Iowa Hawkeyes (8-3) vs. Northern Iowa Panthers (9-1)
Date: December 20, 2014
Time: 6:30 p.m. God's time zone
Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA
Point spread: Iowa -2.5
Kenpom: Iowa -1
Iowa gets its final crack at a tough team and a big win in its non-conference schedule with a trip to Des Moines (a.k.a. God's Capital City) to face in-state rival UNI as part of the something-something Hy-Vee Classic or whatever. State of Iowa Jamboree. Maybe. I'm not checking.
If Iowa goes 2-3 against its slate of five non-con opponents with pulses (Texas, Syracuse, North Carolina, Iowa State, UNI), that'd be close to as much as we could ask from this team; 3-2 and up and we'd be doing cartwheels, after all. But that's a mighty big if; these teams are evenly matched on paper, and Iowa's going to have fits here.
Northern Iowa, stylistically, isn't going to look a whole lot like Iowa. The Panthers are relatively small, though forward Seth Tuttle (6'8, 14.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg) is all of 240 pounds and the focal point of the offense. Iowa can get creative with the defense here, as either Aaron White or one of the centers can take this assignment (I'd rather not see Jarrod Uthoff try to keep Tuttle off the block). Center Marvin Singleton is a monster on the glass, but at 6'6" he shouldn't be a serious scoring threat among Iowa's trees—and he doesn't have the range to force the big men out of their comfort zones.
UNI will also be leaning on guard Wes Washpun (6'1, 12.2 ppg, 3.3 apg), who spurned an Iowa offer to join the Panthers way back when and hasn't looked back. Washpun's technically a sixth man, coming off the bench but still second on the team in scoring, leading in assists and 60% shooting from the field on the year. That's truly remarkable production for someone of his stature; so far this year, there are only 11 guards in the nation shooting at least 60% from the field and averaging double figures, and only Washpun is 6'1" or shorter. Now think about what Iowa gets from its guards, in terms of numbers and efficiency. Yeah. The Hawkeyes could use a Wes Washpun right about now. Heck, Iowa might even let him start.
Washpun's been lethal from downtown when he tries it, but 8-for-10 (while fantastic) is still one 3PA per game. Washpun does a lot of his damage from driving, shorter jumpers and getting to the free throw line with relative ease. His shooting production won't hold up all year, of course, but for now he's a very dangerous weapon for the Panthers.
That's not to say UNI doesn't bomb from deep; boy howdy, they do, attempting nearly 17 three pointers per game. Matt Bohannon (6'4, 5.9 ppg, .368 3PT%) (yes, another one of Gordy's kids who didn't go to Iowa) leads the team with 3.8 3PA per game, and he's one of four players who hoists at least two per game. Iowa State's incineration of the Hawkeyes was largely fueled by distance shooting, and while the Hawkeyes have done generally better on perimeter defense this season than last, they'll be tested heavily again.
Iowa's entire guard corps is in a deep, season-long funk from the field. Please avert your eyes if you do not want to see horrible things. The rest of you, I don't know, put on some goggles before you see this.
Iowa's Gesell & Clemmons rank 49th & 50th in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage among guards w/at least 8 games played— Jordan Garretson (@jordangarretson) December 14, 2014
@HawkeyeNation Yep, 65 guards that qualify. Jok tied for 53rd. Dickerson 57th. Oglesby second-to-last at 64th.— Jordan Garretson (@jordangarretson) December 14, 2014
This is a serious problem for the Hawkeyes, as it's not like you can just tell the guards not to shoot. Uthoff has been cold lately too. It's a "shoot out of it or go down trying" type of slump, which sounds like the best you can do, but also sounds like a great way to score 50 points and lose to UNI.
The Panthers are one of the slowest teams in the nation, averaging a Lickliterian 60.2 possessions per game. They're remarkably slow on both sides of the ball, with defensive and offensive possession lengths both in the bottom 25 among I-A teams. Iowa's transition-happy offense is going to be put to the test here, especially without a reliable perimeter shot to help deal with UNI digging in on half-court defensive sets.
Further, it's not as if Iowa's going to just be able to run UNI out of the gym and see if that works; Northern Iowa just went to the manic-paced, full-throttle VCU and took the Rams to double OT on their own court before bowing out, 93-87. VCU spent most of the game in good control (so there's some cause for hope for the Hawkeyes) but even an 11-point lead with six minutes and change left in regulation couldn't hold up as UNI turned on its offensive firepower for one last run. Iowa's hardly a pushover on defense, of course, but there isn't a whole lot the Hawkeyes can show UNI that VCU didn't already throw at the Panthers.
UNI is built for this game. It's deep, with a legit nine-man rotation and veteran leadership where you need it. Ben Jacobson is coaching that team extremely well, and the execution he gets out of the Panthers will be a tough match for Iowa's own strengths. Hopefully the Wells Fargo Arena is rocking; this should be a dynamite game.