," McCaffery said. "I feel like we can play with everybody that's beaten us and have a chance. You've got to make shots, and you've got to be the smarter, tougher team on that day."