No. 25 Iowa, a month after a poor start in Big Ten play, jumps back into the conference hot water when it plays at Purdue on Thursday.
The Hawkeyes (11-2, 0-2) did everything asked of them during their nonconference schedule, but two post-Thanksgiving Big Ten games proved that conference play is another thing altogether.
Iowa's defeats were to ranked teams -- at home to then-No. 22 Wisconsin (72-66 on Nov. 30) and at then-No. 10 Michigan State (90-68 on Dec. 3) -- showing just how much the Hawkeyes need to close the gap in order to compete for a Big Ten title.
Iowa was ranked No. 15 when it lost to the Badgers, and it was 18th when it fell to Michigan State. This week's No. 25 ranking is a step down from No. 24 last week, as recent home victories over Savannah State and Bryant did little to boost the Hawkeyes' resume.
"We need to really buckle down and prep up for another Big Ten Conference team that is looking for a win, as well as we are," Iowa junior guard Jordan Bohannon said.
"They have one of the best players in the country with Carsen Edwards, so it's going to be tough for us to prep but I know we're ready. We're motivated and ready to start off the year right."
Edwards is among the best scorers in the country. The junior guard is averaging 25.8 points per game, while also handing out an average of 3.5 assists. Senior guard Ryan Cline has done his part, proving to be one of the better distance shooters in the country with 40 made 3-pointers (38.1 percent) and 13.1 points per game.
Purdue (8-5, 1-1) also played a pair of ranked teams when it opened Big Ten play in early December. The Boilermakers lost 76-57 at then-No. 7 Michigan on Dec. 1, but rebounded to win at home against then-No. 23 Maryland 62-60. Michigan is currently No. 2, while Maryland has dropped out of the rankings.
Purdue will enter Thursday's game with its defense in sync following a 73-62 victory over a high-scoring Belmont team.
"Obviously we are looking forward to Big Ten play, one of the best conferences in the country," Cline said. "There are a couple of close nonconference losses we would like to get back but we're excited."
The Boilermakers will be playing with heavy hearts after 20-year-old Purdue superfan Tyler Trent died Tuesday from bone cancer.
"Rest easy to a man that loves the black & gold," Cline said on Twitter this week. "He had such a positive influence on more people than he realized. Thank you for everything and everyone you inspired."
Iowa sophomore forward Luka Garza is making progress from an ankle injury that has forced him to miss two games, but his availability for Thursday's game was uncertain. Head coach Fran McCaffery said Wednesday that Garza is making progress and would test the ankle in practice.
Garza (12.7 points) is Iowa's second-leading scorer behind junior forward Tyler Cook (16.8), who also leads the Hawkeyes in rebounding (8.5).
Updated January 2, 2019