Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, January 15, 2016

Iowa is the toast of college basketball following last night?s rousing win at Michigan State, but back on Nov. 5 things were much different. On that day, the lid was being taken off the season and Hawkeyes lost an exhibition game to Augustana, a Division II school. While it was a preseason game against a very strong Division II school, it was a defeat that left many scratching their head.

Look at Iowa now. The Big Ten season isn?t even halfway over, and the Hawkeyes have emerged to become the team to beat-yes, over Maryland and Michigan State.

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It has been a stunning ascent for Fran McCaffery?s squad, which began the season 3-2 that included neutral court losses to Dayton and Notre Dame. Now Iowa is a solid 13-3 overall that includes a one-point loss at Iowa State. The Hawkeyes are 4-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since Tom Davis? final season in Iowa City in 1998-99. Iowa now has won 10 consecutive Big Ten games-dating to last year-for the first time since 1969-70.

Last night?s emphatic 76-59 win at Michigan State was the the Hawkeye?s first in East Lansing since 1993. It's adding to the big buzz around Iowa, which also dumped the Spartans, 83-70, on Dec. 29 in Iowa City to first gain notice. The Hawkeyes followed that with a big win at Purdue in which they overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to win, 70-63. But to sweep the conference?s bellwether program MSU is impressive.

?I look at it like this, we are 4-0 and that?s terrific, but you know what we have coming,? McCaffery said. ?We have 14 more, all of them difficult. It is great to go on the road and win. I know what that means in terms of RPI and things like that. But, it just makes the next one tougher.?

The next one is a visit from Michigan on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET on BTN/BTN2Go). This is a Wolverines squad coming off its biggest win of the season, a 70-67 home triumph vs. No. 3 Maryland on Tuesday. Other major challenges for the Hawkeyes:

  • Jan. 24 Purdue (on BTN/BTN2Go)
  • Jan. 28 at Maryland
  • Jan. 31 Northwestern (on BTN/BTN2Go)
  • Feb. 11 at Indiana
  • Feb. 28 at Ohio State
  • March 1 Indiana
  • March 5 at Michigan

Now, it?s not too early to think of winning the Big Ten. And, it has been a long time since the Hawkeye were Big Ten regular-season champs. In fact, you have to go back to 1978-79, when Iowa shared the crown with Purdue and Magic Johnson-led Michigan State, which went on beat Larry Bird and Indiana State in the national title game. Among Big Ten teams that have been in the league since 1990, only Northwestern (1933) has a longer regular-season drought than Iowa.

That 1978-79 Iowa team was led by Ronnie Lester, William Mayfield and Kevin Boyle. The coach? Lute Olson, whose squad went 20-8 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes were a No. 4 seed in the Mideast and lost in the second round to Toledo, 74-72.

The next season, Iowa went 23-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big Ten (4th) but made it to the Final Four behind Lester, Bob Hansen and Boyle. But the Hawkeyes lost to Darrell Griffith (aka "Dr. Dunkenstein") and eventual national champ Louisville in the semifinals, 80-72. And in a bit of history, Iowa lost to Purdue, 75-58, in the last third-place game.

Since that Final Four run in 1980, Iowa has won more than two NCAA tourney games just one time, in 1987 when the Hawkeyes lost to No. 1 UNLV in a regional final, 84-81. That 1987 squad was a No. 2 seed, the highest the program ever has had, and was paced by the late Roy Marble, B.J. Armstrong, Ed Horton, Brad Lohaus and Kevin Gamble.

Could this Iowa team be the best since the 1986-87 squad? Perhaps. It?s going to be fun to watch and see players like Jared Uthoff, Peter Jok, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons continue and try to make this is a special season, coming on the heels of what was a special 12-2 football season that produced the school?s first Rose Bowl since the 1990 season.

This is shaping up as one of the greatest sports season in Iowa annals.


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