Jan. 31, 2014
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Nothing surprises University of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery when it comes to Big Ten Conference basketball.
Case in point Saturday’s opponent — Illinois.
The Fighting Illini opened the conference schedule with consecutive victories over Indiana and Penn State. Since then, Illinois has lost six-straight to fall to 2-6 in Big Ten play. They are 1-of-9 teams with at least four losses through eight or nine games of the conference schedule.
“It is exactly what I expected,” McCaffery said Friday during a media teleconference. “There is no league in the country as good top-to-bottom as there is in in our league. Northwestern and Wisconsin have the same number of wins… it isn’t surprising to me the league is unfolding as it is.”
McCaffery says there isn’t a rhyme or reason to pinpoint Illinois’ recent struggles other than the Fighting Illini have been matched up against good teams. The losing streak includes four road losses — at No. 4 Wisconsin, Northwestern, No. 17 Ohio State and Indiana — and a pair of losses in Champaign against Purdue and No. 4 Michigan State.
“We have tremendous respect for this program,” said McCaffery. “They were in the NCAA Tournament last year, were ranked a couple of weeks ago, but have just lost to some good teams in our league.”
Three Illinois players are averaging in double figures with junior guard Rayvonte Rice leading the way with a 16.7 scoring average. The Drake transfer is shooting 44.2 percent from the floor and 74 percent from the foul stripe, while ranking second on the team in rebounding at 5.6 per game.
“Rayvonte can shoot the 3 from range, put it on the deck either way, post up, play in traffic, and he rebounds,” said McCaffery. “He does a lot of things to help the team win.”
History isn’t on the Hawkeyes side heading to Champaign with Iowa losing 11-straight and 22-of-the-last 23 meetings inside Assembly Hall (now the State Farm Center). McCaffery doesn’t believe it will have any effect on his team.
“I don’t think (the players) pay attention to what happened 11 years ago,” he said.
With Roy Devyn Marble’s all-around play through the first half of Big Ten play, McCaffery believes Marble put himself in a position to be a first-team All-Big Ten selection. It has also opened the eyes of NBA scouts.
“It is very difficult to do what he does on both ends of the floor with the energy level he does it,” said McCaffery. “That’s one thing that impressed me about (Michigan State’s) Gary Harris and that’s one of the things people talk about when they say he’s going to be a lottery pick. He plays both ends, he isn’t just a scorer.
“When you look at Devyn, you have to say the same thing. He isn’t just a scorer, plus he’s a legitimate point guard. He is having a spectacular year, I expected him to have a spectacular year, and I am happy for him.”
Marble is averaging a team-best 16.3 points on 41.9 percent shooting. He has reached double digits in 17-of-21 contests with six games of 20 or more points. He also averages three assists and 1.9 steals per game.
Saturday’s game at Illinois is set to tip-off at 6:36 p.m. (CT), and it will be televised live on the Big Ten Network with Eric Collins and Stephen Bardo on the call.