Iowa controls Big Ten destiny despite loss to Penn State
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) For Iowa, the math is simple.
Four straight wins would make the Hawkeyes outright Big Ten champions for the first time in 46 years.
It won't be easy.
No. 8 Iowa (20-6, 11-3 Big Ten) is a half-game behind the Hoosiers (22-6, 12-3) entering Wednesday's home game against Wisconsin (17-10, 9-5). Indiana also holds a tiebreaker after beating the Hawkeyes earlier this month.
But four consecutive wins would put Iowa at 15-3. Maryland (23-5, 11-4) and Indiana would both have at least four league losses under such a scenario.
In essence, the Big Ten title chase is still convoluted for everyone but Iowa as long as the Hawkeyes can play as well as they have for most of the season. The schedule includes games against Wisconsin, Indiana and road trips to Ohio State and Michigan.
''The next four games are really all against very good teams. So hopefully we'll play well, play a little better than we have recently. We're close,'' Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
After losing a close game to Indiana on the road, the Hawkeyes barely held off Minnesota at home and lost at Penn State, which is just 5-9 in the league. The loss to the Nittany Lions prompted a players-only meeting on Saturday, which the Hawkeyes said was mostly positive.
McCaffery pointed to Iowa's recent defensive performances – which have been as good as they've been in years for much of the year – as an area in need of immediate improvement. The Hawkeyes allowed nearly 10 points more per game than their season average (69.3) in their last three outings.
''Our defense has to get better, especially with the weapons that we're going to face on Wednesday,'' McCaffery said. ''When I say we need to get better at defense, it will never be one thing … It's not `OK, we're not doing one thing.' Our defense hasn't been awful, but it hasn't been as good as it needs to be.''
Stars Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok could also use a bit more help on offense.
Uthoff (18.8 points per game) and Jok (16.3) have been two of the league's best scorers this season. But the two combined to take a staggering 62 shots in Iowa's last two games, and both shot below 50 percent in the loss to Penn State.
''Sometimes we rely on them a little bit too much, leave them in one-on-one situations, put them in tough situations,'' said center Adam Woodbury, who took just two shots at Penn State.
A return to form could easily lead to an unexpected and rare Big Ten title for the Hawkeyes, who remain confident they can do so.
''We expect to win. That's how you approach every season. We expect to win the Big Ten championship. We expect to win the national championship. We're anxious to go out there and compete for it,'' Uthoff said.