On the Quad: Fran McCaffery has Iowa Hawkeyes soaring

Conference Darwinism.

It’s what happens when there are no more cupcakes on the schedule.

It’s when college basketball finds out exactly who has earned the right to be considered contenders.

It’s why the Big 12 and Big East schedule-makers didn’t hesitate to front-load league play with marquee games for its ranked teams.

It’s how a team like Butler can go from a top-10 team to barely mentioned at all.

It's one of the reasons to embrace the New Year.

Your weekly campus tour into what is and what was in college hoops begins now:

Coach of the week

What a week for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.

The Hawkeyes took down two ranked Big Ten opponents in one week for the first time since 1987, which should vault them into the Top 25 polls for the first time this season.

McCaffery had to work some magic in order for that to happen. The Hawkeyes trailed No. 14 Purdue by 19 points. Completing their 70-63 victory made it the third-largest comeback in program history. And a large reason Iowa was able to pull it off can be linked to McCaffery’s defensive adjustment in the second half.

The Hawkeyes used a zone press that caused the Boilermakers fits. They committed 10 second-half turnovers and the press sped them up just enough to take them out of their normal offensive flow.

Iowa’s win provided an exclamation mark to those who might have started the week giving the Hawkeyes and asterisk in their 83-70 win over No. 1 Michigan State.

The Spartans’ best player Denzel Valentine was still sidelined from an injury. The passing of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s father meant the team had a heavy heart. All of which is true and under perfect conditions maybe the outcome would have been different.

But there was no guarantee that Iowa would beat the shorthanded Spartans, especially after the way it failed to close the game against rival Iowa State. The Cyclones scored the final nine points to hand Iowa a heartbreaking 83-82 loss in a game it trailed all of 39 fleeting seconds.

McCaffery made sure that didn’t happen again and the Hawkeyes have soared to the top of the Big Ten standings.

Big man on campus

Villanova, dressed down in its two meetings against ranked opponents, sorely needed a win when undefeated Xavier came to town. The Wildcats got embarrassed in Hawaii in their 78-55 loss to Oklahoma, then played better, but still came up short in a 86-75 loss at Virginia.

Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono typified their struggles, shooting an identical 4-for-10 from the floor both times, finishing with 10 and eight points, respectively.

His redemption came against the sixth-ranked Musketeers. Arcidiacono erupted for 27 points -- the most he’s scored since his career-high 32 against St. John’s as a freshman -- as Villanova rolled to a 95-64 win over the Musketeers.

Xavier was stunned by the injury to freshman guard Edmond Sumner, but his presence may not have mattered anyway. It was Arcidiacono's day. He made 7 of 10 attempts from behind the arc, tying his career best in the process.

The win helped re-establish Villanova -- the two-time defending Big East champion -- as the team to beat in the league.

Place to be

Lawrence, Kansas. When Monday’s Top 25 polls come out, it’s very likely Kansas and Oklahoma will occupy the top two spots.

How convenient.

The Sooners are due to make the trek into Allen Fieldhouse on Monday for a showdown that will make the winner the front-runner for the league crown. Much more is at stake, though. The way both teams are playing, they could be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed come NCAA tournament time. This will be the first of many big games that could help determine that as well.

Beating Kansas is what Michigan State’s Valentine used as a springboard into front-runner status in the national player of the year conversation. It could do the same for Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, who is currently No. 1 in the Ken Pomeroy player of the year standings.

In one of the few good things about the conference realignment that knocked the Big 12 down to 10 teams, the league decided to play a true round-robin. From 1997-2011, the Sooners and Jayhawks would meet just once in the regular season as the Big 12 just played 16 conference games. But the good thing about Monday’s game is no matter the outcome, it’s possible we could be doing this again on Feb. 13 when the teams faceoff in Norman, Oklahoma.

Number to know

21. The amount of times the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in The Associated Press poll have met in the regular season. The No. 2-ranked team has won 11 of said meetings. If you think you know college basketball, take the quiz and try to name all 21 matchups -- the catch is, you have to do it within seven minutes.