Iowa Basketball: Hawkeyes Entering Their Most Important Stretch in Years

Geoff EstesCorrespondent IJanuary 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10:  Head coach Fran McCaffery of the Iowa Hawkeyes looks on against the Michigan State Spartans during the first round of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 10, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Michigan State won 66-61. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

After a long nine-day layoff, the Hawkeyes Men's Basketball Team returns to the court tonight to host the Nebraska Cornhuskers for the first time in Big Ten play.

This game is more than just a new border war for the basketball team. It kicks off a four game stretch against Nebraska at home, Indiana on the road and Minnesota and Penn State at home.

Going to Bloomington to play the Hoosiers will obviously be very tough.  The Hawks won there last season, but Indiana was a different team then.  For starters, Cody Zeller was still in high school.

The three home games against Nebraska, Minnesota and Penn State are very winnable.  Iowa went into Minnesota and knocked off the Gophers earlier this season.

If the Cornhuskers have one clear cut advantage over the Hawkeyes, it is experience. Nebraska starts four seniors as compared to one (Matt Gatens) for the Hawkeyes.

If Iowa wants to win tonight, they are going to have to put points up against the Cornhuskers.  Nebraska is one of the rare Big Ten teams that like to get out and run, much like the Hawkeyes.  Usually, this would play in Iowa's favor, but so far this season, Iowa has fared better when they have been able to dictate the tempo against a team that doesn't like playing up-and-down basketball.

Iowa will likely need good shooting games from Matt Gatens and Eric May, and slashing from Bryce Cartwright and Devyn Marble to hold off the Cornhuskers.

Sunday in Bloomington, Melsahn Basabe takes center stage for the Hawkeyes, as he tries to corral Indiana's Cody Zeller.

If Iowa can go split with Nebraska and Indiana, and then win both against Minnesota and Penn State, the Hawks would be 6-5 late in the Big Ten season.

Three wins out of four is a lot to ask, but very do-able.  A 6-5, the Hawkeyes team would get Iowa city excited again and get Carver Hawkeye Arena filled up for the stretch run.