November 03, 2015

Iowa hasn't been atop the Big Ten this late in a season in 10 years, and it's been much longer since it won a regular-season conference title.

The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes don't need a history lesson to know what's at stake over the last seven games, though, especially with two coming against an Indiana team also in the mix.

Iowa looks to extend its winning streak to four when it visits the Hoosiers on Thursday night in a matchup of the Big Ten's highest-scoring teams.

The Hawkeyes (19-4, 10-1) hold a half-game lead on No. 2 Maryland and sit in first place this deep into a campaign for the first time since 2005-06, when they last won the conference tournament title. They haven't won a regular-season championship since sharing it in 1979 and haven't won an outright title since 1970.

Coach Fran McCaffery insists winning the Big Ten is the furthest thing from his mind, but the importance of beating Indiana (19-5, 9-2) still stands in regards to the standings. Iowa is coming off Sunday's 77-65 win at Illinois and hasn't lost since falling 74-68 at Maryland on Jan. 28.

The Hawkeyes are averaging 78.5 points in conference play to lead the Big Ten, with the Hoosiers close behind at 78.2.

"It's going to be very up-tempo," said Iowa senior guard Mike Gesell, who needs two points to reach 1,000 for his career. "That's how we want to play, and they want to play that way, too."

Indiana is averaging a Big Ten-high 84.1 points overall - Iowa is second at 80.7 - but it was held in check Saturday at Penn State. The Hoosiers shot a season-low 36.2 percent and scored their second-fewest points in a 68-63 loss.

Nick Zeisloft scored 14 for Indiana, which shot 44.4 percent from 3-point range over its first 21 but has hit 28 percent over the last three.

"It just goes to show what kind of league this is," guard Robert Johnson said. "In the Big Ten, you have to come out every game with the same mindset and be prepared to go out there and battle."

Yogi Ferrell went 3 of 12 from the field and finished with 13 points while committing five turnovers, but McCaffery isn't putting much stock into one tough performance.

Ferrell is fourth in the Big Ten with 17.3 points per game - Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff is third at 18.4 - and third with a 47.4 field-goal percentage. The senior guard also is fourth with 5.8 assists per contest, just behind Gesell's 6.0 average that ranks third.

"Yogi is as tough a cover as there is out there," McCaffery said. "He's equally gifted at scoring the ball or finding other people."

Indiana coach Tom Crean knows slowing Uthoff is only part of the battle. Peter Jok is averaging 19.5 points over his last eight after scoring 23 against Illinois, and Adam Woodbury has four double-doubles in his last six.

The Hoosiers visit Iowa on March 1.

"They have so many guys who can score," Crean said. "The unselfishness that they play with, the ball movement they play with - the numbers certainly (show it). For us to win the game, we've really got to do a great job of not playing into their hands and getting back at a high rate defensively."

Uthoff scored 14 points and Ferrell finished with 11 while shooting 3 of 11 in Iowa's 77-63 win at Indiana in the last meeting March 3 to end a three-game skid in the series.

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