"One game at a time" isn't just a basketball coach's dry mantra. In the Big Ten Conference, it's become a necessary way of life.
That's just how it has to be for coach Fran McCaffery's fifth Iowa team that has one league game (and victory) down, 17 to go.
"When you look at this league, and how good it is top to bottom," McCaffery said, "the next game is absolutely critical."
For the Hawkeyes (10-4, 1-0 Big Ten), that comes at 8 p.m. Monday against Nebraska (8-5, 0-1) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game will air nationally on Big Ten Network.
Every win matters, and home court can't be a crutch. Of the seven Big Ten openers, four were won by the road team – including Iowa's 71-65 win at Ohio State, and Nebraska's 70-65 home loss to Indiana.
"Any league that I've ever coached in (and there's been six — four as a head coach)," McCaffery said, "has had a couple teams that just weren't as good, or didn't put as much emphasis in winning. And that's not the case in this league. Everybody wants to win. Everybody puts (in) resources, and hires great coaches and recruits good players."
That's a perfect transition to scouting Nebraska, a revitalized program under coach Tim Miles that is coming off its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1998 and features two talented stars that create most of the action.
Junior 6-foot-6 guard Terran Petteway and 6-7 wing Shavon Shields combine to average more than 36 points and 12 rebounds a game. They account for nearly 50.9 percent of the Cornhuskers' field-goal attempts and 57.5 percent of their free-throw attempts.
Petteway is the reigning Big Ten scoring champion and has scored in double figures in 24 consecutive games.
"They have the ball a lot, both of them," McCaffery said. "And they have the ball all over the court, not in one location. Which obviously makes them harder to stop when you don't know where they're going to get it."
The Hawkeye forward asks who is next on the schedule after a win at Ohio State.
So, how to take care of business at home? Getting Aaron White the school's all-time free throws record would help. White has 512 career free throws, five short of breaking Roy Marble's school record that has stood for 25 years. White, at 6-foot-9, and fellow posts Gabe Olaseni (6-10) and Adam Woodbury (7-1) figure to be able to have success against a Cornhuskers front line depleted by injuries.
"When you look at that particular statistic ... that's a guy who approaches the game in a professional way, works on his game," McCaffery said, "and figures out how to score against teams that are scheming to stop him at a very high level."
After Nebraska, Michigan State — which has won 13 of 14 against the Hawkeyes — comes to Iowa City for a 6 p.m. Thursday contest.
Fans and sportswriters can afford to look ahead to that. The Hawkeyes can't. Their approach is one at a time.
"If we do that, we'll have a good record," McCaffery said. "And we'll have an opportunity to do some things in March."
Iowa (10-4, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Nebraska (8-5, 0-1 Big Ten)
Specifics — 8:06 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City.
Following the game — TV: Big Ten Network. Radio: WHO-AM (1040), WMT-AM (600) and the Hawkeye network. Satellite: Sirius (93), XM (199). Live scoring: livestats.hawkeyesports.com.
Preview — The Hawkeyes haven't started 2-0 in Big Ten play since the 2002-03 season. ... Iowa won the only meeting last year between the teams, 67-57, in an ugly league opener on New Year's Eve in Iowa City. ... Three Hawkeyes are averaging 10-plus points and six-plus rebounds in home games: Aaron White (16.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Jarrod Uthoff (10.7, 6.0) and Gabe Olaseni (10.3, 6.2). ... The Cornhuskers had their eight-game Big Ten winning streak snapped in their league opener vs. Indiana on Dec. 31.