IOWA CITY — Now that it finally has won a game in the Big Ten, the Iowa basketball team would like to string together a few victories in a row and get back up into the middle of the pack.
And with the next game being against a team that has gone 7-53 during its brief time in the Big Ten, that seems possible.
Fran McCaffery knows it won’t be that easy. Even though his team shredded Rutgers on a visit to Piscataway, N.J., last season, he know tonight’s 6 p.m. visit to play the Scarlet Knights will be a challenge. Probably a big one.
“I think it will be a different game,’’ McCaffery said. “We jumped them last year, primarily with our 3-point shooting. We made a ton of 3s early. That’s a game-changer for anybody.
“They have been playing really well … You know you’re going to get an incredible fight, especially there.’’
The one thing that has not changed about Rutgers is that the Scarlet Knights are offensively challenged. They are last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, 3-point percentage, 3-pointers made and assists.
But second-year coach Steve Pikiell’s team also is first in scoring defense, allowing only 62.1 points per game. That number is good for ninth in the entire country. It also is sixth in the country in rebounds and offensive rebounds.
“I think it starts with they really play hard,’’ McCaffery said. “Steve’s got them playing hard, they’re competing.’’
Although the Scarlet Knights are 1-5 in the Big Ten, just like the Hawkeyes, four of those losses have come against ranked teams. They have lost to Michigan State twice by a combined margin of 14 points and in the most recent meeting, a week ago tonight in East Lansing, they took the Spartans into overtime before losing 76-72.
Their other conference losses are to Purdue and Ohio State, which currently are tied for first place, and to Minnesota, which was ranked 12th in the country when the teams played in early December.
Rutgers will be a bit shorthanded tonight as senior guard Mike Williams has been sidelined by an ankle injury he suffered in practice over the weekend.
But that just means the Hawkeyes may see a little more of junior Corey Sanders, who is by far the Knights’ most effective offensive weapon.
“He’s really fast and he’s a tremendous finisher,’’ McCaffery said of Sanders. “He’s got a phenomenal pull-up game. He’s obviously capable from 3, but he’s better attacking you and he’s really good at ball screens. He’s also a guy that when he gets going, he becomes almost unstoppable so you’ve got to really focus on him when you get ready for Rutgers.’’