Hawks Head to Indiana for Key Tilt

Iowa travels to Indiana Tuesday night in a battle of two teams jockeying for position in the Big Ten standings during the final week of the regular season. Hawkeye Insider takes a look at the key matchup.

Perspective is a great thing to have, especially in the big money world of college basketball. The sport creates passion and people are heavily invested. But in the end, it's not life or death.

Tom Crean saw the big picture last March. The Indiana coach was the first in the Big Ten to reach out to his Iowa counterpart, Fran McCaffery, who learned his son, Patrick, had a cancerous tumor.

Crean said he contacted McCaffery as a coach, father and husband.

"I wouldn't know Fran without being a peer but it was somebody as a father and just as a person. I've always had a lot of respect for Fran, a tremendous amount of respect for him. When something like that happens, just your heart goes out to him from many different areas," Crean said.

Doctors told Patrick McCaffery he was cancer-free last summer after an operation and treatment. A year later, the eight-grader is back on the court and his father's team is surging.

The Hawkeyes (19-10 overall, 10-6 Big Ten) travel to face Crean and Indiana Tuesday night (6 p.m. CT, EPSN). They're riding a four-game conference winning streak for the first time since the 2005-06 season.

"They play both ends of the floor consistently and they're as good as anybody in the country at getting the ball up the court, not only after your miss but after your make," Crean said. "I would say that it's not only defense, they're outstanding everywhere. Fran has done an incredible job with that team because they just keep getting better. They've gotten better not only from last year to this year but throughout the year. That's really important, too."

The Hoosiers (19-10, 9-7) are jockeying with Iowa and others for positioning in the Big Ten standings. They finish the regular season Sunday by playing host to Michigan State, which like the Hawkeyes and Ohio State are 10-6 in league.

Indiana leads the Big Ten in scoring (78.7 PPG), three-pointers made (271) and shooting percentage from behind the arc (41.1). Yogi Ferrell (2.4), James Blackmon Jr (2.3) and Nick Zeisloft (1.8) rank 4th, 6th and 12th, respectively, in treys made per contest.

"(Indiana is) a very difficult team to defend when you look at the collection of shooters," McCaffery said. "Sometimes we overanalyze the fact that they've got a lot of guys that can shoot. What they have is a group of guys that are willing passers. So, they're loading up those guys that can shoot.

"That's the thing that's been most impressive to me. Whether it's in transition, whether you're playing man, whether you're playing zone, those guys keep attacking and they find open people. Rarely do you see them taking contested shots, bad shots, driving into packs of people and turning the ball over, which is impressive considering it's a young team."

Ferrell, a junior, leads the squad in scoring at 16.0 PPG. He's following by Blackmon Jr. (15.8), a freshman, Troy Williams (13.7), a sophomore, and Robert Johnson (9.4), a freshman.

Ferrell is a handful. He also averages 5.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds. He shoots 42.4 percent on three-pointers and 85.4 from the foul line.

"He's got a group of young guys and it's clearly his team," McCaffery said. "The important thing for him has been to score when he has to but load those guys up and engineer victory. That's what's been impressive to me. He could get 30 but he doesn't do that because he's making sure everybody else gets a bunch. That's what winning point guards do."

As good as Ferrell has been this season, nobody in the conference is hotter than Iowa's Aaron White. The senior from Ohio is averaging 22.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in his last three games.

"He just continues to improve," Crean said. "They've done a great job of making him better. And he's always been an athlete that was a pretty good basketball player. Now he's a great basketball player that's a tremendous athlete. That's a sign of his work ethic and it's a sign of what Fran and his staff have done with him."

McCaffery said his starting backcourt of Mike Gesell and Peter Jok are ready to go Tuesday after being banged up in Saturday's 81-77 overtime win at Penn State.

While the Hoosiers like to light up the scoreboard, Iowa prefers to lock up the opposition. The Hawkeyes rank third in the conference in scoring defense (62.0 PPG) and lead the league in field goal percentage defense (39.3). They're second in defending the three-point line (31.6).

"You've got to defend. I think every coach looks at it that way," McCaffery said. "I think our players have collectively bought in. They're trying to do everything we're asking them to do as far as following the game plan."


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