Fighting the Fighting Illini: Previewing the Big Ten Opener, Illinois at Iowa


Coming off a week break following two disappointing losses to UIC and Missouri, the Illinois men’s basketball team will take on the Iowa Hawkeyes at Carver Hawkeye Arena at 8 p.m. tonight on the Big Ten Network.

Here’s a look at the Hawkeyes under first-year head coach Fran McCaffrey.

Iowa Hawkeyes Season at Glance

With McCaffrey coming from NCAA Tournament darling Siena, the Hawkeyes have been playing a much more up-tempo game than under former coach Todd Lickliter, resulting in a 7-5 record in non-conference play.

The McCaffrey era got off to a bad start on November 14th, when the Hawkeyes were defeated 77-67 by South Dakota State at Carver Hawkeye Arena, before evening out with a 68-40 victory against Lousiana-Monroe.

At the Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands, the Hawkeyes finished 1-2, with losses to Xavier and Long Beach State sandwiching a victory against Alabama.

Iowa then reached .500 with a 111-50 home victory against SIU-Edwardsville before playing a wild game at Wake Forest in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.

After getting out to a big lead against the Demon Deacons, the Hawkeyes couldn’t pull out a late comeback after Wake Forest rallied in the second half for a 76-73 win.

Following a 70-53 home victory against Idaho State, the Hawkeyes got an impressive 51-39 victory against Northern Iowa (which made the Sweet Sixteen last season) but fell short, 75-72, during another in-state game against Iowa State.

After starting 5-5, the Hawkeyes have won their last two games, 59-52 against Drake and 77-58 against Louisiana Tech.

Record: 7-5

Combined Record of Teams Iowa Has Beaten: 47-56

Combined Record of Teams Iowa Has Lost to: 38-23

Name Win: Alabama (11/20/2010)

Best Win: Northern Iowa (12/7/2010)

Games the Hawkeyes Would Like to Have Back: at Wake Forest (11/30/2010), vs. Iowa State (12/10/2010)

What I’ve Seen of the Hawkeyes: Not enough. I caught some of the Wake Forest-Iowa game prior to the UI-UNC game. The most I’ve seen of Iowa was against Iowa State on the Big Ten Network. The Hawkeyes were winning that game early in the second half, with McCaffrey’s full-court defense causing some problems, before the Cyclones came back to win in Iowa City. Iowa freshman forward Melsahn Basabe (6-7, 225) stood out to me in that game, showing potential as an active and athletic player who can sneak up on the Illini if not careful.

Hawkeye Players Familiar to Illini Fans: Iowa is led in scoring by junior Matt Gatens (11.7 ppg) and sophomore guard Eric May (11.2 ppg), both holdovers from Lickliter. Gatens is not the most athletic guard in the Big Ten but is a heady player who gets the most out of his abilities. At 6-5, 220, May is way more athletic than his bruising body suggests. Of the two, May should warrant more attention from the Illini. Senior forward Jarryd Cole (6-7, 250) is back as well and leads the Hawkeyes with 6.8 rebounds per game. Cole had some effective moments during Illinois’ win at Iowa last season. Basabe is second with 6.6 rebounds per game.

Key Injury: Sophomore lefty guard Cully Payne (6-1, 185) started all 32 games for the Hawkeyes last year and gave Illinois some problems in Iowa City with his ability to get in the lane. However, Payne has only played in 5 games this season before having sports hernia surgery on November 30th. Payne, who was named to the Big Ten’s all-freshman team last season, has been replaced by juco transfer Bryce Cartwright, who began his career at Fresno State and played at Dominguez High School in Compton, California, where Tyson Chandler went to school. Cartwright is third on the team in scoring with 10.3 ppg.

Key Freshmen: Forward Zach McCabe (6-7, 225), a Sioux City native, is averaging 8.6 ppg while Basabe is at 8.5 ppg. The Hawkeyes also have Roy Devyn Marble, the son of Iowa’s all-time leading scorer, Roy Marble, on the roster. The younger Marble is averaging a respectable 6.0 ppg in 16.2 minutes.

Recognizable Departures: F/C-Brennan Cougill (dismissed-Kirkwood); F-Aaron Fuller (transfer-USC); SG-Anthony Tucker (transfer-Winona State), SG-Devan Bawinkel (Graduated), PG-John Lickliter (transfer-Marian College).

Recapping Iowa vs. Illinois Last Season: Illinois went 2-0 against the Hawkeyes, although both games were sloppy wins. Following a disappointing loss to Gonzaga at the United Center, Bruce Weber benched Demetri McCamey and D.J. Richardson for the first Iowa game on January 5, 2010. McCamey and Richardson responded with nice games off the bench, but the Illini were choppy overall during the 59-42 victory. Revisit the Writing Illini Tale of the Tape. On February 3, 2010, Illinois traveled to Iowa City and came away with a 57-49 win that was even uglier but still counted. Revisit the Tale of the Tape.

What I Would Like to See Tonight from the Illini

1. Much more toughness and aggressiveness from Mike Tisdale and continued urgency from Mike Davis, who was great against Missouri.

2. Bruce Weber getting Meyers Leonard, Tyler Griffey and perhaps Crandall Head more involved.

3. The Illini taking care of business (see the Western Michigan game) from start to end, with Demetri McCamey setting the tone.

4. Jereme Richmond in the starting lineup.

Tonight’s Prediction: Illinois 72, Iowa 65

The Illini will need to be sharp against an Iowa team that is not there personnel-wise in terms of McCaffrey’s style but should provide a game effort before falling in the second half.

If ready to play and without his head in the clouds, Tisdale could have an effective game against the Hawkeyes, which lack the height to match the senior’s size.


Writing Illini will do a live blog of this game, picking up whenever the Texas Bowl ends.

Until then.