IOWA CITY — Iowa reaches the midpoint of its Big Ten basketball schedule today at Minnesota, but Aaron White isn’t looking any further down the road than the driveway leading to the doors of Williams Arena.
The Hawkeyes forward isn’t thinking about the madness of March or even the need for a frantic February if this Iowa team is going to entertain NCAA Tournament hopes.
At 14-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten heading into today’s noon game against the 23rd-rated Golden Gophers, White doesn’t concern himself with RPIs, Sagarin ratings or whether the Hawkeyes still need a true signature victory given their 0-4 record against rated teams.
“You’re asking the wrong guy. I don’t really look at resumés and stuff like that,” White said. “I look at it as we beat Wisconsin, probably a tournament team, and we beat Iowa State, probably a tournament team. We’ve still got 10 games and a Big Ten tournament to play. Plenty of games left to get some wins.”
But, the clock is ticking.
Guard Mike Gesell understands that the significance of games grows with each passing week.
“It’s the time of year when you want to be better today than you were yesterday,” Gesell said. “The margin for error in this conference is pretty slim. We’re seeing that, and I think we all understand that.”
Steady progress has been a constant throughout Fran McCaffery’s three seasons at Iowa, leading the Hawkeyes from an 11-20 record in his first season to an 18-17 finish and berth in the National Invitation Tournament a year ago.
A return trip to the NIT is not what the Hawkeyes are thinking about.
“Our goal since October has been the NCAA tourney and whether people want to believe it or not, that is what we are working toward,” Gesell said. “It’s not something we talk about every day or anything like that. It’s how we go about our business, how we approach things on a daily basis.”
McCaffery has been pleased with his team’s defensive growth this season but knows the offense must continue to improve, particularly in the half-court, if Iowa is going to have a chance to achieve its goals.
He’s looking for results as the Hawkeyes prepare for two road games in a span of four days, including a visit to Wisconsin on Wednesday.
“That’s been a struggle for us,” McCaffery said following Thursday’s 76-67 win over Penn State. “We hit a few more jumpers (against the Nittany Lions), which was good to see, but we still aren’t executing the way we are capable of.”
Iowa’s issues are complex, McCaffery said, pointing to consistent screens and spacing as examples.
“It’s five guys working in unison, looking for certain things depending on how the opposition is playing it, making the right reads, knowing when to drive it, when not to,” he said. “We’re not quite there yet.”
Iowa at Minnesota
WHEN: Noon today
WHERE: Williams Arena, Minneapolis
TV: Big Ten Network
RADIO: WOC (1420 AM), KROS (1340 AM), WMT (600 AM)
* The Hawkeyes’ Aaron White has averaged a team-best 17.3 points over his past three games. White joins Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas as the only Big Ten players averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds per game.
* Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe leads the Big Ten in rebounding with an average of 8.6 per game, helping the Golden Gophers build a plus-9.5 rebound margin which ranks second in the league and fifth in the country. Mbakwe also ranks second in the conference in blocks at 1.8 per game.
* The Hawkeyes and Gophers have had no problem sharing the ball. Iowa averages 16.1 assists per game, ranking 20th nationally, while Minnesota averages 16 per game to lead the league in conference play. Iowa has assisted on 66.8 percent of its made field goals this season, the 12th-best percentage in the nation.