Jan. 7, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There will be plenty of familiar faces sprinkled with some new when the University of Iowa men’s basketball team entertains Northwestern Thursday on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes (12-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten Conference) seek their 19th consecutive home win against a Northwestern team (7-8, 0-2) under the direction of first-year head coach Chris Collins.
“Chris has them playing like you would expect a Chris Collins team to play,” UI head coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday at a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “They play with passion, battle you, compete, and share the ball.”
While Collins may be new to the Wildcats, several of the regulars are not. Redshirt senior guard Drew Crawford — who missed all but 10 games of the 2012-13 season — scored 17 points Sunday during a 74-51 loss at Michigan. He leads Northwestern in scoring (16 points per game), rebounding (7.3), 3-point field goals (22) and free throw percentage (80.6).
“I haven’t been thinking about points, I have been thinking about being the best player that I can be and being a leader. The seven points will come, and I’ll be happy, but we’ll look back at my career after it’s over. Right now we have to focus on each game.”
UI senior forward
Three different players have led the Wildcats in scoring in the last three games: Crawford at Michigan, sophomore Alex Olah during a 76-49 loss to Wisconsin, and sophomore Tre Demps in a 57-56 loss to DePaul.
Northwestern returns eight letterwinners and four starters from a team that won 13 times a year ago.
“It’s a talented, experienced team,” McCaffery said. “It’s a team that is going to challenge us in a lot of ways.”
Iowa defeated Northwestern three times last season: 73-59 in the Big Ten Tournament, 71-57 in Iowa City, and 70-50 in Evanston, Ill. That success halted a string of five consecutive setbacks to the Wildcats, dating back to February 2010.
The Hawkeyes are after their third win in the last four games. They opened the league season at home with a 67-57 win against Nebraska on Dec. 31, but fell at No. 4/5 Wisconsin, 75-71, on Jan. 5.
It could be a memorable night for UI senior Melsahn Basabe, who is seven points from becoming the 41st Hawkeye to join the 1,000 point club.
“I haven’t been thinking about points, I have been thinking about being the best player that I can be and being a leader,” said Basabe. “The seven points will come, and I’ll be happy, but we’ll look back at my career after it’s over. Right now we have to focus on each game.”
Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring (86.1 points per game) and field goal percentage defense (.362). The Hawkeyes rank second in scoring margin (plus-20.5), rebounding margin (plus-9.5), blocks (5.7), and assists (17.3).
With 20 years of head coaching experience, UI assistant Kirk Speraw will manage the game for Iowa while McCaffery serves a one-game suspension imposed Tuesday by the Big Ten Conference. McCaffery was ejected from the Hawkeyes’ game at Wisconsin on Jan. 5 after receiving two technical fouls during a media timeout.
“Clearly, (Speraw) has the most experience being in that first chair,” McCaffery said. “Sherm (Dillard) has been there, Andrew (Francis) has been there — not at the Division I level. I feel comfortable with any one of those guys.
“Kirk has established himself on a national level as being very talented in this profession, and I feel confident that he’ll do a terrific job.”
Thursday’s game is scheduled to tip-off at 8:05 p.m. (CT) and will be televised by ESPNU with Adam Amin and Brooke Weisbrod calling the action.