Indiana brought its eight-game winning streak and its sensational freshman, Eric Gordon, to Carver-Hawkeye Arena hoping to keep rolling against a rebuilding Iowa team.
The Hawkeyes had other ideas.
“You could tell that our youth really showed early in that game,” Hoosiers coach Kelvin Sampson said.
Sampson’s young Hoosiers made enough plays down the stretch, however, to hold off Iowa 79-76 and show what several Big Ten teams did in the opening week of the season — winning conference games on the road is apparently not the Herculean task it used to be.
Last season, visiting teams won just 26 of 88 conference games, or just under 30 percent. League champion Ohio State, with a remarkable 7-1 road mark, and Wisconsin (5-3), were the only two teams to finish above .500 on the road, and eight of the conference’s teams had two or fewer conference road wins.
Beginning with Wisconsin’s 70-54 win at Michigan on Jan. 2, however, road teams won each of the first four conference games to open this conference slate, and are 6-8 overall. Indiana, 2-6 on the Big Ten road last season, is 2-0, as is Penn State, which was 0-8 in 2006-07.
Every Big Ten team will have one more opportunity for a road win this season. The conference returned to an 18-game schedule, up from 16 games, for the first time since 1997.
The Big Ten’s coaches weren’t thrilled about the decision when it was announced this March — it made for some uncomfortable last-minute schedule shuffling, for one, and robbed teams of two soft non-conference home games, for another — but they acknowledged this week that there are positives as well as negatives.
“I think it gets us more tournament rating,” Sampson said. “And also gets us a more fair champion of the league.”
The last time Big Ten teams played 18 conference games, there was no season-ending tournament. The winner of the Big Ten Tournament will have played at least 21 games, if not 22, against conference foes.
“The hard part is just the banging it takes on your body,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “You don’t get as much rest as maybe you need. You’ve just got to be careful with what you do in practice and trying to keep guys as fresh as possible.”
The concern for some coaches is that Big Ten teams will likely have fewer total wins this season, which could cost the conference come tournament selection time. But others believe the strength of the league will be proven by then.
“You’re gonna see this league be battling for six or seven (tournament spots),” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
Matchup to watch
Ohio State at Purdue, 4 p.m. today. The Boilermakers, a solid 8-1 in Mackey Arena this season, have five players who average between 8.0 and 10.5 points per game. The Buckeyes, who have won their last 19 conference games, are giving senior point guard Jamar Butler more offensive help as well as Ohio State adjusts to life after Greg Oden.