IOWA CITY — The Iowa basketball team is below .500 for the season at 12-13. It is 3-9 in the Big Ten, part of a three-way tie for 10th place.
The next three games are against ranked teams, starting with a home encounter against No. 4 Michigan State tonight. Following that are road trips to play two teams — No. 14 Ohio State and No. 20 Michigan — that already defeated the Hawkeyes at home.
Chances are, many Iowa fans have lost hope that their team can salvage much out of this season, even a slot in the NIT.
But the Hawkeyes themselves, at least outwardly, aren’t wavering at all. Their hopes haven’t even been dented, let alone crushed. They insist the goals remain the same now as they were four months ago.
“I’m never going to lower my goals,’’ freshman center Luka Garza said Monday. “We all came here, came to school, with a dream. Nothing’s going to take away from that dream.
“That’s been my whole career. When I was a freshman in high school, no one thought I would be a high major basketball player and I’m here. Nothing is going to take our dreams and our goals, no matter the adversity we face. That really doesn’t matter. We’re going to keep pushing.’’
Sophomore guard Maishe Dailey said pretty much the same thing.
“Still the same goals, still the NCAA tournament, go in there and make an impact,’’ Dailey said.
The reality is that the only way the Hawkeyes make the NCAA tournament now is by winning the Big Ten tournament. Even if they win all six of their remaining regular-season games, they would be 18-13, 9-9 in the Big Ten. Teams with that sort of record don’t even get considered for NCAA at-large berths unless they have an RPI in the 30s or 40s.
The Hawkeyes’ current RPI is 144.
At this point, they’re a longshot to even make the NIT. The NCAA ship has sailed. Realistically, it probably left the dock a few weeks ago.
But head coach Fran McCaffery, like his players, insists that you never, ever lower your goals.
“You always have an opportunity to get on a roll,’’ he said. “You always have an opportunity to win your conference tournament. So until you're eliminated from your conference tournament, that's never a thought.’’
The Hawkeyes face another daunting task tonight when they play a Michigan State team many think could end up being the best team in the country.
“They've got multiple pros, and they defend, they share the ball, they run,’’ McCaffery said of the Spartans. “They're big and physical, and they're deep … We've got to play better than we did the other night (in an 82-58 loss at Penn State). We have to execute better offensively than we did the other night.’’
McCaffery said he thought Michigan State, led by sophomore forward Miles Bridges, has the most gifted starting lineup in the country.
“You've got two lottery picks and three other guys who’ve got a good shot at it, at playing in the pros,’’ he said.
To their credit, McCaffery’s players view this game as an opportunity to reverse their season, not as another potential mark in the loss column.
“It’s going to be fun for us,’’ Garza said. “We’ve got a group of determined guys who are all getting ready to go out there and give it our best shot, hopefully knock them off.’’
JBo still ailing: Complicating the Hawkeyes’ chances of upsetting Michigan State is the fact that Jordan Bohannon’s status for the game is questionable.
The sophomore point guard, who ranks among the Big Ten leaders in 3-point field goals and assists, clearly was affected by an illness in the loss at Penn State and did not practice Monday.
“It's weird because he was feeling awful on Saturday, he felt a little bit better (Sunday), seemed like he was on his way back, and then today he feels worse,’’ McCaffery said.
Junior guard Brady Ellingson is expected to return from a concussion after missing four games — “We need all the guards we can get,’’ McCaffery noted — but sophomore center Ryan Kriener is likely to miss his sixth consecutive game, also with a concussion.
Home cooking: One thing working in the Hawkeyes’ favor tonight is the fact that they have played exceptionally well at Carver-Hawkeye Arena lately. Their victories over Wisconsin and Minnesota in the past two home games probably are their two most complete efforts of the season.
“I think there’s just a level of just being comfortable,’’ Garza said when asked about their home success.
Big Ten awards: Ohio State forward Keita Bates-Diop, who the Hawkeyes will face again Saturday, was named the Big Ten’s player of the week Monday for the fourth time. He had a career-best 35 points Saturday against Illinois.
The freshman of the week is Minnesota’s Isaiah Washington, who reached a career high with 15 points in a loss to Iowa a week ago tonight. He followed that with a 26-point effort against Michigan.