Hawks look to keep rolling at Indiana
Perhaps the most surprising score in the Big Ten this year came from Iowa City on Wednesday night.
The Hawkeyes, who'd won just one league game and been trounced in many of their losses, rolled out to a 30-8 lead and crushed reeling Michigan State 72-52.
That blowout encapsulated the stunning struggles of the Spartans, but it also showed that Iowa might be closer to the turnaround it's been searching for since December. Now, the Hawkeyes will try to prove their big win over Michigan State wasn't just one big fluke.
Iowa ((9-13, 2-8 Big Ten) hits the road Saturday to face Indiana - the only other Big Ten team the Hawkeyes have beaten - hoping to carry over what worked so well against the Spartans.
''It's an example of what we're capable of doing, and now the test is can we do it consistently,'' Iowa first-year coach Fran McCaffery said Friday. ''We've played that way at times and the hardest thing, the hardest challenge for all of us, players and coaches, is to make sure we do that for 40 minutes. That was clearly our best effort of the season.''
If Iowa is going to turn the corner in the season's final month, it'll need much more consistent play from sophomore forward Eric May.
McCaffery believes nobody would benefit more from the switch to a more up-tempo style than May, but he's proven to be an enigmatic talent. He's averaging 9.2 points and can be the best player on the floor at times, and disappear entirely at other times. He scored 16 points in a loss at Minnesota last month, but went scoreless three nights later at top-ranked Ohio State.
May put up 11 points in just 24 minutes against the Spartans, but it was his response to a brief lull that stood out most to McCaffery.
''He's had a couple of stinkers on the road. He's his own worst enemy, we talk about that. We constantly try to encourage him,'' McCaffery said. ''The other night he got off to a great start. He had a stretch in the game where he didn't play well, and he came back and played great. For me, that's the key with him.''
Iowa's win over Indiana on Jan. 23 was, ironically enough, almost as surprising as its victory over the Spartans. The Hawkeyes took advantage of the sudden absence of Hoosiers guard Verdell Jones III and cruised to a 91-77 win at home, snapping a six-game losing streak.
But that loss seemed to be a turning point for the Hoosiers - and now Jones is back.
Indiana (12-11, 3-7) went on to beat Illinois 50-47, then scared the Spartans in East Lansing before falling 84-83 in overtime. The Hoosiers lost leading scorer Christian Watford to a broken hand against Michigan State but still beat 18th-ranked Minnesota 60-57 on Wednesday
Jones, who missed three games with inflammation in his knee, scored 12 points in his return.
Although Indiana and Iowa have spent most of the season in the Big Ten basement, both appear to be trending upward. That makes Saturday's matinee in Bloomington a lot more intriguing than their first matchup.
''We played our most complete game against a storied program, and it was wonderful and we enjoyed it. But it's only one game, and we're playing a team that is playing as well, if not better than everyone else in our league right now, maybe with the exception of Ohio State,'' McCaffery said. ''Indiana, since our game, has played incredibly well and I'm trying to convey that to our team.''