Listen to McCaffery's Compelete Teleconference:
IOWA CITY, Iowa - It would be understandable if the Iowa players were questioning themselves. The Hawkeyes are coming off two painful home losses to Big Ten powers during the last 11 days.
Iowa believes it boasts the talent to be among the conference elite. But instead of heading into Saturday's game against Michigan (1 p.m. CT, ESPN) with a chance to pull even with first-place Wolverines, the Hawkeyes sit three games back in the standings.
While it's not the position No. 17 Iowa (17-6 overall, 6-4 Big Ten) hoped to find itself, it can't change it. It can only move forward in what can still be a special season.
"I don't ever panic and I don't want my guys to panic" Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Friday morning on his weekly teleconference. "We lost to two teams (Michigan State and Ohio State) that were preseason Top 5 in the country. We would have liked to have beaten them at home and we beat the one (Ohio State) on the road and we have another shot at the other one (at MSU on March 6)."
Iowa has company in losing home games in the league. The Spartans lost in their building to Michigan and Ohio State dropped a contest in Columbus to second-division Penn State. Wisconsin, normally close to unbeatable in Madison, fell to Northwestern and Ohio State at the Kohl Center.
"That's what our league is," McCaffery said. "You don't ever panic. You just keep coaching them up, keep teaching, keep trying to get better; on to the next (opponent)."
No. 10 Michigan (17-5, 9-1) could take another big step towards winning its second Big Ten regular-season title in the last three years. The Wolverines already own conference road wins at MSU, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska. They're at Ohio State on Tuesday.
"They really can score the ball," McCaffery said. "They probably have the most weapons of any team in the league."
Michigan ranks third in scoring (72.6 PPG) and second in scoring defense (63.9) during conference play. The Hawkeyes lead the way in points (77.1) and stand seventh in defense (69.2). The Wolverines top the league in field goal percentage (51.1) and free throw percentage (77.9).
Sophomore Nik Stauskas has led the way for Michigan by averaging 16.4 points and 4.5 assists in Big Ten games. He posted 26 and 5 in a 75-67 victory against Iowa on Jan. 22 in Ann Arbor. Recent opponents have devised ways to slow down his scoring and he's hurt them by delivering the ball to teammates, as evidenced by his eight assists in Wednesday's 79-50 wipeout of Nebraska.
"It's tough because of how good the other players are," McCaffery said. "When you take a team's leading scorer and he's clearly put winning above everything else, that says a lot about him. It says a lot about (Michigan Coach John Beilein). It says a a lot about the culture that they have; very unselfish team."
Junior center Gabe Olaseni has come on for Iowa in the last two games compiling 29 points and 18 rebounds while averaging just 22.5 minutes in those contests. His playing time has been limited after halftime and down the stretch.
"He's played extremely well and little by little he'll get more minutes," McCaffery said. "In terms of who's on the floor in the last five minutes, you've really got to look at a lot of different factors."
Freshman Peter Jok has found his way back into the Iowa rotation after not seeing any minutes during some earlier conference games. He played five minutes Tuesday against Ohio State, one less than Anthony Clemmons.
"It's me trying to reward him for how he has competed," McCaffery said. "When his playing time went the other direction, he kept battling and he put really good practices back to back. He sent a message that he wants to play.
"I felt like with our struggles offensively the other night, that he was a good fit in that game. I thought he was really good and I thought it was really good for him to be in there and get comfortable again. The kid deserves to play and I've got to find a way to get him in there."