January 20, 2016

Iowa has earned its highest AP ranking in 14 years, but it's using the bad taste of an exhibition loss in November as motivation.

At least on paper, the No. 9 Hawkeyes' longest league winning streak in 46 years doesn't seem likely to end Thursday night at reeling Rutgers.

Iowa finished off a season sweep of then-No. 4 Michigan State with last Thursday's 76-59 road win before cruising to an 82-71 home victory over Michigan on Sunday for its fifth double-digit win in six games.

Now the Hawkeyes have a chance to move into a first-place tie with Indiana by winning their first six Big Ten games for the first time since 1986-87. They've won 11 consecutive league games dating to last season, the program's longest such run since taking 14 in a row in '69-70.

The success has earned the Hawkeyes (14-3, 5-0) their highest ranking since they were also No. 9 early in the 2001-02 season. However, they aren't taking anything for granted on their trip to Piscataway, New Jersey.

"Every time you line up against a top-10 team you want to beat them," senior Mike Gesell told Iowa's official website. "Going into their place, (Rutgers) is going to be hungry. We have to bring our game."

The Scarlet Knights (6-13, 0-6) hope to dig their way out of the Big Ten basement after losing their last five games by an average of 31.4 points.They've also dropped 21 straight league games, including the tournament.

It's the conference's longest slide since Northwestern lost 28 in a row - including the tourney - from 1999-2001.

Still, Iowa is pointing to a 76-74 home loss to Division II Augustana in a Nov. 6 exhibition game as proof that anything can happen - particularly in Big Ten play - if the team isn't prepared.

"The Augustana loss in the preseason shows every night you have to bring it," Gesell said. "(Rutgers) is a good team and you can lose to anybody on any given night. Top to bottom, the Big Ten is the best conference in college basketball, so you can't take a night off, especially on the road."

The Scarlet Knights were outrebounded 63-23 and outscored 30-9 in second-chance points in Monday's 107-57 loss to No. 22 Purdue that marked the worst home defeat in team history. Corey Sanders, the league's leading freshman scorer at 14.2 per game, finished with a season-high 23 points.

Rutgers has been undersized without frontcourt players Shaquiile Doorson, Ibrahima Diallo, Deshawn Freeman and Jonathan Laurent. Doorson (foot), Diallo (foot) and Freeman (knee) are out for the season.

''I guess we just come together and somehow pray, I guess, because they are a better team in the rankings," sophomore D.J. Foreman said.

The Scarlet Knights are last in the 14-team Big Ten with a minus-5.6 rebounding margin, while the Hawkeyes rank 10th at plus-1.1. Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff is one of three players nationally with at least 315 points, 100 rebounds and 50 blocks, and the 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 22.0 points in his last four games.

Junior guard Peter Jok, second on the team with 13.9 points per game, has totaled 39 while hitting 7 of 11 from 3-point range in the last two.

Uthoff had 14 points in an 81-47 home win over Rutgers on Feb. 19, the first meeting since the opening round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament.

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