Iowa (12-3) vs. Northwestern (7-8)
Date: January 9, 2013
Time: 8:00 p.m. CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena
Point spread: Iowa -17
Say hello to Iowa's last big point spread of the season: The Hawkeyes host Northwestern, the Big Ten's worst team by a fairly considerable margin, Thursday night. They will do so without head coach Fran McCaffery, who is serving a one-game suspension for his outburst against Wisconsin. Assistant Kirk Speraw, a former Division I coach himself, will guide Iowa Thursday.
Northwestern is a game below .500 on the season, with three consecutive losses entering Thursday night. Wisconsin beat the Wildcats by 27 last week. Michigan beat them by 23 Sunday. Northwestern has not beaten a team in Kenpom top 125 yet this season. All of these things help move that point spread.
Chris Collins, Northwestern's first-year head coach and a former longtime Duke assistant, has turned the Wildcats into a perimeter-oriented attack. Northwestern gets more than 31 percent of its points from outside the arc, one of the nation's highest ratios. More than two of every five shots taken by the Wildcats have been from three. Northwestern moves the ball well to find the open shot, and there's no rushing: The Wildcats are 330th nationally in tempo, even slower than Wisconsin. For a perimeter team, Northwestern gets an absurd number of shots blocked, one of the nation's highest percentage of blocks allowed.
Defensively, Northwestern has been far more effective by copying the Badgers. They don't bother with rebounding their own misses, opting to get back and defend. Northwestern doesn't generate many turnovers, but tries to force bad shots and contest them. It's worked fairly well: Northwestern has allowed opponents to put up a modest 46 percent effective field goal rate. Despite their struggles on the offensive glass, Northwestern has been fairly good in defensive rebounding, hauling in 78 percent of opponent misses.
Drew Crawford will never graduate, of course. The 6'5 senior guard is still there, averaging 16.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, both of which lead the Wildcats. Crawford missed the entirety of Northwestern's Big Ten season last year after suffering a shoulder injury, but averaged 15.75 points in four career games against Iowa. Junior guard JerShon Cobb is second on the Wildcats in scoring, but sat out two games with a foot injury in December and has not been the same since. After putting up back-to-back 22-point performances against Missouri and UCLA, Cobb has totaled just 14 points in Northwestern's last three games. Sophomore Tre Demps, whose name is French for "three demps," is averaging 10 points per game but is capable of springing 20 or more points if he gets hot from outside. The same goes for 6'1 guard Dave Sobolewski, who leads the team in three-point attempts.
Seven-foot center Alex Olah anchors the Northwestern front line, but he's not a significant offensive threat. While he shoots nearly 60 percent from the field, Olah is averaging just 9.3 points per game. With that said, Olah scored 23 against Wisconsin and can certainly put together an impressive performance if needed. Freshman Sanjay Lumpkin has disappeared since November; in the last eight games, Lumpkin has scored more than three points just once. Des Moines product Kyle Abrahamson and freshman forward Nathan Taphorn round out the Wildcats' eight-man rotation.
Iowa's tempo and the Carver Hawkeye crowd should make this game fairly simple. Northwestern doesn't have the horses to keep up when Iowa goes in transition, and while Iowa won't find many opportunities to run off of missed shots, the Cats are not good enough at protecting the ball to eliminate the transition game entirely. Unless Northwestern suddenly puts up its best offensive game of the season, Iowa should cruise regardless of who is calling the shots.