Iowa’s struggles similar to Gophers’

Adam Fink

For the last two seasons, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team has gathered to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show only to find their bubble burst.

Iowa, the Gophers’ opponent Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa, can somewhat relate.

The last two seasons the Hawkeyes have finished with 19 and 17 wins, respectively, but have failed to make the big dance after being on the wrong end of a hopeful bubble.

In addition, criticism of fifth-year coach Steve Alford has grown.

Iowa has never finished higher than sixth in the Big Ten under Alford and the team has suffered through numerous off-court problems in the last two years.

Sound familiar, Gophers fans?

This season, while the Gophers are struggling, the Hawkeyes are again on the cusp and find themselves in a fight down the stretch.

Iowa (14-10, 7-6 Big Ten)sits in a fourth-place conference tie.

“We know we have (three) games left, and I think our guys have done a great job in getting to this position,” Alford said. “We aren’t talking about how many (games are needed to make it) because we honestly don’t know.

“We don’t know how many Big Ten teams (will go) and we don’t know what Big Ten record it is going to take.”

Gophers coach Dan Monson understands what Alford is going through. Monson has received his share of criticism since taking over the coaching duties at Minnesota (10-16, 2-12) and knows what it is like to sit on the bubble.

“There is also some pressure that goes along with that,” Monson said. “We need to have a good start and stay in the game until it becomes a game where the pressure gets on them to have to convert at the end.”

In the history of the Big Ten, every eligible team to win 10 conference games has been included in the field of 64.

Iowa’s run is unexpected considering two players were declared academically ineligible for the second semester. While Nick DeWitz opted to transfer, Mike Henderson will sit out this semester and plans to return next year.

Also, the Hawkeyes lost center Jared Reiner after the senior had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot in mid-January.

Reiner added 11 points and eight rebounds in Iowa’s 83-68 win over Minnesota on Jan. 13.

In September 2002, star guard Pierre Pierce was in court over assault charges.

After suffering through the public relations nightmare and early departures, Iowa has responded this season.

Pierce averages 16.2 points per game and Jeff Horner adds 12.8 points per game. Overall, Iowa has five players scoring in double figures and is led by its quick guard play.

However, the Hawkeyes’ final three games are important. The team’s Ratings Percentage Index, according to collegerpi.com, is 73 and they have yet to beat any of the top-three teams in the conference.

That’s what makes the remaining few games important to Iowa. Two or three wins and a run in the Big Ten tournament, and Iowa will likely be included.

Anything less and the Hawkeyes will make another trip to the National Invitation Tournament, and the nest might be stirring over Alford’s fate.

“What we do these next few games sets up what we do in March,” senior guard Brody Boyd said in a statement. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, and we’re going to take it one game at a time.”

Humphries injured

Gophers freshman Kris Humphries missed practice Thursday to undergo an MRI on his right ankle.

The coaching staff said they think Humphries, who had participated in every practice this season, was kicked in the ankle while playing against Indiana on Feb. 18. He has been receiving medical treatment since the win.

“I think it is mostly precautionary, but you just don’t know,” Monson said. “They don’t think it is structural. It’s been a situation where once he has treatment and gets warmed up, it tends to be OK. After (Wednesday night’s loss to Ohio State), it was more sore than it’s been.”

Humphries leads the Gophers – and the Big Ten – with an average of 22 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.