Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Things are about to get a little more interesting for the University of Iowa men’s basketball team.
The Hawkeyes open their 18-game Big Ten Conference marathon Wednesday, traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana, to face No. 15 Purdue inside Mackey Arena. The game will tip-off at 7:36 p.m. (CT) and be televised on BTN.
“We have accomplished a great deal (in the nonconference),” said UI head coach Fran McCaffery. “…but from here on out, it’s going to be different. We have as tough a first game as anybody.”
With two potential NBA first-round draft picks, the Boilermakers are in the Big Ten contenders’ column for the 2016-17 season. Purdue has won six straight games leading into league play, bringing its record to 11-2 overall. The Boilermakers are 7-1 at home.
Purdue is fueled by its front court of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas — a duo that combines for 32.6 and 17.7 rebounds. Swanigan averages a double-double at 18.3 points and 12.5 rebounds and has a nation-best 10 double-doubles. He is averaging 26.5 points and 20.5 rebounds over his past two games.
“The hardest thing is to keep your bigs out of foul trouble because they just keep throwing it in there,” said McCaffery. “But with them, they have so many other good players, you can’t say, ‘OK, we are going to lock in and stop Haas, stop Swanigan.
“They have a lot of other weapons. It’s going to be an interesting challenge for our young team to see what we can do there.”
The Hawkeyes have won with defense during their five-game winning streak, allowing 67.6 points per game. During the 3-5 start to the season, Iowa surrendered 85.6 points and opponents shot 45 percent.
It’s a blueprint that must continue in the Big Ten. It’s about defending and being prepared to trade blows.
“Every game is going to be a dog fight,” said sophomore Ahmad Wagner, who is shooting 65.2 percent from the field during Iowa’s winning streak. “You have to go into every game with the mindset that we’re going to dominate. That’s what every other team is going to be like; you have to be ready for that.”
Freshman Jordan Bohannon believes Iowa’s early-season tests against Seton Hall, Virginia, and Notre Dame has prepared the Hawkeyes for the physicality of the Big Ten.
“We’ve had a couple of physical games, so we know what that level of competition is,” said Bohannon. “Peter (Jok) has been telling us stuff as well, so I think we’re prepared coming into this game.”
Wagner says now is as good of time as any for the Hawkeyes to get their Big Ten slate underway.
“It’s good going into Big Ten play clicking like we are, especially defensively,” said Wagner. “As we get better and as the year goes on, we’re only going to keep improving.
“I have high expectations. People say we’re young and inexperienced, but this team is good, and this team can surprise a lot of people.”