Iowa basketball: No rest for the weary Hawkeyes

It was right there for the taking.

A chance to win a game at the buzzer against the 7th ranked team in America as a packed house looked on in eager anticipation. Unfortunately, Devyn Marble’s short jumper was just off the mark and the subsequent put-back attempt also failed.

The Iowa basketball team was so close to a heart-stopping victory and a school record 21 game home winning streak, but things just weren’t meant to be. Although they would go on to lose to Michigan State in overtime, there will be more important things for the Hawkeyes to take from that game moving forward than merely the “L” in the win/loss column acquired on Tuesday night.

It’s up to head coach Fran McCaffery and his team to figure out how to best continue ahead through the rest of a brutal Big Ten schedule. The majority of games in this conference conference are knock-down, drag-out fights, no matter who the two opponents are. Iowa had better be prepare to continue stepping into the ring.

The Hawkeyes have no choice but to respond to their loss against Michigan State if they hope to accomplish their goals going forward. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Hawkeyes have no choice but to respond to their loss against Michigan State if they hope to accomplish their goals going forward. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

It all starts today with a road trip to border rival Illinois.

Although the Illini have struggled in conference play losing six straight games, it would extremely unwise of the of Hawkeyes to expect an easy contest. Especially given the house of horrors Champaign, Illinois has proven itself to be for Iowa.

The Hawkeyes have traveled to face Illinois 23 times since 1987. They’ve won once.

If numbers like that don’t garner the attention of this Iowa team and its fans I’m not sure what will. The bottom line is that games like today’s are must-haves for the Hawkeyes if they want to maintain any semblance of striking distance to Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten regular season race.

A hostile environment awaits this evening, not to mention a chance for Illinois to snatch a season defining type of win. The Hawkeyes need to have moved beyond Tuesday night’s agonizing defeat and focus on the present challenge at hand.

Fortunately for me, I will not be taking the floor for Iowa tonight, and therefore can look ahead as far as I please.

Following tonight’s contest is perhaps Iowa’s biggest week of the season thus far. On Tuesday the Hawkeyes will welcome an Ohio State squad coming off of a huge road win at Wisconsin, and a week from today they will host a Michigan team that beat them just 10 days ago.

The currently 10th ranked Wolverines will likely enter Iowa City still undefeated in conference play, and the Buckeyes also look as though they will hold a top 20 ranking when the come to take on the Hawkeyes.

Tonight’s match-up with Illinois will mark the halfway point of the Big Ten schedule for Iowa, so a home sweep of two ranked teams next week would be a pretty good way to start the backstretch of conference games.

The Hawkeyes gave it all they had in front of a raucous home crowd and fell short earlier this week. However, they have every opportunity left in front of them to make a surge back up the national polls and Big Ten standings.

For Iowa to succeed it needs to learn from the past, but more importantly remain focused on the present and future grind that lies ahead.