IOWA CITY, IOWA – Much like brushing lint off a shirt, the Iowa basketball players gave little thought and had little reaction to being ranked for the first time this season.
Iowa is ranked 19th in the Associated Press poll and 23rd in the USA Today Coaches poll after starting Big Ten play with back-to-back victories over nationally-ranked opponents Michigan State and Purdue.
“(It means) nothing; the only thing that matters is the end of the year,” said senior forward Jarrod Uthoff.
Uthoff then was asked again if he felt any satisfaction with being ranked and rewarded for what they’ve accomplished so far this season.
“To me, (it means nothing), but I don’t know about these guys," Uthoff said of teammates Adam Woodbury, Nicholas Baer and Mike Gesell, all of whom were also being interviewed in the same room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday. “I don’t think it means anything to them, either.
“Personally, it doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Uthoff was right about his three teammates, although, Baer expressed some satisfaction with being ranked.
Woodbury and Gesell, on other hand, weren’t very impressed. As seniors, they’ve been around long enough to know that being ranked in early January is not a huge accomplishment.
“Nothing, it really doesn’t,” Woodbury said when asked if being ranked meant anything to him. “It’s just a bigger target on our back. It doesn’t really mean anything. People always see the number and they want to judge us by where we’re ranked.
“You’ve got to win. That’s all that matters. When the rankings come out, people like to look at those. But for us as a team, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Iowa will bring a bigger target on its back into Tuesday’s game against Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Cornhuskers (8-7, 0-2) are trying to bounce back after losing their first two Big Ten games, while Iowa is trying build on the momentum from defeating two of the Big Ten’s top contenders in Michigan State and Purdue.
The Hawkeyes (11-3, 2-0) overcame a 17-point halftime deficit to prevail 70-63 at Purdue on Saturday.
The challenge now is to have the same intensity and focus for Nebraska.
“Every game is a big game in the Big Ten,” said Gesell, who is from South Sioux City, Neb. “It’s a very important one for us. We’re battling for a championship.”
The Hawkeyes might have to battle without senior guard Anthony Clemmons, who suffered a hip pointer against Purdue.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday that he thinks Clemmons will play against Nebraska.
“He’s feeling a little better today than he did yesterday,” McCaffery said. “It will be a game-time decision.”
Gesell is confident that his backcourt partner and close friend will be ready by Tuesday’s 8 p.m. tipoff.
“I expect him to play, he’s a tough guy,” Gesell said of Clemmons.
If Clemmons can’t play, true freshman Christian Williams might have an expanded role against Nebraska.
“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Gesell said of the 6-6 Williams, who has played in nine of 14 games this season. “I’ve seen him progress a lot from the beginning of the year. In practice every day, he’s battling with me and (Anthony). He gets that experience in practice and he’s a confident guy.”
Iowa has won five of seven games against the Cornhuskers since they joined the Big Ten in 2011. Iowa won both regular-season games in each of the past two seasons and eight of the last 10 games against Nebraska overall.