By Pete Ruden
The Hawkeyes’ basketball season has not been ideal, but they have one more chance to go out on a high note before the Big Ten Tournament when they take on Northwestern at 6:37 p.m. Feb. 25 in Carver-Hawkeye.
The winnable game comes at a good time, too, as a win over the Wildcats can give Iowa a hint of momentum heading into the postseason.
Despite an off-year, McCaffery said he is keeping the focus on the rest of this season instead of shifting thoughts to next year.
Iowa believed an NCAA Tournament berth was in its future to start the season; it was just one season removed from narrowly missing the cut last year and being a No. 1 seed in the NIT.
But after a 12-18 overall record, 3-14 in conference play, the Big Dance is the last thing on the minds of Hawkeye fans.
Still, McCaffery wants his team to show something as the season winds down.
“What I want to see is a group of individuals that keep grinding so our team gets better,” McCaffery said. “That’s all I’m looking for … Sometimes, we’re not doing the little things, and we’re doing the big things, so that’s why we’re in games, we’re in a position to win games, and we have to get better in those areas. What you do is you look at each person individually and try to help him eliminate one or two things and continue to do the good things.”
Northwestern is in a boat similar to Iowa. Expectations were decently high for the Wildcats coming into the season, but as with the Hawkeyes, they haven’t lived up to them.
Northwestern is one of the worst scoring teams in the conference, putting up 69.4 points a game, which ranks 12th out of the league’s 14 teams.
The Wildcats do have something of a bright spot in senior guard Scottie Lindsey, who is averaging 14.3 points per game, just up from his average of 14.1 last year.
Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law are decent complementary players for Lindsey, but it’s all or nearly nothing in Northwestern’s offense, with more of the latter.
The battle in Carver-Hawkeye is coming on the heels of what was probably the best game of shooting guard Isaiah Moss’ career.
Against Minnesota on Wednesday, the Chicago native dropped a career-high 32 points, including 19 in the final 1:36 of game time, in an attempt to bring the Hawkeyes back from a big first-half deficit.
His inconsistency has been a problem this season, but he proved that Iowa is a better team when he is playing well.
“He has the ability to do that,” McCaffery said after the Minnesota game. “All I ever do is encourage him to go … you go get buckets. That’s what you do. He was really impressive [Wednesday].”
The second half has been kind to Iowa in recent weeks. Against the Gophers, the Hawkeyes scored 63 points in the latter half of the game, and they have scored more than 50 in the second half in four of their last eight games.
The success in the final 20 minutes resembles Iowa’s season in a way. It shows it won’t stop fighting, despite digging itself in a hole.
“It says that we’re going to keep coming, we’re going to keep grinding,” McCaffery said. “Maybe we were able to, as coaches and players, make some adjustments that worked … At the end of the day, you want to outscore them in both halves or at least have more than they do at the end of the game. That’s the ultimate bottom line. But I do think that’s a positive sign in many ways, and I think it’s indicative, despite our record, we’re closer than everybody might think.”