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The next chapter

Today's 30-point win over Coppin State ended one chapter for the Iowa basketball team and marked the beginning of another. Coach Fran McCaffery's team worked its way to an 11-2 record during the non-conference portion of its schedule without playing a single game decided by fewer than seven points. It's tough to say how the Hawkeyes will react when they find themselves in that situation because frankly, they haven't been tested yet. The two games that they lost, to Wichita State in the finals of the Cancun Challenge and at Virginia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, were decided long before the final gun sounded. The same could be said for most of the 11 wins. Iowa State and UNI tested the Hawkeyes, as did Gardner-Webb. Iowa may have told us as much about their make-up in that game as any, overcoming a 20-point deficit to win. What is clear is that this Hawkeye team has improved defensively and certainly has more dimensions than the first two teams McCaffery has had to work with in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have mixed and matched lineup combinations frequently, and typically the 11 players that are seeing action for the Hawkeyes on a regular basis are all getting a chance as McCaffery searches for the right button to push against a particular opponent. He will have options as Iowa enters the Big Ten play, something that hasn't been the case in Iowa City since Steve Alford was on the bench. Those options will allow Iowa to re-invent itself on a game-by-game basis based on what challenges are presented by the opponents. Devyn Marble's offensive development, and his ability to slide anywhere from the 1, 2 or 3 position in the lineup, will prove valuable in the weeks ahead. The team's lone senior, Eric May, provides similar possibilities at the 2, 3 and 4. Iowa will be tested early and often in Big Ten play, facing two teams ranked in the top six nationally in its first two games in Indiana and Michigan. We'll learn as much about the Hawkeyes in those two starts which precede a home game with Michigan State as we have learned about Iowa in the opening months of the season. That's just the way it works. McCaffery was asked if in retrospect he would have preferred to have added another test or two to the nonconference schedule Iowa just completed. His short answer: No. The schedule this team faced included a handful of challenges - a stretch of six games in nine days, a quick trip to Mexico for two games in two days, a road game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a pair of rivalry games. McCaffery believes that is enough of a challenge for this particular team and a starting five which includes three freshmen. As Marble said following today's game, Iowa hasn't faced a team of Indiana's caliber yet this season. That changes one week from Monday when the Hoosiers take the court at Carver-Hawkeye for a New Year's Eve matinee. It's the start of the next chapter in the development of this Hawkeye team.

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