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Around the Big Ten: Iowa looking to make a charge to the top

Just two games behind the schools from Michigan, the Hawkeyes will need a blistering finish to capture their first Big Ten regular-season title since 1979.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa fan base is one of the more tortured in the Big Ten, with their team's biggest recent accomplishment being two magical runs through the conference tournament in 2001 and 2006. No Hawkeye team has won the Big Ten title since any member of its current roster was born. Iowa last accomplished that back in 1979.

While it's likely that streak continues, Iowa's two-game deficit in the standings isn't insurmountable. The Hawkeyes get to play Michigan State -- tied atop the Big Ten with Michigan at 10-2 -- in early March. The Spartans and Wolverines also have to play each other Feb. 23, and the result could help Iowa gain a full game on the losing team.

Even if Fran McCaffrey's team doesn't pull of the regular-season title, Iowa is still in line for its best finish since 2006. The Hawkeyes have accomplished this with a unique style of play. McCaffrey regularly plays 11 guys, persitently throwing fresh bodies at opponents with superior talent (but thinner benches).

Leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble is the catalyst of the 11-man front and is the most talented player Iowa has had since Ricky Davis. He has an outside chance of wining Big Ten Player of the Year, which would be the first time a Hawkeye has taken home that hardware.

Marble has stiff competition for that award, though, as Michigan State's Gary Harris and Michigan's Nik Stauskas are the favorites right now. When the field is this close, the award typically goes to the team that finishes first in the standings. Marble could help his cause if he could lift Iowa down the stretch. The award is announced following the end of the regular season.

Another person in line for an award is McCaffrey. He and John Beilein should be the favorites for Big Ten Coach of the Year, especially for what Michigan has done without pre-season All-American Mitch McGary.

Hardware or no, Iowa fans are prepared for the team's best campaign in recent memory. A Sweet Sixteen for the first time this millennium would ease some of the pain of seasons past.

Three questions with Black Heart Gold Pants' Adam Jacobi

What was different about the second game against Michigan?

There were several differences, starting with the obvious: it was at Carver-Hawkeye and the Hawkeyes hit from long distance at a far better rate than Michigan did.

More than that, Iowa controlled the tempo of the game and asserted itself on the glass, making its possessions count and not going one and out often. Combine that with a nearly 20-minute stretch without a single turnover and Iowa just flat out made its possessions count that time around. The end result was practically obvious at that point.

How will the fact that the Hawkeyes go 11 deep affect them in the NCAA Tournament?

Iowa's depth allows it to plan around injury issues (which can strike at any time to any player) and wear less talented teams down over 40 minutes--hence why the Hawkeyes have not lost to a worse team than Ohio state (or Wisconsin based on your own rankings) all year long. The starting five isn't replete with NBA talent so the depth doesn't make that much of a difference against elite competition, but nobody--not a single damn team on a tough schedule already--has shown itself to be significantly better than Iowa yet.

Who is your Big Ten Player of the Year winner? Roy Devyn Marble has to be close to the top.

On questions like these I always defer to Ken Pomeroy, who gives the nod to Roy Devyn Marble. If someone else passes Marble down the stretch, they'll assuredly have earned it, and I'll have no problem with that.

Joke fake answer: Aaron Craft. Oh man, he'd better not actually win it. He might, too. Oh, no.

Three big games

Wisconsin at Michigan (Sunday): Michigan is locked in a dead heat with its in-state rivals, sitting atop the Big Ten with Michigan State at 10-2. The Wolverines took care of the Badgers the first time around in Ann Arbor, but now have to head to the Kohl Center for a tough road game. Wisconsin is working on seeding for the Big Ten Tournament, currently sitting in fourth place at 7-5.

Iowa at Indiana (Tuesday): If Iowa has any hope of winning the Big Ten, the team must win on the road in Bloomington. Indiana is mired in a down year, but has taken out Wisconsin and Michigan in Assembly Hall this season. The Hawkeyes come in having won three of four, including wins over Michigan and Illinois.

Michigan State at Purdue (Thursday): Another tough road test for one of the Big Ten's elite. Purdue is 4-2 at home in conference play despite a 5-7 record overall. The Spartans will have to answer for A.J. Hammons, who is probably the most reliable seven-footer in the conference. Adreian Payne is back, which will help Tom Izzo's oft-injured squad against the Boilermakers.

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