Brown: Iowa hopes to stay in comfort zone on the road

Rick Brown

Iowa Hawkeyes center Gabriel Olaseni (0) drives to the basket past Minnesota Golden Gophers forward Maurice Walker (15) in the first half at Williams Arena.

EVANSTON, Ill. – Of all of the maddening losses at the end of Iowa's 2013-14 basketball season, one represents rock bottom.

It was a 67-62 defeat at the hands of Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. Iowa had handled the Wildcats by 26 points in both regular-season matchups. Northwestern made just 9-of-44 3-pointers in those two games combined, but 11-of-23 in the third meeting.

The moral of the story is this — you can take nothing for granted. This story will play out Sunday at 2 p.m. when Iowa visits Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Northwestern has lost 10 consecutive Big Ten games, mastering the art of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in one crushing five-game stretch. Iowa looked to be building confidence for a strong stretch run until it stepped into a Gopher hole at home Thursday. Sunday will give us a hint if Minnesota's 64-59 victory was a short-term dose of sideways or something worse.

But it's pretty evident that home sweet home doesn't mean much to these Hawkeyes. They have three Big Ten victories at home, three on the road. They also won at North Carolina.

"We've got a good road mentality," Iowa forward Aaron White said.

Staying road strong against Northwestern is mandatory if the Hawkeyes want to keep their march to the NCAA Tournament off life support.

"You've got to spin situations into a positive light," White said.

Want some positive spin? Over the last two seasons, Iowa is just 8-7 at home in Big Ten play, but 7-7 on the road. But these Wildcats have sharper claws than their residence in the Big Ten basement suggests.

Just look at what happened during this five-game stretch for the Wildcats, starting with an 84-77 overtime loss at Michigan State. Northwestern had a two-point lead with 28 seconds remaining in regulation and also missed the final shot, sending the game into overtime.

Then came a 72-67 loss at home to Illinois, when the Wildcats trailed by a point with :12 to go. And a 56-54 loss at Michigan, when Northwestern's Bryant McIntosh missed a game-tying shot in the final seconds. And a 69-67 home loss to Ohio State, when the Wildcats didn't surrender the lead until the final two minutes.

The capper was a crushing 68-67 loss at Maryland on Dez Wells' buzzer-beater, when the Wildcats squandered an 11-point lead in the final 4:11.

The last four games haven't been as dramatic: an eight-point loss to Purdue at home, a 16-point loss at Nebraska, a 15-point loss at Wisconsin and a 24-point home loss to Michigan State. But you've got to think that victory in Indianapolis will gave the Wildcats a little bounce of belief.

Iowa took a step back at both ends of the floor against Minnesota, but careless ballhanding was the fatal flaw. Iowa turned it over 16 times. Points off turnovers ended up 19-4 in favor of the Gophers.

Iowa also coughed it up 19 times against Maryland, snapping a streak of four games in a row with single-digit turnovers. So taking care of the basketball, and taking the Wildcats seriously, needs to be at the top of Iowa's to-do list.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.