Iowa Hawkeyes (3-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (2-0)
Date: November 26, 2014
Time: 7:30 p.m. CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena
Point spread: Iowa -17.5
Fresh off a sloppy Monday night win over Pepperdine, Iowa returns to the court yet again Wednesday night for a date with Northern Illinois. Tip off is set for 7:30 at CHA, with "television" coverage on ESPN3.
Let's start with this: Northern Illinois has one of the strangest sets of defensive numbers I've ever seen. Their two opponents so far have shot an atrocious 22 percent from behind the arc, yet have made 58 percent of two-point attempts and a whopping 88 percent at the line. With that said, those two opponents are Idaho and a Division III team that literally has a link on its athletics site for you to use if you want them to recruit you, so we're going to take pretty much the entire NIU back catalog with a grain of salt.
This team was under .500 in a fairly atrocious MAC last season, with one of the worst shooting percentages in all of basketball (42.6 effective rate, 28 percent from three and 43 percent otherwise, both among the 20 worst marks in the country). When coupled with a slothlike tempo, the Huskies managed to play close with bad teams (and even some decent ones; Nebraska only beat them by five, though that was not yet the Nebraska that we saw in February). But high-tempo, athletic teams had little problem with them; the Huskies went just 2-6 in games against Division I opponents with 67 or more possessions., including the aforementioned loss to Nebraska, a 36-point beatdown in Ames, and home losses to Nebraska-Omaha, James Madison, Buffalo and Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The Huskies are essentially a four-man show. Sophomore guard Aaric Armstead, junior forward Darrell Bowie, and senior center Jordan Threloff are responsible for half of the team's points, 60 percent of its rebounding, nearly all of its blocked shots, and more than a third of its steals so far this year. Armstead, a 6'5 shooting guard out of Chicago, is probably the team's best deep threat, though the Huskies do not take many shots from the perimeter. Bowie, a fitting opponent just hours before the Heroes Game, has done a bit of everything. Threloff is just 6'9, but he's averaging a double-double so far this season. Throw in point guard Travon Baker, a 5'10 junior out of Detroit, who showed some shooting ability against Idaho and is one of the most efficient players in the country based on the limited sample size available, and you have essentially the only important parts of this team. They were all there in 2013-14, and I don't think we know yet whether anything is really improved.
NIU likes to burn clock and break down the interior defense for close shots, mostly because there isn't a particularly dangerous outside shooter on the roster. The problem facing them Wednesday is that Iowa loves that kind of game from an undersized team, full of blocked shots and defensive rebounds and the fast breaks that come along with them. Iowa should have little trouble with tempo -- remember, McCaffery's teams are built to move fast on offense and defend for long stretches of time -- and could well knock Northern Illinois out early here.