Why Iowa men's basketball isn't taking anything for granted in upcoming road game at Nebraska
Iowa men's basketball rolled past Nebraska on Feb. 13 by a convincing 98-75 margin at home. Since then, Iowa (19-8, 9-7) has won two of three while climbing the Big Ten standings. Nebraska's (7-20, 1-15) losing streak is at three games.
Iowa will travel to Nebraska on Friday for a rematch. On paper it appears to be an easy win for the Hawkeyes, but history isn't on their side. No current Iowa player, not even sixth-year senior Jordan Bohannon, has a win at Nebraska. Iowa's last victory in Lincoln was in 2015, a four-game losing streak overall.
By the time the teams tip off at 8 p.m. Friday, it will have been 2,561 days since the Hawkeyes' last win in Lincoln.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday that his team focuses more on the opponent than the arena. But Iowa's struggles inside Pinnacle Bank Arena means the Hawkeyes aren't taking this game for granted.
"We had a couple of close, tough losses (in 2019 and 2020)," McCaffery said. "I think both of those games we felt like we had it won but didn't. I think the only guys that played in those games were (Jordan Bohannon and Connor McCaffery). We respect Nebraska's coach and personnel. We won when they were here but they did go on a 20-3 run in the second half so that shows what they're capable of doing."
Iowa has been a solid road team this season with a 4-5 record. The Hawkeyes are 2-0 on the road in February (5-1 overall), including their most notable win of the season at Ohio State on Feb. 19. What's been the key? McCaffery credited his team's "business-like" approach.
"It's a mindset that our team has," McCaffery said. "It's really great to get hype for a particular game, that might work that day. But with this league and how difficult it is, how different each team and atmosphere are, if you don't take a professional approach you will not be successful.
"That comes down to studying film, assessing your own game and what you've been doing but (considering) what they're going to do to us, what we're going to do to them. If the game plan's not working we have to make adjustments and do it effectively and do it together."
One area to watch in this game: the first 5-10 minutes. Iowa has been plagued with slow starts throughout the season. In the first matchup vs. Nebraska, a 3-of-8 start from the field put the Hawkeyes in a 15-11 hole after the first six minutes before a furious 33-10 run broke the game open.
A few things have changed during their impressive February streak to mitigate that, mostly solid defense and rebounding. Iowa has held opponents to an average of 68 points in its five February wins, three points lower than its season average. The Hawkeyes have won the rebounding battle in four of those five games.
"Some of it might be our aggressive mindset," McCaffery said. "We're kind of in attack mode all of the time. I do think our attention to detail defensively has been a critical part of that as well. We're getting terrific play off the bench. It's different combinations of guys that are really committed defensively. I think it's a combination of all those things."
The Hawkeyes are in pretty comfortable positioning for an NCAA Tournament berth, for now. But a bad loss at Nebraska (NET ranking 188) could undo some of the good resume-building they've done recently.
"They have good players and have played well at times," McCaffery said. "We know what this league is, so this game is just as important as the last two (against Ohio State and Michigan State."
Injury update for Iowa basketball's Connor McCaffery
Senior guard Connor McCaffery re-injured his shoulder in the first half against Michigan State on Tuesday night. He played only nine minutes, hitting both of his three-point attempts, but the re-aggravated nerve "incapacitated" his arm, Fran McCaffery said. It appears that he's on track to play on Friday.
"He got hit in the same spot," McCaffery said. "You know you bust up something, then get hit in the same spot. Same sensation with the nerve. It sort of incapacitated his arm. Needless to say he wasn't going to go back into that game. He's doing better. I would expect him to play (Friday)."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.