BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The last time Iowa was scheduled to play a basketball game at Indiana, it became two trips in one.
The Hawkeyes arrived in town a season ago on the heels of a victory at Penn State, in search of victory No. 20. And then a beam fell from the ceiling at Assembly Hall on Feb. 18, game day, forcing a postponement.
Iowa also went into a freefall. The late-season schedule, condensed when the Hawkeyes had to make a second trip to Bloomington to play the Hoosiers on Feb. 27, was a contributing factor in seven losses over the last eight games.
So was the Hawkeyes' defense. After surrendering 95 points at Minnesota two days earlier, it was equally ineffective in a 93-86 loss to the Hoosiers. And a season that included Final Four talk and a visit to the top 10 will be remembered for the swoon.
Now it's back to Assembly Hall, for a 6 p.m. game Tuesday with Indiana. The Hawkeyes are again coming off a victory at Penn State. And they're again looking for victory No. 20. But the defense is better than it was a season ago. I asked Indiana coach Tom Crean on Monday if he agreed.
"I think they're significantly better everywhere," Crean said.
Crean touched on Iowa's experience, its resiliency and ability to play inside-out or vice-versa on offense. He raved about the Hawkeyes' transition game, and their ability to attack on makes and misses.
"They just keep getting better," Crean said. "And they've gotten better not only from last year to this year but throughout the year."
Iowa comes into the final week of the regular season on a four-game winning streak. A program that went 5-13 in the Big Ten in 2008-09 and 4-14 in 2009-10 and 2010-11 hasn't won five straight regular-season league games since 1992-93.
Already assured of a winning conference road record at 5-3, the Hawkeyes could land anywhere between the second and seventh seeds at next week's Big Ten Tournament.
Indiana, also 19-10 overall, is 9-7 in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers would get the tiebreaker over Iowa with a victory Tuesday. Purdue (11-5) and Michigan State (10-6) also hold the tiebreaker, winning the season's only meeting with the Hawkeyes. Iowa swept Ohio State (10-6) and has an edge there.
Indiana has a potent perimeter attack. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in scoring (72.4 points a game), three-point makes (9.4) and percentage (.407). And 40.6 percent of Indiana's field-goal attempts in Big Ten play have been 3-pointers.
"A very difficult team to defend when you look at the collection of shooters," McCaffery said.
Five Hoosiers have made at least 46 triples this season. Leading the way is the guard court of Yogi Ferrell (70) and James Blackmon Jr. (65). But it's Indiana's ability to share the ball and load up the shooters that impresses McCaffery.
"Whether it's in transition, or playing against a man-to-man or a zone, these guys keep attacking and they find open people," McCaffery said.
Conversely, Indiana is dead last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (surrendering 71.1 points) and field-goal defense (47.8 percent). That bodes well for an Iowa offense that has been sharing the ball during these two weeks of prosperity.
The 3-pointer can mask a lot of issues. But If Indiana can't get it clicking behind the arc, Iowa's winning streak could live for another game.