Living at the bottom of the Big Ten Conference basketball standings is not an advantageous situation when the league is on top of its game.
“You can’t get consumed with that,’’ first-year Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “What you have to do is focus on your own team and try to get better.’’
The Hawkeyes are tied with Indiana for last place at 3-10 leading into Thursday’s 8 p.m. game at Northwestern.
“All you can do is keep strong on what you’re trying to do daily, and make sure you never get away from the blueprint, the vision you have for the future,’’ said third-year Indiana coach Tom Crean, who is 8-41 in Big Ten play.
Three teams — Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin — are among the top 11 teams in this week’s Associated Press poll. Three others have been ranked, and Michigan State spent five weeks in the top 10. Just once in the last decade, the 2005-06 season, has the Big Ten had four teams reach the top 10.
There is a chance for Indiana and Iowa to move north in the near future. Seniors have logged 11.8 percent of the minutes played for Iowa this season, which ranks ninth in the league. Indiana is 10th at 11.4 percent. Michigan has no seniors on its roster, giving coach John Beilein an even brighter future.
“My concern was how we’d handle the bumps along the way, when you’re trying to play in one of the better years for the Big Ten,’’ Beilein said. “I’m encouraged.’’
One 2,000-point scorer, Penn State’s Talor Battle, and 1,000-point scorers David Lighty and Jon Diebler of Ohio State, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers of Michigan State, JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore of Purdue, Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis of Illinois, Jon Leuer of Wisconsin, Michael Thompson of Northwestern and Blake Hoffarber of Minnesota, are all seniors.
“There are so many talented senior players in this league,’’ McCaffery said. “Some teams will come back to the pack a little bit. But those teams have really good players coming in as well.’’
In his seven seasons as Ohio State coach, Thad Matta has had six players leave early for the NBA Draft. Five of them left after their freshman seasons. Rookie center Jared Sullinger could join them. But Ohio State has another top-10 class signed for the 2011-12 season.
“You have some teams that just reload,’’ McCaffery said.
Eighteen of the top 150 players in the Class of 2011, according to rivals.com, are headed to Big Ten schools. Ohio State and Illinois signed four each, Michigan State, Michigan and Minnesota two and Indiana, Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin one.
Returning to top form isn’t impossible.Purdue coach Matt Painter inherited a seven-win team that had finished 10th with a 3-13 record in 2004-05. Painter’s first Purdue team also went 3-13 and finished last.
“We were losing that first year, but we didn’t try to do anything from a gimmick standpoint,’’ Painter said. “We stayed the course, tried to put in our system and also instill some discipline.’’
Painter lost Carl Landry and David Teague to knee injuries in his first season, but both were instrumental to a 9-7 finish in 2006-07.
“And then it was the recruitment of E’Twaun Moore, JuJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel,’’ Painter said.
All three are 1,000-point scorers and have helped the Boilermakers finish first or second in the Big Ten three straight years. Hummel is out this season with an injury, but Moore and Johnson have the Boilermakers near the top again.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. But keeping players on campus, and keeping them healthy, is just as important. Transfers — Jeff Peterson, Jake Kelly and Aaron Fuller, to name a few — have cost Iowa any rebuilding traction.
Crean has had to deal with more than a handful of injuries, most notably to Maurice Creek in each of the last two seasons and Christian Watford and Verdell Jones this season.
“Your margin for error in games is so small that it’s very hard to overcome injuries and things like that when you don’t have it built up the way it needs to be,’’ Crean said.
A sneak peak at the Big Ten Conference in 2011-12
Who’s gone: Three starters in guard Demetri McCamey and forward Mike Davis, both 1,000-point scorers, and center Mike Tisdale. Sixth man Bill Cole is also gone.
Who’s back: Starters D.J. Richardson, a guard, and forward Jereme Richmond.
Who’s new: A top-15 class nationally, according to rivals.com, includes forward Mike Shaw and point guard Tracy Abrams.
Who’s gone: Starting guard Jeremiah Rivers, the team’s best defender, is the lone senior.
Who’s back: Leading scorer Christian Watford, 1,000-point scorer Verdell Jones and double-figure scorer Jordan Hulls.
Who’s new: McDonald’s all-America forward Luke Zeller.
Who’s gone: Starting center Jarryd Cole, the only senior.
Who’s back: Four starters, including 1,000-point scorer Matt Gatens, point guard Bryce Cartwright, the Big Ten’s leader in assists during the conference season, and leading rebounder and double-figure scorer Melsahn Basabe.
Who’s new: Point guard Cully Payne will be back after a redshirt year, guard Josh Oglesby and forward Aaron White.
Who’s gone: No one.
Who’s back: Guard Darius Morris, the Big Ten’s most improved player, post Jordan Morgan, the league’s most accurate field-goal shooter, guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., a two-time Big Ten freshman of the week, and bookends Stu Douglass and Zack Novak.
Who’s new: Guards Trey Burke and Carlton Brundidge.
Who’s gone: Two-time all-league guard and leading scorer Kalin Lucas and guard Durrell Summers, both 1,000-point scorers.
Who’s back: Starters Draymond Green, the Spartans’ leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, forward Delvon Roe and guard Keith Appling.
Who’s new: Four-man class headlined by McDonald’s all-America forward Branden Dawson.
Who’s gone: Guard and 1,000-point scorer Blake Hoffarber is the only senior. Senior point guard Al Nolen has been gone since the end of January after breaking a foot.
Who’s back: Four starters, including forward Trevor Mbwake, the Big Ten’s top rebounder and a double-figure scorer.
Who’s new: Guards Joe Coleman and Andre Hollins.
Who’s gone: Leading scorer and assist man Lance Jeter, the Big 12’s leader in assist-turnover ratio.
Who’s back: Double-figure scorer Jorge Brian Diaz, a center, and Caleb Walker, a guard and the team’s leading rebounder.
Who’s new: Three-man recruiting class includes wing players Josiah Moore and David Rivers.
Who’s gone: Guard Michael Thompson, a 1,000-point scorer, is the only senior logging significant minutes.
Who’s back: Four starters, including leading scorer John Shurna, a 1,000-point man and the Big Ten’s most accurate 3-point shooter, third-leading scorer Josh Crawford and leading rebounder Luka Mirkovic.
Who’s new: Three-man class includes guards Tre Demps and Dave Sobolewski.
Who’s game: Three starters in guards David Lighty and Jon Diebler, both 1,000-point scorers, and center Dallas Lauderdale. Fab freshman Jared Sullinger could be a fourth departure.
Who’s back: Guard William Buford, a 1,000-point scorer, and freshman point Aaron Craft.
Who’s new: Another top-10 recruiting class includes McDonald’s all-Americans Shannon Scott, a guard, and Amir Williams, a center.
Who’s gone: Four starters, who have played 64.4 percent of the minutes this season: Talor Battle, a 2,000-point scorer, and frontliners David Jackson, Andrew Jones and Jeff Brooks.
Who’s back: One starter, guard Tim Frazier.
Who’s new: Redshirt forward Jonathan Graham and four newcomers, including 6-11 forwards Patrick Ackerman and Peter Alexis.
Who’s gone: All-league players E’Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson. Moore is about to become the third player in Big Ten history to reach 2,000 points, 500 rebounds and 350 assists. Johnson is the leading scorer at 20.6 points per game.
Who’s back: Three starters, including point guard Lewis Jackson, plus 1,000-point scorer Robbie Hummel, giving it another shot after two knee surgeries that cost him the end of the 2009-10 season and the entire 2010-11 season.
Who’s new: A pair of 6-8 forwards, Ronnie Hale and Jacob Lawson.
Who’s gone: Three starters in double-figure scorer Jon Leuer, the No. 2 scorer and top rebounder, double-figure scorer Keaton Nankivil and guard Tim Jarmusz.
Who’s back: Emerging star and leading scorer Jordan Taylor at the point and freshman guard Josh Gasser, who logged the first triple-double in school history.
Who’s new: Four players, including forward Jarrod Uthoff from Cedar Rapids Jefferson and guard Traevon Jackson, son of former Ohio State all-American Jimmy Jackson.
WHO: Iowa (10-15, 3-10 Big Ten) at Northwestern (14-10, 4-9)
WHERE: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.
TIPOFF: 8 p.m.
TV/RADIO: Big Ten Network/WHO-AM (1040)
STATISTICAL LEADERS: For Iowa — Matt Gatens12.5 ppg, Melsahn Basabe 7.0 rpg, Bryce Cartwright 6.0 apg; for Northwestern — John Shurna 17.3 ppg, Luka Mirkovic 5.7 rpg, Michael Thompson 4.3 apg.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Iowa scored a season-low 45 points against Minnesota on Sunday.
ABOUT THE WILDCATS: Northwestern has lost five of its last six games this season but has defeated Iowa in five of the last six meetings.
WHAT TO WATCH: The Wildcats were 2-of-21 from 3-point range in a 65-41 loss at Penn State on Sunday, but were 14-of-28 in a90-71 win at Iowa Jan. 12.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball