MINNEAPOLIS — Iowa’s starting lineup had been missing Melsahn Basabe for more than a calendar year and 34 games. But the junior forward returned in Thursday’s victory against Penn State, and he’ll stay there for Sunday’s noon game against No. 23 Minnesota at Williams Arena.
“That’s my plan right now,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
McCaffery’s move — guard Anthony Clemmons went to the bench and Aaron White moved from power forward to small forward — helped Iowa outrebound the Nittany Lions 38-32 in a 76-67 victory.
The addition of 6 inches to the starting lineup — Basabe is 6-foot-7, Clemmons is 6-1 — will come in handy Sunday against a Minnesota team that leads the Big Ten in rebound margin at plus 14.4. Iowa is eighth at a minus 0.6. The Gophers’ Trevor Mbakwe leads the league in rebounding at 11.0 in conference games.
Mbakwe also led the Big Ten in rebounding in 2010-11, his junior season. He missed Big Ten play last season, when Iowa swept the Gophers, with a knee injury. The 6-8 Mbakwe has seven double-doubles this season and 30 for his career. Minnesota had a 34-33 rebounding edge in last season’s game at Minnesota. Iowa outrebounded the Gophers 39-35 in Iowa City.
“Minnesota has got long, athletic front-court players,” said White, Iowa’s leading rebounder. “Even their guards are long and athletic. They’re really physical down low. A great rebounding team.”
Basabe had his first double-double of the season and 10th of his career Thursday, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds while making his first start since a home game against Nebraska on Jan. 26, 2012.
“I was honored to start, and I appreciate that coach felt I should start,” said Basabe, who started the first 52 games of his career. “I just looked at it as an opportunity. I’ve been motivated to play to my potential, no matter what position I’m in and whether I start or come off the bench.”
Basabe’s quick college start — he made the Big Ten’s all-freshman team — and his poor sophomore season have been well chronicled. The junior from
Glen Cove, N.Y., started in 2010-11 out of necessity. McCaffery was rebuilding and Basabe was the best — and only — option. Now, as McCaffery has added depth around Basabe, his spot in the starting lineup carries more significance.
Basabe had a penchant for getting in quick foul trouble earlier in his career.
“He used to hurt us defensively,” McCaffery said. “He was in the wrong place a lot. That’s why he was fouling. Now he’s in the right place. He’s seeing the game and affecting the game at both ends. What you’re seeing is a guy who has more confidence in himself, which is great.”
Basabe was whistled for just two fouls in 25 minutes of court time Thursday. One of them came when he was called for a technical foul after a first-half dunk. Basabe has scored in double figures in four of the last six games. He did it just twice in the first 15 games.
“He’s been very efficient,” McCaffery said. “He makes his free throws. He sticks his nose in the glass. He gives you a low-post presence. And defensively he’s just so far ahead of where he used to be.”
And Basabe’s numbers over the last four games — 9.7 points and 9.5 rebounds — carry more significance than the 11 points and 6.8 rebounds he recorded as a freshman.
“You’ve seen a lot more consistency, without question,” McCaffery said. “Even his freshman year when he was putting up big numbers, a lot of those were because I couldn’t take him out.
“He’s not making the mistakes he was the last two years.”
Follow Rick Brown on Twitter @RickBrownDMR
SUNDAY’S IOWA MEN’S GAME
Who: Iowa (14-7, 3-5 Big Ten) at No. 23 Minnesota (16-5, 4-4)
Where: Williams Arena, Minneapolis, Minn.
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: WHO-AM (1040) and Hawkeye Radio Network
Stat leaders: Iowa — Devyn Marble 14.1 ppg; Aaron White 6.0 rpg; Anthony Clemmons 3.7 apg;Minnesota — Andre Hollins 14.1 ppg; Trevor Mbakwe 8.6 rpg; Hollins 3.5 apg.
About the Hawkeyes: Iowa’s 31 made free throws against Penn State on Thursday was its most in a Big Ten game since making 32 against Indiana on Jan. 16, 2007; the Hawkeyes’ 39 attempts were the most since 42 against Michigan State on Feb. 5, 2005.
About the Gophers: Minnesota is fifth nationally in rebound margin at plus 9.6. In Big Ten games only, the Gophers have a plus 14.4 margin.
What to watch for: After making six 3-points in eight attempts against South Carolina State Dec. 19, Devyn Marble has gone 6-for-30 in the eight games since.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball