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Iowa on a roll heading to Big Ten tourney

By Luke Meredith

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2011 3:55 p.m. MST

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, right, argues a call against his team with official Dan Dorian during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, Saturday, March 5, 2011, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 67-65.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa might be one of the last teams anyone thinks has a shot at winning this week's Big Ten tournament.

But nobody's coming off a bigger upset victory than the Hawkeyes.

Iowa (11-19, 4-14 Big Ten) heads to Indianapolis as confident as any team destined for a 20-loss season could be. The Hawkeyes, who hadn't beaten a ranked team in three years, shocked ninth-ranked Purdue 67-65 on Saturday in their regular-season finale.

The Boilermakers were still in line for a possible No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament and a share of the Big Ten title before losing at Iowa. They acknowledged that the Hawkeyes had outworked them, which was affirmation that the effort first-year coach Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes put forth all season was worth it.

Tenth-seeded Iowa next hopes to snap a four-game losing streak in the Big Ten tournament against Michigan State (17-13, 9-9) on Thursday.

"Without question it was our best 40-minute effort of the season," McCaffery said Monday about beating Purdue. "This team has continued to fight. We've continued to get better. We have struggled at times shooting the ball. We've been plagued by scoring droughts, sometimes in both halves, but keep fighting."

It's quite a shift from last season, when Iowa limped into the Big Ten tournament with a pair of awful road losses and speculation swirling about coach Todd Lickliter's job status.

The Hawkeyes lost to Michigan in the opening round, and Lickliter was fired a few days later.

Though the records between last year and this year are similar, the buzz around the program this March is much more positive.

Iowa opened its home schedule by losing to South Dakota State, but closed it with the win over Purdue. In between, the Hawkeyes took Michigan and Wisconsin to overtime before losing, was within three points of tying top-ranked Ohio State with a minute left and thumped Michigan State by 20 points.

Iowa's only two players to earn all-league honors were freshman forward Melsahn Basabe and junior point guard Bryce Cartwright — and both were brought in by McCaffery in the offseason.

Basabe was both an all-freshman team and honorable-mention All-Big Ten pick, leading the Hawkeyes is rebounds and blocks. Cartwright, an honorable-mention pick, led the Big Ten with 123 assists in 18 league games.

Basabe had 11 points, eight rebounds and a rousing late dunk in the win over the Boilermakers. Cartwright had 13 points, seven assists and six rebounds with just two turnovers.

Next up is Michigan State.

The Hawkeyes trounced Michigan State 72-52 in Iowa City on Feb. 2, which was perhaps the clearest sign to that point that the Spartans could have trouble earning an NCAA tournament bid after reaching back-to-back Final Fours.

Michigan State is on the bubble for the NCAAs, but the Spartans returned the favor with an 85-66 home win over Iowa last week. Even if Iowa wins, it would see Purdue waiting in the wings.

Still, the program appears to be on the rise — a big change from a year ago.

"I knew all about this program," McCaffery said. "To have an opportunity to coach in the Big Ten was a challenge that I looked forward to, that I welcomed, that I was excited about."

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