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Iowa prepares to head into Evanston, the epicenter of a plague ripping through the Big Ten.

Tony Hager

IOWA CITY, IA (AP) -- The Iowa basketball team announced plans to take extra precautions for Saturday's scheduled game with the Northwestern Wildcats, noting the contagion that had been plaguing Big Ten offenses in recent weeks.

"We are very aware of the danger posed by this new and spreading epidemic," said Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery.  "We will take every step necessary to protect not only ourselves, but also the game of basketball itself from this devastating disease."

McCaffery noted that both his staff and the entire Iowa team would be outfitted in specially-designed suits (modeled above), geared to protect them from exposure to the highly contagious disease that has been raging through the ranks of the Big Ten in recent weeks.  Evidence of the plague, labeled j1N1W by Big Ten epidemiologists, was first logged almost two weeks ago in a basketball game between Illinois and Northwestern.  The contest ended in a 49-43 Northwestern victory, featuring several grisly stats for the Illini: just 58 possessions, with 0.74 points per possession, and a ghastly 31.3 eFG%.

Scientists next noticed the effects of the plague during the Northwestern-Michigan State game, held three days later. That game ended in a 54-40 Michigan State victory, but the effects of j1N1W were still in evidence: 53 possessions and 40.4% eFG% for the Spartans (which was still better than the 33.7 eFG% posted by the Wildcats).  Scientists speculated that the effects of the outbreak might be limited to a single facility in Evanston, IL, but those hopes proved to be unfounded.

Three days later scientists found evidence of the plague in Bloomington, IN, the site of an Indiana-Northwestern game.  Once again j1N1W took its tool on the participants, especially the Hoosiers: 63 possessions and 28.3 eFG%, leading to 0.73 points per possession.  Indiana coach Tom Crean felt that his team's immune system had been damaged by a dramatic 75-72 win over previously undefeated Wisconsin, leaving them weakened and more susceptible to the slow, methodical squeeze of the disease on their offense.

The most recent outbreak was noted at the original epicenter, Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, IL, during a game between Purdue and Northwestern.  The contest, won 63-60 by Northwestern, ultimately featured 71 possessions, but only with the confounding factor of an additional ten minutes, generated by two overtime periods.  The game was tied at 46-46 as regulation expired and the teams both posted eFG% under 40% (Purdue: 34.5%, Northwestern: 38.7%).

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery noted that he had studied all of the outbreaks and was wary of its effects on opposing teams that came into contact with Northwestern.  "This disease is absolutely stifling.  It attacks man-to-man relentlessly and slows all basketball activity to a dull, methodical grind.  It has a certain hypnotic effect as well, drawing the other team into its web of monotony as well.  Purdue and Indiana are two of the faster teams in the league, but their offenses looked like they were moving in fast-drying concrete.  I had to ask Kirk [Speraw, an assistant coach on the Iowa staff] if the slow-motion button was stuck on the remote."

McCaffery also expressed confidence in his staff and team's ability to fight the disease.  "Well, I have a lot of faith in our offense and our ability to score points and move at a fast tempo.  Plenty of teams have tried to slow us down this year and not many have succeeded.  The best way to fight this disease is by overworking it and causing it to overheat and burn itself out."

McCaffery also noted that he felt that he had a trump card in the battle against the j1N1W contagion.  "I think we have some familiarity with plagues like this, unfortunately.  The team and program I inherited from Professor Lickliter bore the effects of his own experiments with another strain of this awful plague.  It took us a few years, but we were finally able to eradicate that plague from Iowa City.  It's a shame that we're seeing new outbreaks around the Big Ten, but we'll continue our efforts to stamp it out.  Do you think they'd let [Zach] McCabe use a flamethrower?"