Bloomington, IN (Sports Network) - With their recent reign atop the national rankings likely about to end, the Indiana Hoosiers simply need to play well as they continue their quest for the Big Ten Conference regular-season championship.
They will take the next step in that regard when they entertain the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday night, in the first of only three games remaining in the regular season.
Iowa comes in sporting an 18-10 overall record, which includes a 7-8 conference mark, and the team has won four of its last five games. The Hawkeyes' most recent win came at home versus Purdue on Wednesday night, 58-48, improving their record in Iowa City to a stellar 14-2. Unfortunately, they haven't fared nearly as well on the road, logging a 2-7 mark.
Indiana suffered a 77-73 loss at Minnesota on Tuesday night, putting a stop to its four-game win streak, and likely keeping it from maintaining the No. 1 spot in next week's AP poll. Currently, IU sits a full game ahead of second- place clubs Michigan State and Wisconsin, and it has two games remaining on the docket following this clash, and both will be extremely tough as it will host Ohio State on Tuesday, followed by a visit to Michigan next Sunday to close out the campaign.
Indiana owns a 96-74 advantage in the all-time series with Iowa, and that includes a 69-65 triumph in Iowa City back on New Year's Eve in the Big Ten opener for both clubs. Despite that setback, the Hawkeyes have had the upper hand of late, winning five of the last seven meetings, and 11 of the last 17 overall.
Iowa is currently tied with Illinois and Minnesota for sixth place in the Big Ten standings, and while winning the conference crown isn't possible, it can still improve its seeding in the upcoming conference tournament. Doing so is a distinct possibility as it still has bouts with Illinois and Nebraska left, both at home, and with the league's third-best scoring offense (71.3 ppg) it can certainly win the remaining games on the schedule. It all starts with taking down an Indiana squad that is chomping at the bit to get back to action following a loss earlier this week. Still, the Hawkeyes have the talent to pull off the upset, as they boast two of the Big Ten's top-11 scorers in Roy Devyn-Marble (14.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg) and Aaron White (13.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg). White converted 11-of-14 free throws in netting 18 points, and Marble hit for the same, as Iowa dispensed with visiting Purdue earlier this week in what turned out to be a defensive struggle. Iowa shot just 31.4 percent from the field, but used a massive 21-7 edge in points from the foul line to earn its 18th victory of the season.
Indiana is enjoying a tremendous season, as it ranks first in the country in scoring margin (+20.4), second in both scoring offense (82.2 ppg) and 3-point field goal percentage (.426), fourth in field goal percentage (.497), fifth in rebounding margin (+8.3) and 15th in field goal percentage defense (.304). The Hoosiers have four players currently averaging double figures in the scoring column, led by All-America candidate Cody Zeller (16.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg). A 57.5 percent shooter from the field who also connects on 75.9 percent of his free throws, Zeller is the heart and soul of this Indiana team, but he isn't the only productive member as Victor Oladipo (14.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Christian Watford (13.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Jordan Hulls (11.0 ppg, 3.2 apg) are all averaging double digits in scoring, and even sixth man Will Sheehy (9.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and freshman point guard Kevin Ferrell (7.4 ppg, 4.4 apg) get into the act. Hulls drained five 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 17 points, and Oladipo added 16 and Ferrell chipped in with 10, but the efforts of the IU backcourt weren't enough to push the Hoosiers past host Minnesota earlier in the week. Indiana made good on only 42.3 percent of its total shots, and was beaten badly on the glass (44-30), and outscored in the paint (40-22).