The Iowa Hawkeyes look to improve their NCAA Tournament hopes tonight when they host 23rd ranked Illinois. The Hawks are seven-and-five in the Big Ten, just a game out of third, while Illinois is nine-and-three. Iowa coach Steve Alford says Illinois is fighting for first place and they have the best R-P-I of the teams left on the schedule, so it would be an important win. He says this late in the season every game becomes big. He says there’s an awful lot that can happen in the next week, from battling for the conference title, to end up being 7-9 and not in any postseason.Alford says the Illini are getting hot at the right time with six straight wins on the road and at home. He says they are getting better at new coach Bruce Webber’s motion offense. He says winning also breeds confidence. Iowa is 14-9 overall.Iowa State is at home tonight against Kansas State in the Big-12. The Cyclones were blitzed by K-State 90-59 in their first meeting earlier this month and senior guard Jake Sullivan wants revenge, as he says he is motivated by some of the comments from the K-State players after the first game.The Cyclones are yielding an average of nine three pointers a game and Sullivan says they need to do a better job focusing on the opponents top shooters.I-S-U is 14-9.U-N-I visits Drake tonight in Missouri Valley play. The Panthers may be without senior center David Gruber who broke a bone in his left hand in Saturday’s victory at Wisconsin-Green Bay. UNI coach Greg McDermott says they are looking at the possibility of having Gruber play with a soft cast. He says playing without Gruber takes away some of their strength. U-N-I won the first matchup 76-56 in the Dome but McDermott expects a tougher matchup tonight.At 9-6, UNI is fourth in the Valley standings and he says it’s a big game for both in the conference.Drake has also battled the injury bug. Quantel Murphy, Joshua Robinson, Josh Powell and Nick Grant have all missed games in recent weeks due to injury. The Bulldogs are 6-9, good for sixth in the Valley standings. Drake coach Tom Davis says if they can finish sixth or higher they would avoid the play-in round at the conference tournament. He says finishing strong is one of the best ways to build for the next season.
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