Iowa starts Big Ten grind with Nebraska

IOWA CITY – The Iowa men’s basketball team went 11-2 in non-conference play for the second straight season.

The No. 22-ranked Hawkeyes hope to score that first Big Ten Conference win much sooner than they did a season ago though.

Iowa will take on rival Nebraska in the league opener at 6:06 p.m. when the Cornhuskers and Hawkeyes tipoff at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes began Big Ten play with three straight losses last year and went almost three weeks between wins 11 and 12.

“I like their team,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery of Nebraska. “(Terran) Petteway is a unique player. I like his game because he is relentless and multi-dimensional. When you have that attack mentality and you can get to the rim, that’s one thing, but when you can also shoot 3s, drive and dunk the ball and play in half court and transition, that’s a tough battle for any defense that is going to prepare for him throughout the season.”

Petteway is leading the Cornhuskers at 17.3 points per game, while fellow sophomore Shavon Shields scores 12.7 points per game. Leslee Smith averages 6.6 rebounds per game, but the Cornhuskers rank dead last in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-2.1).

Besides their obvious advantage on the glass, the Hawkeyes should have an edge in depth while being supported by a strong home crowd.

Josh Oglesby scored 13 points and hit 4 3-pointers in his season debut during Iowa’s most recent game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Oglesby’s return gives the Hawkeyes a legitimate 11-man rotation, nine of which are scoring at least six points per game.

“We have had guys that were sick, had minor injuries, and Josh (Oglesby) with the broken foot (in the nonconference),” McCaffery said Monday during a media teleconference. “Those things are going to continue, you hope they don’t, but someone is going to tweak an ankle, have a stomach virus or a sinus infection and that takes a toll on a team if you’re seven- or eight-deep.

“If you’re 11 deep, you can absorb it much better.”

With Oglesby back in the lineup, the Hawkeyes are considered to be at full strength. And if the junior guard out of Cedar Rapids can continue to hit his outside shot, it will help take some heat off leading scorers Roy Devyn Marble (15.3 ppg) and Aaron White (13.2 ppg).

“(Josh’s return) changes a lot of things because if you look at our team, you saw Zach (McCabe) and Jarrod (Uthoff) were shooting it well and Mike (Gesell) and Devyn (Marble) were shooting it well and scoring, and now you throw Josh into the mix,” said McCaffery. “When he’s shooting the ball like that, he’s phenomenal.

“It takes a lot of pressure off of Devyn and (Aaron) White, who are our key guys. If you look at Josh and Jarrod scoring the ball the way they are, it gives you that much more to prepare for when you’re getting ready for us.”

White also enters the game as one of the team’s best rebounders (6.2 rpg), leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (68 percent) and is fourth in free-throw percentage (86 percent).

Sophomore Jarrod Uthoff is another Hawkeye averaging in double-figures at 10.2 points per game but also leads the team in rebounding at 6.7 boards per game off the bench. Iowa’s bench is accounting for 40 of the team’s 88-point per game average and 23 rebounds per contest.

The Hawkeyes and Huskers have split the last four meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten. Iowa leads the all-time series 14-9 and is 9-3 in Iowa City and has won six of the last seven. Nebraska is 8-0 at home this year but only 1-4 on the road. The losses have come to nationally ranked UMass and Creighton as well as UAB and Cinncinnati. Three of the four losses were by at least 13 points. The Huskers lost to the Minutemen 96-90.

Iowa has won 17 straight home games dating back to January 2013 and claimed 26 straight wins against unranked foes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Big Ten Conference slate is a grind. McCaffery understands the team’s depth is important but also knows the Hawkeyes have to be better in late-game situations and with their defensive intensity.

“We want to look at our consistency defensively because we know how talented teams are that are coming and execution in late-game (situations) because you’re anticipating being involved in a lot of close games late,” said McCaffery. “The key to our team is our depth. We have to keep getting productivity from a lot of people, stay healthy and take care of our bodies for the grind that is coming.”

Tonight’s game has reached sell-out status. It’s the fourth time Iowa has sold out a home contest this year and the second straight sell-out on New Year’s Eve. The Hawkeyes’ home game against Indiana in last year’s conference opener also was a sell-out.