Dec. 27, 2012
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- In keeping with holiday theme, the University of Iowa men's basketball team has finished nibbling on spinach dip, cocktail franks, and the occasional piece of jumbo shrimp. The months of November and December served as hors d'oeuvres; it's time for the main course of turkey, ham, and prime rib.
It's time for the Big Ten Conference season.
"I can't wait, the Big Ten is a great conference and I have been excited to start since the beginning of the year," said UI senior Eric May, a veteran of three league campaigns. "We have a tough opener and I'm ready for it."
The first opponent is an Indiana Hoosier team that is ranked fifth in the nation after spending the first six weeks of the season No. 1.
"They were just ranked No. 1 in the country, so that's self-explanatory," said first-year point guard Anthony Clemmons. "Whenever you have a big one like that, you have to bring you're A game every time."
In this league, whenever you reach into the deep stocking known as your schedule, you are going to be saddled with a tough task. When Indiana slipped a bit in the polls, Michigan jumped to No. 2. The Wolverines are opponent No. 2 for the UI on Jan. 6 in Ann Arbor. Then there is Ohio State at No. 10, Minnesota at 11, Illinois at 12, and Michigan State at 19.
"That's what we all came here for," said Clemmons, wise beyond his years, but still a bit wet behind his rookie ears. "This is what we have been preparing for."
Clemmons doesn't know it yet, but sophomore Aaron White is going to pull him aside soon, and impart some second-year wisdom upon all the freshmen.
"It was good that we had a couple rough patches; a couple games we didn't play our best. We learned from every game and we didn't take any game for granted. We were ready for all of our opponents, which is big. In the Big Ten, you turn around and play great teams one right after the other. Our young guys are learning, and we grew during the nonconference."
UI sophomore forward
The Hawkeyes are as ready as they will ever be at this stage of the season. The first 13 games was a stretch that began with an 86-55 win against Texas-Pan-American on Nov. 9, and has included six games in 12 days, two in-state rivalry games, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and trip to Mexico.
"It was good that we had a couple rough patches; a couple games we didn't play our best," said White, referring to back-to-back losses to Wichita State and Virginia Tech. "We learned from every game and we didn't take any game for granted. We were ready for all of our opponents, which is big. In the Big Ten, you turn around and play great teams one right after the other. Our young guys are learning, and we grew during the nonconference."
Wichita State and Virginia Tech arrived at Christmas Day with a combined record of 20-4. Both were undefeated at tipoff against the Hawkeyes.
UI junior Roy Devyn Marble leads the Hawkeyes in scoring (15.7 points per game) and 3-point field goals (20). There are 11 on the roster who average 9.8 or more minutes of playing time. Eight have played in all 13 games; sophomores Josh Oglesby and Gabriel Olaseni have seen the court 12 times.
"We have been playing unselfish basketball and getting a lot of assists," Marble said. "But we haven't played anybody of Indiana's caliber yet. We have to be focused and in-tune in practice."
One of the hot Hawkeyes has been Olaseni. In the last five games he has averaged 15 minutes, 7.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots per game. In the last outing he scored 14 points in 18 minutes, with seven rebounds.
"Coach (Fran McCaffery) is still trying to find the right chemistry," Olaseni said. "I think we're pretty good and we're in a great position right now."
The Big Ten dinner bell has rung; it's time to gather around the table for action in what all critics call the best men's basketball conference in the land.
If all goes well, dessert will be served in March.