Winners of 11 of its last 12 games, ranked fifth in the nation and tied for first in the Big Ten, the Iowa men’s basketball team is having one of the greatest stretches in school history.
Whether it turns into one of the greatest seasons in school history will depend a great deal on Iowa’s ability to keep winning on the road.
Five of Iowa’s final eight Big Ten games are on the road, beginning with Sunday’s noon tip-off against Illinois at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.
The Hawkeyes (18-4, 9-1 Big Ten) would seem to have a decisive edge against Illinois on paper, but playing the game at Assembly Hall provides a glimmer of hope for Illini fans.
Iowa had lost 11 games in a row at Assembly Hall until it finally escaped with an 81-74 victory in its last visit there on Feb. 1, 2014.
Illinois is also coming off a game in which it prevailed 110-101 in triple overtime at Rutgers on Wednesday.
“That was a big-time win,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “You go on the road and Rutgers played extremely well and you win in triple-overtime and score 110 points, I think that tells you what you’re capable of doing. You score 110 points on the road, I think that says what you need to know about that team’s ability.”
Iowa has a 4-2 record in road games, including 3-1 in the Big Ten. The two losses came against nationally-ranked opponents Iowa State and Maryland.
Illinois improved to 3-7 in the conference and 11-12 overall with the win at Rutgers on Wednesday. The Illini are trying to salvage what they can out of a season that has been ravaged by injuries.
Even with a depleted roster, Illinois poses a threat with explosive wingmen Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn averaging 19.6 and 16.2 points per game, respectively. Hill scored 32 points in the victory at Rutgers and now leads the Big Ten in scoring in conference games with a 19.1 average.
Illinois and Iowa, with Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok, are the only Big Ten teams with two players ranked in the top 10 in scoring in the conference.
“They have two of the premier players in our league in Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn,” McCaffery said. “They’ve got size. They’ve got other guys that are stepping up.”
McCaffery could’ve been describing his team because it also has two of the Big Ten’s premier players and maybe three, along with size and other guys that are stepping up.
“If we take care of our business and we do it to our full ability, I think we’ll be alright,” senior center Adam Woodbury said when asked about sustaining success.
lllinois holds an 82-70 advantage in the series that began with a 46-36 Iowa win in 1908. The Illini have won 10 of the last 15 against the Hawkeyes, but Iowa has won four of the last five meetings. Illinois holds a 61-15 advantage in games played in Champaign.
John Groce is in his fourth season as the Illinois head coach and has a 73-54 record.