IOWA CITY — Hayden Fry used to refer to it as “plowing up snakes and killing them.’’
The long-time Iowa football coach, in his unique west Texas vernacular, was talking about doing things that hadn’t been done before or at least not for a long time, exorcizing demons, reaching milestones, crossing things off a to-do list.
Peter Jok has been doing it all season. Coming into this season, the senior leader of the Iowa basketball team never had beaten Iowa State. He’d never won a road game at either Maryland or Wisconsin. He really wanted to lead the Big Ten in scoring and make first-team All-Big Ten.
He’s managed to check all those things off his list, most of them within the past few weeks. Now he has one more: Win a game in the Big Ten tournament.
“These last few years we haven’t been playing well at the end of the season,’’ Jok admitted as he and his teammates prepared for a first-round battle with Indiana on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.
“The difference between the last few years and now is everybody is playing well and I think we have a better chance of winning in the Big Ten tournament than we have the last few years, just because of the way we’re playing right now as a team.’’
The Hawkeyes (18-13) have won four straight games to revive the possibility of landing an NCAA tournament berth. But to stay in the NCAA picture, they probably need to buck a decade-long trend.
They not only are 0-3 in the tournament during the years Jok has played, they are 2-6 under Fran McCaffery and have not advanced beyond the quarterfinal round since 2006.
McCaffery said that lack of success in the tournament hasn’t always been because Iowa played poorly.
“Since we've been here, we've played well, we've not played so well,’’ he said. “We've had some hard defeats when we played well. The two Michigan State games (in 2011 and 2013) stick out in my head, one for sure. It was bizarre what happened in that game.
“But we've played well against Illinois. We didn't play well against Illinois. Played well against Northwestern, didn't play well against Northwestern. That's what happens in tournament play.’’
Each of the first-round losses in the past three years has been against a lower-seeded team. In 2014, the Hawkeyes were the No. 6 seed and lost to No. 11 Northwestern by a 67-62 score. They were the No. 5 seed in 2015 but couldn’t handle No. 13 Penn State in a 67-58 defeat.
Last season was really agonizing as the No. 5-seeded Hawkeyes fought back from two 11-point deficits and tied the score with a minute, 40 seconds remaining, then got off only one more shot attempt in losing to No. 12 Illinois 68-66.
This time Iowa is a No. 7 seed and this time the game may be even more meaningful because of the need to upgrade a fairly borderline NCAA tournament resume.
“I don’t pay attention to all that,’’ Jok said. “Right now, it’s just about winning. We’re just focused on winning right now … Every game from now on is a big game. Our next game is Indiana so we’re just focused on that.’’
McCaffery said the NCAA situation isn’t something he discusses much with his players. There’s no need to do so.
“Everybody knows what's at stake,’’ he said. “Everybody knows where we sit and what opportunities are out there for this team. You don't have to remind them and hit them in the face with it every minute.’’