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Hawkeye men not overlooking Penn State

[ 0 ] February 13, 2013 |

His team is only 4-7 in conference play, and yet Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery was asked Monday on the Big Ten teleconference if he’s concerned about his players overlooking their next opponent.

That speaks to how much Penn State has struggled this season.

Penn State, with records of 8-15 overall and 0-11, in the Big Ten enters Thursday’s game against Iowa as the only Big Ten team still searching for its first conference victory. One of its losses came against Iowa on Jan. 31 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, although the 76-67 setback hardly was a mismatch. Penn State led by seven points early in the first half and stayed within striking distance throughout the game.

That’s why McCaffery isn’t worried about his players overlooking Thursday’s game at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pa.

“I don’t see how they could based on how Penn State played us at our place,” McCaffery said. “They fought us right to the very end. That was a tough, tough game.

“Then you look at film of all their games, and they are right there. They battle offensively. They battle on the glass. They run good offense. They’ve got two guys that can really score the ball. They’ve got some other guys that are really, really improving.”

Penn State has shown plenty of fight under second-year coach Patrick Chambers, but points still haven’t come easily, especially since star point guard Tim Frazier ruptured his Achilles tendon in the fourth game of the season.

“There is no doubt these kids are going to play hard,” Chambers said of his team. “They’re not happy being 0-11, trust me. But they come out every day with a great enthusiasm like it’s Oct 15 (the first day of practice). And that’s the mentality we have. We have great energy and enthusiasm. But it becomes deflating after a while when you can’t put the ball in the basket.”

The Nittany Lions are ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring offense at 54.8 points per game. Penn State is also shooting a Big Ten worst 35.3 percent from the field and 23.6 percent from 3-point range.

Only twice has Penn State shot at least 40 percent against a Big Ten opponent this season. It came close to doing it against Iowa in the first game, shooting 39.7 percent from the field.

Penn State’s top scoring threats are guards D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall. They scored 20 and 15 points, respectively, in the first game against Iowa.

“We’re doing a very good job of getting pretty high-percentage shots,” Chambers said. “We’re just not making them. I know there is going to be a point, a point soon, where everything is going to click. It usually does at least once a season where you’re going to make some shots.”

Iowa also has shot poorly for extended stretches this season, including shooting less than 50 percent in all 11 Big Ten games.

Junior guard Devyn Marble had been mired in a slump until scoring 21 points in Saturday’s 71-57 victory over Northwestern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Marble had scored just two points combined in the previous two games.

McCaffery is optimistic that Marble’s performance against Northwestern will become typical down the stretch.

“That’s what he’s going to be for the rest of the year,” McCaffery said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”

Iowa has lost its last four Big Ten road games, including the last three in gut-wrenching fashion. Wisconsin edged the Hawkeyes 74-70 in double overtime last Wednesday. That game was played just three days after Minnesota had defeated Iowa 62-59 on Feb. 3 and barely a week after Purdue nipped Iowa 65-62 in overtime Jan. 27.

As for the Nittany Lions, the threat of finishing 0-18 in conference play is growing. Penn State still has road games at Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Northwestern and home games against Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Penn State has won five games in a row against Iowa at the Bryce Jordan Center dating back to 2006. That’s another reason McCaffery doesn’t think his players will overlook the Nittany Lions.

“We haven’t won there, certainly since I’ve been here,” said McCaffery, who is in his third season as the Iowa coach. “So there are so many factors I think that enter into this situation where without question Penn State has earned our full attention.”

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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