'Tremendous Opportunity' Awaits Iowa At No. 1 Indiana
By Scott Dochterman, Reporter
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. When assessing Iowa's NCAA tournament hopes, there's urgency, and there's desperation. The public's eye is tilted toward desperation. Iowa junior Melsahn Basabe views it in a different light.
"We don't feel desperate because when you're desperate that usually means you don't have what it takes, you don't have the answers," Basabe said. "We have the answers; we just have to execute."
Iowa (18-10, 7-8 Big Ten) has taken a step forward as a program in Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery's third season. But the consensus is the Hawkeyes haven't beaten enough marquee opponents to enter the NCAA discussion. Iowa is 91st in RPI (Ratings Performance Index), a key component used in measuring a school's wins, losses and strength of schedule. Iowa ranks 34th by Pomeroy, which compiles points scored and allowed per possession. Either way, Iowa is looking outside in ... right now.
It takes a signature victory, like knocking off the country's No. 1 team on the road. Iowa gets its chance Saturday (6:36 p.m., BTN), at top-ranked Indiana (24-4, 12-3) with what Coach Fran McCaffery calls a "tremendous opportunity."
"When you're one of the teams that has an opportunity and you're in the conversation, it's great," McCaffery said. "You want to be one of the ones that gets in, not one of the ones that gets left out, and you want to do the things necessary to make that happen. We're a team that clearly has been very close in that respect."
Iowa is 2-19 all-time against top-ranked teams, and both wins came at neutral sites. In 1965, the Hawkeyes beat John Wooden and UCLA in Chicago. In Steve Alford's Iowa coaching debut in 1999, the Hawkeyes upset No. 1 Connecticut in New York.
Those games weren't played at sold-out Assembly Hall with the season at stake. But neither game features the 104-year-old history of Iowa-Indiana or the level of recent success Iowa had enjoyed against Hoosiers.
Iowa has won two of the last three at Indiana and five of the last seven overall. In the teams' Big Ten opener, Indiana held off Iowa 69-65 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes had a chance to tie late, but a 3-point attempt bounced off the rim.
Basabe, who helped bring Iowa back at Indiana two years ago in a 64-63 win, said his team needs to play with toughness, composure and accountability to have a chance. He called it "one of the biggest games of my career."
"I think it's a game where everybody knows who we have in front of us," Basabe said. "We've won there before, we can actually say that. I have a winning record against Indiana since I've been in college. I'm 3-2 against them. They're a great team, but I think we have what it takes to get it done and Wisconsin obviously beat them at home. So they're not invincible."
Indiana boasts the nation's best scoring margin (20.4) and rank second in points per game (82.2). The Hoosiers are fighting for a top seed in the NCAA tournament and a chance to play a Midwest regional in Indianapolis. A Iowa loss would keep the Hawkeyes out of the NCAA conversation.
"We're trying to play for the tournament, that's just how it is," Basabe said. "We're kind of a rising team that's starting, trying to get to the next level. They're a team that's at that level that we're trying to get at. We're capable of beating them, so I think there's a lot on the line."