Welcome to the Big Ten

Dec. 28, 2010

PARDON OUR PROGRESS! As friends of the UI and fans of the Hawkeyes know, the UI Athletics Department is well into a multi-million dollar revitalization of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. This important and exciting project has reduced for this season the number of ticket windows that are operational on game nights. Fans attending the home events of the 2010-11 UI men’s basketball, women’s basketball and wrestling teams are invited to avoid game night delays by purchasing their event tickets online or in advance of game day. If your schedule doesn’t allow for an advance purchase, we recommend you consider arriving at the Arena a little earlier than originally planned. Go Hawks!

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Welcome to the Big Ten Conference coach. Iowa first year head coach Fran McCaffery will delve into conference play hosting No. 23 Illinois on Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It will open a stretch of five-of-six games against nationally-ranked foes.

Heading into the 2010-11 season, the Big Ten was considered one of the toughest — if not the toughest — conference in the land. Through the nonconference portion of the schedule, the league has been just as good as advertised.

“I think everybody knew coming into the season what the league schedule was going to be like,” said McCaffery, whose Hawkeyes are 7-5 entering league play. “You look at how many teams were ranked in the preseason and for the most part, it has stayed true to form.

“Our league has performed well in the out of conference portion of our schedule. We’re going to face a lot of ranked teams, not only in our first six games, but throughout the season.”

The Hawkeyes first test against a ranked foe comes on Wednesday night when the 23rd-ranked Fighting Illini come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Illinois brings a talented, veteran-laden squad to Iowa City, one that features four seniors, three of which are among the team’s starting five.

“I really like their team,” said McCaffery of Bruce Weber’s squad. “They’ve got tremendous personnel; they’ve got really talented players coming off the bench. They’ve got experience, three-point shooting and one of the best point guards in the country.”

“I like where we’ve come, but obviously, we’ve got a formidable challenge heading into the Big Ten part of the schedule.”
UI head coach Fran McCaffery

The aforementioned point guard is senior Demetri McCamey, a returning first team all-Big Ten selection. McCamey leads a group of four Fighting Illini players in double digits with a 15.7 scoring average, while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 49 percent from distance. He is also leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth nationally with 7.1 assists per game.

“He’s as dangerous as a guy as I’ve ever had to prepare for,” said McCaffery. “The thing I like about him is as talented as he is; he gives it up easy to his teammates. He makes and takes big shots, but he shoots when he’s open and he drives the ball with space.

“He just plays the game the right way. He’s a guy, who at the end of the game is going to have great numbers, but he’s going to make his teammates better and that’s why they have a chance to win every time they take the floor.”

Behind McCamey’s play, Illinois opened the season with a 10-1 record before suffering neutral court losses in their previous two contests. The Fighting Illini dropped a 57-54 decision against Illinois-Chicago at the United Center on Dec. 18 before falling to No. 9 Missouri, 75-64, at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Dec. 22.

McCaffery knows the next six-game stretch and the entire Big Ten season will be a challenge for his Hawkeyes, but his main focus is on Wednesday night.

“We’re trying to figure out what we have to do to beat Illinois right now,” said McCaffery when asked about the daunting task of playing three consecutive ranked foes. “We’ve got to do a lot of things well to win that game. We don’t have a huge margin for error.”

The Hawkeyes are playing their best basketball of the season entering Big Ten play, as they have won four-of-their-last-five contests with their lone defeat being a tight 75-72 decision against Iowa State. McCaffery likes the way his team has progressed during the nonconference portion of its schedule.

“One of the things I’ve really been impressed with our team so far is that we have gotten better, individually and collectively.

“We started the season making way more mistakes, but our defense and rebounding — the effort areas of the game that we control — we have done a real good job of. We still suffered from scoring droughts and that’s a function of inexperience, it’s a function of we lost our point guard, (Matt) Gatens was out for a while and things of that nature. We had to make up for those losses in other ways.”

Without looking ahead, McCaffery identified areas where the Hawkeyes have to continue improve to compete in the Big Ten Conference.

“We’re going to have to play even better defense and really take care of the basketball. For us to beat the quality teams in our league, we can’t turn the ball over, we’ve got to rebound and we’ve got to defend. We’ve got to be able to change defenses and execute our offense and get good cracks at it every time down.

“I like where we’ve come, but obviously, we’ve got a formidable challenge heading into the Big Ten part of the schedule.”