By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Good teams win games they’re supposed to win.
And that describes the next two games for the surging Iowa men’s basketball team.
No disrespect to last-place Nebraska, but it’ll have little to no chance of defeating Iowa on Friday in Lincoln, Nebraska should Iowa play up to its potential.
It’ll be the same circumstance for Iowa against Northwestern next Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Nebraska is 1-15 in the conference and 7-20 overall, while Northwestern is 6-11 and 13-13.
Iowa handed Nebraska one of its 15 conference losses on Feb. 13 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, winning 98-75 in a game that was basically over at halftime.
Monday’s game against Northwestern will be the only meeting between the two teams in the regular season.
The Wildcats haven’t struggled nearly as much as Nebraska has this season, but conference wins still have been hard to come by.
Iowa will also celebrate senior night on Monday, so emotions should be high for the Northwestern game.
But upsets still happen, and should Iowa lose either of its next two games, it would be considered a huge upset and would cause damage to Iowa’s postseason resume.
The next two games will say a lot about this Iowa team’s maturity and focus.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery is a master at living in the moment and at focusing solely on the next challenge, and that’s Fred Hoiberg’s Cornhuskers.
McCaffery rarely takes time to look at the big picture because he is too focused on the moment, and that’s exactly what Iowa needs heading into these next two games.
Fans might consider Iowa vulnerable for a letdown because of the quality of the next two opponents, but there is no way Fran McCaffery feels that way because he puts every opponent on the same pedestal.
“It’s great to get really excited for any particular game,” McCaffery said Thursday. “That might work that day. But with this league and how difficult it is and how different each road atmosphere is, if you don’t have a professional, businesslike approach, you will not be successful.
“And our guys know and understand that.”
But just in case he might sense a letdown, McCaffery could always remind his players that Nebraska has defeated Iowa four times at Pinnacle Banks Arena in Lincoln, including three games in a row in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
And just one of those Nebraska teams, the 2018 squad, finished with a winning record.
Iowa has won five of its last six games and will be heavily favored in its next two games.
The challenge for Iowa is to play up to its potential, and to avoid being on the wrong side of an upset.
Iowa vs. Nebraska
When: Friday, 8:07 p.m.
Where: Lincoln, Nebraska, Pinnacle Bank Arena
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Records: No. 5 Iowa is 19-8 overall and 9-7 in the Big Ten. Nebraska is 1-15 and 7-20.
All-time series: Iowa holds a 23-13 edge in the series. The Hawkeyes have won 11 of the 17 meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, including a 98-75 victory on Feb. 13, earlier this month in Iowa City. Nebraska holds a 10-6 advantage over Iowa in games played in Lincoln. Friday will be Iowa’s sixth visit to Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Cornhuskers edged the Hawkeyes, 76- 70, in the last meeting in Lincoln on Jan. 7, 2020. Two of the last four games played in Lincoln between Iowa and Nebraska has gone to overtime: 2017 (93-90 Nebraska win
in double overtime) and 2019 (93-91 Nebraska victory).