Simple goal, simple game for men’s basketball

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Joshua Housing

Iowa forward Jarrod Uthoff lays the ball up against Minnesota on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016 in Carver-Hawkeye in Iowa City, IA. The Hawkeyes defeated the Gophers, 75-71. (The Daily Iowan/Joshua Housing)

The Iowa men’s basketball team will kick off its 2016 Big Ten Tournament run today against a rather familiar foe.

The Hawkeyes will play Illinois, a team they have beaten once this season, 77-65.

The Illini eviscerated depleted Minnesota, 85-52, on Wednesday to advance to the second day of the tournament.

Michael Finke, a 6-10 freshman forward, led the Illini off the bench with 17 points. Junior guard Kendrick Nunn had 15.

Iowa enters the tournament after winning just two of its last six games.

Senior Jarrod Uthoff seems to have found his stroke again, dropping 29 points on Michigan to lead the Hawkeyes to a 71-61 victory.

Slumping for several weeks prior, the win may have been just what the Hawkeyes needed to kick start a March run.

“It was a great win against a good opponent,” Uthoff said. “It helped with our confidence, and it’s good to get us on track.”

The Hawks hope that confidence will bolster this tournament run, especially as they’ve been knocked out in the first round each of the last two seasons.

Penn State stunned the Hawkeyes a season ago in Chicago, sending them home on the Thursday. Two seasons ago, a 67-62 loss to Northwestern sent the Hawkeyes packing after one game as well.

“You never want to get knocked out in the first round,” senior Anthony Clemmons said. “You have to prepare a different way. We’re locked into what the coaches say.”

Iowa beat the Illini in Champaign this year in game that was closer than the score would indicate. The bench struggles started with Illinois, and the Hawkeyes looked out of sync for almost the rest of the season.

Regardless of the opponent, however, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said the key to advancing through the tournament is rather simple.

“You’ve got to take care of the ball,” he said. “You have to come down and get good shots. You’ve have to rebound.”

While that’s a slight oversimplification, and the rudimentary formula to win any game of basketball, the Hawkeyes did two of those three things exceptionally well in their bounce-back win over Michigan.

Iowa was outrebounded 43-35 by the Wolverines, but the Hawkeyes shot slightly more than 45 percent for the game and just above 51 percent in the second half. They also turned the ball over just 8 times.

It’s a winning formula and something the Hawkeyes must do to get past Illinois and the Boilermakers. McCaffery said the coaches will continue scouting the teams they were assigned, and practices wouldn’t change aside from working on specific elements, such as breaking the press and zone defense.

A successful trip is easily defined, McCaffery said. To do what he has in mind, however, the Hawkeyes will have to play back-to-back-to-back games and win all three.

The goal, simple:

“Winning the championship,” he said.

 

Power rankings

1) Michigan State — Tom Izzo said a couple days ago that he felt this team could make the Final Four. I’m inclined to agree.

2) Indiana — Is Tom Crean has the Hoosiers playing well enough to buy himself some job security.

3) Maryland — The Hoosiers and Terps could probably be switched here, but Indiana’s experience gives it a bit of an edge.

4) Wisconsin — Bucky is on its way to yet another NCAA Tournament bid and has a chance to pull up a win against Maryland in the quarterfinals.

5) Purdue — Size and strength have been the Boilermakers’ calling card all season. That’ll be huge in tournament play, assuming they can stay out of foul trouble.

6) Iowa — Life comes at you fast, doesn’t it?

7) Ohio State — A tough Penn State matchup will test the Buckeyes. The Michigan State game in the next round will crush them. Not a fun draw.

8) Northwestern — No, this isn’t the year they make the NCAA Tournament. In fact, that day may come when the Sun rises in the west.

9) Penn State — The Nittany Lions get their first first-round bye ever in the Big Ten Tournament this year.

10) Michigan — Not having Caris LeVert has hurt this team, which is coming into the tournament off a loss from Iowa — something that doesn’t hold as much weight as it did three weeks ago.

11) Illinois — Moving into the second round after beating the Dumpster fire that is Minnesota basketball, the Illini will test Iowa, just as they tested them earlier this season.

12) Nebraska — Tim Miles still does that halftime tweet thing. Hasn’t worked out well this season.

13) Rutgers — The Scarlet Knights lost by fewer points in their tourney game than Minnesota. That’s literally the only thing separating them and Rutgers.

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