Last week, I wrote about how the Iowa Hawkeyes, at the very least, needed to go undefeated when playing against their in-state rivals in 2012-13 to bolster the type of out-of-conference "wins" for voters to place them into the NCAA tournament. This week, I want to flip that focus onto the first part of the Big Ten schedule.
Unfortunately for Iowa basketball fans, the first five games of Big Ten play could be almost as frustrating as the games are difficult. Some genius decided it would be an awe-inspiring idea to schedule four of Iowa's first five matchups against preseason Top 25 teams. On the bright side, that godsend of a scheduler allowed for three of them to be played on the beautiful Iowa City campus.
The wretched part about that is all of those home games will be before a depleted student convocation, as most of that population will be on winter break until January 19-21.
With a small student representation and the possibility of bad weather stopping the locals from leaving the warmth of their homes on top of the strong opponents coming into Carver Hawkeye Arena, this could mean there is a legitimate chance that Iowa could start the Big Ten season 1-4, and quite possibly 0-5.
Some of you may think I am overanalyzing, or perhaps being overly dramatic. But really, am I? Under Fran McCaffery, Iowa is 2-8 during the first five games of the Big Ten schedule. They are 1-6 against ranked Big Ten opponents in that span (the only win being the 72-65 win over Wisconsin last year).
Of course, the rosters that faced those teams were drastically different and I'm not trying to use those win-loss records against Fran as a coach. I'm simply shedding light on the fact that Iowa hasn't been known to be the quickest competitors during Big Ten play.
And that's not even diving into the Todd Lickliter stint (3-12 combined in the first five games of Big Ten play during his three seasons as Iowa's coach).
If you take a look back even further, Steve Alford never got his Hawkeyes to relish quick starts, either. Dating back to his first season at the helms in 1999, Alford's Hawkeyes were 19-21 in their first five games of each Big Ten season.
For those keeping track at home, that's a combined record of 24-41.
At this fragile point in the basketball team's resurgence, touting a 1-4 or 0-5 record to start conference play could deflate all the buzz surrounding them. As fast as basketball tickets seemed to have flown off of the hypothetical shelves (or printers, I suppose) this year, an 0-5 record could quickly force students, alumni and other Hawkeye faithful to remember that this is the University of Iowa, after all.
Once fans come to that unfair recognition, the thoughts of having a basketball powerhouse fall to the wayside and turn back to the football team.
Though the Hawkeyes could quickly turn their Big Ten season around, fans still aren't quite over the performances of Iowa Hawkeyes past, and I'm worried that at the first sign of struggle or ineptitude, they could turn.
And who could blame them? Not Gary Barta—that's for sure.
Iowa fans have gone through some of the worst of times, and it's hard to dispel that nasty taste in our mouths.
With that said, Fran is a different coach than Lickliter. Jake Kelly is no Roy Devyn Marble just as Kurt Looby is no Melsahn Basabe. The recruits that are now taking this program seriously are flat-out better than those before them. Iowa can break out; they just need to get off to a quick start.
After what should be a powderpuff matchup against the Coppin State Eagles on December 22, Iowa has the fortune of getting over a week to prepare for Sporting News' preseason No. 1-ranked Indiana Hoosiers.
It will be a tall order for the Hawks to upset Indiana, but there is hope. As much improved as Indiana is, so is Iowa. Remember, Iowa split against the Hoosiers last year and that was with a roster that isn't nearly as talented as the one Fran has at his fingertips in 2012-13.
After that game, Iowa has almost a week to prepare for Sporting News' preseason No. 5-ranked team, Michigan in Ann Arbor. Though Iowa took care of business against the Wolverines last year, Michigan has been a thorn in the Hawkeyes' side for the past few seasons. Dating back to 2008-09, Iowa is just 2-7 against the Maize and Blue nation.
Four days later, Michigan State comes into Iowa City. The Spartans are Sporting News' preseason No. 22-ranked team this year. Even with the somewhat low ranking, counting out a Michigan State team under Coach Tom Izzo is never the wise thing to do. Izzo's team is 4-1 in the past two years against the Hawkeyes, including two Big Ten Tournament wins.
Three days later, Iowa is back on the road, headed to Northwestern, better known as "Chicago's Big Ten team" (despite what the University of Illinois may think). What seems like a sure win without John Shurna running around making it rain buckets could be a little more tricky.
Iowa is 0-4 under White Magic against the Wildcats. 0-4. Yeesh.
And before you know it, it's Badger season once again. Wisconsin comes into town having lost twice to the Hawkeyes in 2011-12. They will also be a player short thanks to the transfer of Jarrod Uthoff from the harsh grips of Coach Bo Ryan and Wisconsin into the comfortable warmth of the Franimal House. The Badgers hold claim to Sporting News' preseason No. 17-ranking. Last year they were ranked No. 11 and 15, respectively, in their two loses.
The Hawkeyes need to find a way to go 3-2 in that span as they have two road games in a row at Ohio State and Purdue after that five-game stint. It will give them momentum moving forward, keep fans in the seats and allow the players to play loose within Fran's system.
Look, the Big Ten is going to beat up on each other this season. It's inevitable. Though Indiana is the clear-cut favorite to win the conference outright, teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois, Iowa and an improved Minnesota team will be tough on a nightly basis. Thinking IU can escape the Big Ten schedule with minimal damage is wishful thinking at best. The same goes for all of the teams.
I want Iowa to succeed, and I want them to be in the upper tier of Big Ten teams in 2012-13. The best way they can do that is by stealing a few wins against Wisconsin and Michigan State. Beat Northwestern in Evanston (as they ought to). Then put the fear of God into Indiana and Michigan by keeping both of those games tight.
Then let the chips fall where they may.
But by all means, if they feel it necessary to sweep through the Big Ten, I give them my permission.