IOWA CITY — The Big Ten Tournament hasn’t exactly been a pleasant place for the Iowa basketball program. At least not in recent seasons.
In the past nine years, the Hawkeyes have won just two games in the event — in 2012 and 2013 — and they haven’t reached the Saturday semifinals since they won the whole thing in 2006. In each of the past two years, they were upset in the first round by lower-seeded teams.
But the expectations are a little higher this time, even if the seed is not.
Asked what he would consider a successful endeavor in the tournament, which gets under way today at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said: “Winning the championship.’’
Most of his players echoed those sentiments, saying they feel they are “in a good place’’ after ending a losing streak Saturday in the regular-season finale at Michigan.
“You never want to be knocked out in the first round …’’ senior guard Anthony Clemmons said. “This year we need to be prepared in a different way. We need to focus more on what the coaches are telling us.’’
The Hawkeyes, seeded fifth in the 14-team field, will play their first game at 1:30 p.m. Thursday against the winner of today’s game between No. 12 Illinois and No. 13 Minnesota.
It doesn’t sound like a daunting task. Then again, they lost to No. 12 Penn State in the first round last season and were toppled by No. 11 Northwestern the year before that.
“Last year … it was one of those games where we were in pretty good shape and they (Penn State) caught fire,’’ McCaffery said. “We didn't get a stop when we needed it. The year before, Northwestern really shot it well that game. And guys that normally don't make shots were making step-back threes. Those are the kind of things that happen sometimes in tournament play.’’
Center Adam Woodbury admitted he has tried hard to forget both games.
“Those teams shot well against us, just really outplayed us,’’ he said. “We were really ready for them and they just kicked us in the teeth.’’
Clemmons said he thought on both occasions the opposing team was just hungrier than Iowa.
“When tournament play comes around, you have to bring it,’’ senior guard Mike Gesell added. “Anyone can beat anybody. That’s the beauty of it. Everyone is fighting for their lives. It’s unfortunate getting bounced out the last two years but I think we’re definitely a better team for it.’’
If the Hawkeyes (21-9, 12-6 Big Ten) win Thursday, they would play again at 1:30 p.m. Friday against Purdue, a team they defeated twice during the regular season.
Regardless of who they play, McCaffery said the formula for advancing in tournament play remains pretty much the same.
“You've got to take care of the ball,’’ he said. “You have to come down and get good shots. You have to rebound. And then you can't let the key guys that you're locking in on go crazy on you.’’
Woodbury said attention to detail is paramount.
“It’s going to take a lot for us to win it all,’’ he added, “but we’re capable of doing it.’’