No one on the Iowa basketball team — either players or coaches — ever has been eliminated from the Big Ten tournament by someone other than Michigan State.
It has happened three years in a row. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, it was the Spartans who ousted the Hawkeyes.
In fact, the Spartans own eight consecutive victories over Iowa, including two highly contentious games earlier this season. Suffice it to say that the Hawkeyes would deeply cherish another shot at the Spartans in the Big Ten quarterfinals Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
But first they must get past Northwestern in an 8 p.m. game tonight.
“It’s tempting to look ahead, but we’ve just got to focus on Northwestern and worry about that first,’’ Iowa senior co-captain Zach McCabe said. “Then we’ll move on.’’
The Hawkeyes (20-11, 9-9 Big Ten) aren’t the only ones who might be tempted to take a peek forward when the 17th annual tournament gets under way today.
Ohio State also is playing a team it has defeated twice this season, Purdue, and if it wins, it gets a shot at a Nebraska team it lost to back in January.
Minnesota is playing Penn State, which it defeated Sunday for the second time this season. If it wins, it will be up against one of its fiercest rivals, Wisconsin.
Indiana and Illinois split in the regular season, but whoever wins their first-round matchup gets a shot at toppling regular-season champion Michigan.
All of them may be inclined to contemplate their Friday foes even though the old one-game-at-a-time cliché commands that they can not, they must not.
“I don’t care who you’re playing,’’ Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “If you look ahead to day two, you can be done on day one.’’
But no one may be as tempted to look ahead as Iowa.
“I don't think that our guys have ever done that,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think we're mature enough to know and understand. I think we're respectful of that (Northwestern) program. We've had some very difficult games with them.’’
Perhaps. But not this season. Iowa has won both meetings with the Wildcats by 26 points. Those are the Hawkeyes’ two most lopsided wins of the Big Ten season. They shot 54.3 percent from the field and held a whopping 85-48 rebounding advantage in the two contests.
However, the Hawkeyes have not played well lately, losing five of the six games they played over the final 15 turbulent days of the regular season. That diminished their seed for both this tournament and the upcoming NCAA tournament. But, in an odd way, it may actually help them focus on today.
“It’d be a lot tougher if we were playing a lot better, to be honest with you,’’ junior Aaron White said. “We’re not playing great so you can’t really get ahead of yourself.
"You’ve got to have that mindset that we're locked on Northwestern. We’ve already played them twice. We know what we need to do … There’s not a guy in this locker room who should be looking ahead because we need to take care of business (today).’’
Still, the Hawkeyes wouldn’t be human if they didn’t think at least a little about Michigan State, which has won 13 of the last 14 meetings between the two programs.
That included a Big Ten quarterfinal game a year ago in which the Hawkeyes led by 12 points only to see it slip away in a 59-56 loss. The defeat likely kept Iowa out of the NCAA tournament.
Before the teams played last week in East Lansing, Iowa guard Devyn Marble admitted he was tired of losing to the Spartans and tensions between the two teams bubbled to the surface in that game.
In the second half, McCabe became entangled with Michigan State guard Travis Trice and ended up slinging him to the floor.
McCabe admitted he’s also tired of seeing Iowa’s tournament trail terminated by the Spartans.
“That’s how it’s always been. We’re going to try to change that,’’ he said. “That’s our focus. It’s a team we can beat. They’re beatable. We just need to play the way we did earlier in the season and I think everything will be good.’’