DES MOINES — Iowa opened the Big Ten season on New Year's Eve with a close loss to No. 5 Indiana, which was ranked No. 1 for much of the season.
Next up for the young Hawkeyes?
A weekend trip to Michigan, which is currently ranked second.
The league's schedule-makers certainly didn't do any favors for an Iowa team with three freshman starters. But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said the only way to approach the tough week is to approach it like any other.
The Hawkeyes (11-3, 0-1 Big Ten) and Wolverines (14-0, 1-0) — who routed Northwestern 94-66 Thursday — face off Sunday in Ann Arbor.
“We lock in to what we need to do to get better,” McCaffery said. “We lock in to what we think we need to do to beat that team. In my estimation, there's no other way to do it.”
The developing Hawkeyes are coming off their first exposure to an elite team. They fell to Indiana 69-65 at home Monday in front of a sellout crowd that believed Iowa was primed to pull off the upset.
The Hawkeyes nearly did it. But then again, they also showed that — at least for now — they remain on the other side of that thin line that separates aspiring contenders from true ones.
“When you have a young team, confidence is important,” McCaffery said. “And what affects confidence are mistakes. Fortunately, we have a pretty resilient group.”
Iowa held Hoosier guard Jordan Hulls scoreless on 10 shots, forced Indiana into 15 turnovers and was a 3-pointer away from tying the game in the final minute.
But the Hawkeyes also shot 33 percent from the floor against one of the nation's best defenses, and leading scorer Devyn Marble was an abysmal 1 of 14 from the field.
Still, McCaffery was encouraged by the way the Hawkeyes hung around even though they committed a number of Indiana-induced miscues and hoisted brick after brick.
“I was really impressed with our ability to consistently stay in the game when we were struggling on offense in the first half,” McCaffery said. “It was frustrating because we had a number of opportunities to take the lead and would make a mistake. But when we were making mistakes, they were kind of aggressive mistakes. We were attacking, and I'm obviously more comfortable with those kinds of mistakes. But you've got to eliminate those if you're going to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country.”
The matchup Sunday in Ann Arbor will be the first trip outside of Iowa since late November for the Hawkeyes, who are leaning on many players with scant experience in the Big Ten.
Freshman Mike Gesell, out of South Sioux City, Neb., scored 13 points against Indiana to bump his average near 10 a game as he transitions from point to shooting guard because of the emergence of fellow freshman Anthony Clemmons.
For freshman Adam Woodbury, facing the Hoosiers meant facing Indiana center Cody Zeller — the player the Hawkeyes hope the 7-foot-1 Woodbury might resemble someday.
The Sioux City East grad helped keep Zeller in check in the first half, but he fouled out for the first time after 18 minutes with four points and eight rebounds.
The Indiana game should serve as a measuring stick for Woodbury, who has slowly improved since early December.
“You have to let experience take its course,” McCaffery said. “You can't rush that. You've just got to go through it. And that was his first Big Ten game. That was his first game going against a consensus first-team All-American.
“So he'll learn from that. He'll benefit from that tremendously. Now we've got to go on the road and do it in an environment where it's not going to be easy.”
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