Hawkeyes with early share of Big Ten lead
Two wins don't make a season.
Lisa Bluder and her No. 17 Hawkeyes certainly know that.
In fact, in the whirlwind of the Hawkeyes' 18-game Big Ten slate. two wins barely qualify as making a dramatic week.
Still, the Hawkeyes last two weeks have provided plenty.
Back-to-back victories over Penn State and then No. 16 Rutgers on Sunday have given Iowa (11-2) its first 2-0 Big Ten start in 10 seasons.
The 2-0 start has given the Hawkeyes a share of the Big Ten lead in what has been a topsy-turvy start to the conference season.
Most importantly, the two straight conference wins also provided the Hawkeyes with momentum and a five-game winning streak entering Thursday's 7 p.m. road tilt with Illinois (10-4, 1-1 Big Ten) at State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill.
"Any time you can start with momentum it's a lot easier to keep it going than to have to change direction," Bluder said. "I'm pleased with the 2-0 start especially since one of those was a road game against a top 20 opponent so I think that is tremendous but we need to keep it moving forward because we have 16 more and it's a grind."
It's early. Bluder and the Hawkeyes know that, too.
Yet only two other Big Ten foes have managed to avoid a loss through the first two weeks of conference play.
Conference newcomer and No. 12 Maryland (11-2, 2-0) and surprising Minnesota (14-1, 3-0) are the only other league unbeatens while a pair of previously top 20 ranked teams in Michigan State and Nebraska are still seeking their first conference wins.
Nebraska, which was ranked as high as 12th two weeks ago, is 0-2 in league play.
The preseason coaches pick to finish second in the league behind only Maryland and the No. 14 team in the country in the preseason Associated Press poll, Michigan State is 0-3 in Big Ten play and 7-6 on the season.
"It's kind of strange Nebraska and Michigan State were ranked in the top 20 just three weeks ago and now they're at the bottom of our conference but it is still so early," Bluder said. "We are only 2-3 games into it so a lot can change between now and March definitely."
The surprisingly slow starts by Nebraska and Michigan State are drawing the most attention but the turnarounds by programs like Northwestern and Illinois shouldn't go unnoticed.
Along with the spotless conference start by Minnesota and the early success of Northwestern (12-2, 2-1), Iowa's next opponent in Illinois ranks as two of the Big Ten's biggest surprises.
The Fighting Illini are off to their best start since 2006-07 and have already surpassed last year's win total of nine.
A win over Illinois on Thursday would make Iowa 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1998 and the first time ever under Bluder.
It would also give the Hawkeyes a second straight conference road win before returning home to face Purdue and Northwestern.
"It's so hard to win in this conference on the road so I think any time you do it's a little bit more momentum," Bluder said. "You feel like you kind of steal one away from somebody when you get that road win so I think it's big."
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or email@example.com.
No. 17 Iowa (11-2, 2-0) at Illinois (10-4, 1-1)
• Specifics — 7 p.m. State Farm Center, Champaign, Ill.
• Following the game —Radio: KXIC (800 AM), WMT (AM 600), WHO (1040 AM) Hawkeye Radio Network. Live scoring: www.hawkeyesports.com.
• Preview — Iowa brings a five-game winning streak to Champaign and is off to its first 2-0 start in Big Ten play in 10 seasons. The Hawkeyes are one of only three teams still perfect in conference play. Meanwhile Illinois is off to its best start since 2006-2007 and is led by freshman center Chatrice White who is averaging 15.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.