Iowa (10-3) at #14 Purdue (12-1)
Date: January 2, 2016
Time: 5:00 PM CT
Location: Mackey Arena; West Lafayette, IN
Line: Purdue -9
Purdue enters the game at 12-1 and on a two-game winning streak, having pulled away to post a convincing win over a solid Vanderbilt team at home before Christmas and opening Big Ten play earlier this week with a narrow win over Wisconsin in the Kohl Center. Before those two wins, the Boilermakers suffered their lone loss of the season, a 74-69 neutral court setback against Butler (again the best team in Indiana, seemingly). Purdue lost that game due to foul trouble (23 for Purdue versus 16 for Butler), turnovers (18 for Purdue versus just 8 for Butler), bad three-point shooting (just 7/22, or 32%), and a prolonged scoring drought that dug them a hole they couldn't escape (Butler outscored them 33-16 over the middle 20 minutes of the game).
The Purdue-Iowa match-up is interesting because it's very much a showdown of strength versus strength. Iowa brings the 15th best offense in the nation (per KenPom) into the game, with an offensive efficiency rating of 115.2, good for 15th best in the country. Purdue counters with the best defense in the country, though -- they have a defensive efficiency rating of 86.3, tops in the country and well ahead of the second-best defense in the country (West Virginia at 89.5). Their defense is so good because they've been extremely adept at preventing teams from making shots -- opponents have an effective field goal percentage of just 38.4% and they're making just 37% of their 2-point field goals and just 27.7% of their 3-point field goal attempts. Purdue also prevents opponents from gathering in too many offensive rebounds (just 24.4% of misses), blocks a ton of shots (13.4%), and keeps opponents off the free throw line. About the only thing they're not good at on defense is generating turnovers (just 15.6% of opponent possessions have ended in a turnover). This has been the best-shooting team of Fran's tenure at Iowa (as evidenced by their 54.5% effective field goal percentage -- 38th in the nation, by far the highest it's ever been under Fran), but Purdue is going to be their stiffest test yet. Jok, Uthoff, and the rest of Iowa's shooters are going to need to be dialed in for Iowa to have a shot at pulling off the upset.
The Boilermakers are led by their terrifying Twin Towers tandem up front, AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas. Haas and Hammons are both over 7 feet tall and both have been punishing defenses this year. Hammons is leading the way with 14.2 ppg (on 62% shooting), 8.1 rpg, and 2.8 blocks per game -- he's finally became the all-around monster that everyone thought he'd be for the last few years. Haas, a sophomore, isn't far behind Hammons in terms of impact -- 11.8 ppg (on 57% shooting), 5.2 rpg, and 1.4 blocks per game, despite playing just under 17 minutes per game. One of those two is basically always on the court -- Hammons averages almost 22 minutes per game and Haas averages around 17 minutes per game -- but they're almost never on the court together, probably because they could clog up Purdue's spacing on offense (though Hammons has decent range and a solid jump shot).
Just behind Hammons and Haas in terms of importance is another big, true freshman Caleb Swanigan, a former 5* recruit. He was a big get for Matt Painter a year ago and he's done an impressive job of living up to a lot of the hype he received as a prep -- he's averaging 10.5 ppg, a team-best 9.2 rpg, and 2.4 assists per game. Unlike Haas and Hammons he's "only" 6-9, but he his length and athleticism will pose a considerable challenge for whoever on Iowa has to defend him (probably Uthoff). Behind Swanigan, Purdue's back court features two sophomores having solid seasons -- 6-8 Vince Edwards directs the offense from the point and is averaging 8.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, and 3.1 apg and his size is going to pose major problems for Iowa's back court. Raphael Davis is his partner and he's averaging 10.4 ppg on 49% shooting. Purdue is a pretty deep team, though -- their bench is accounting for 44.6% of their minutes this season (the 5th highest mark in the country) and ten players are averaging double figure minutes per game, with nine averaging at least 17 minutes per game. Painter isn't afraid to sub and he'll bring waves of players at Iowa. Kendall Stephens brings some 3-point shooting pop off the bench (he's attempted 92 threes this year, almost as many as Purdue's second and third most frequent long-range shooters have attempted, combined), although he's made just 33% of those shots. PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias have also played big minutes for Purdue off the bench, with Thompson proving an adept distributor (2.9 apg) and Mathias also providing assists (2.1) and rebounds (2.2), although not so much in the way of points (just 4.6, thanks to 31% shooting).
This looks like a very challenging match-up for Iowa, as Purdue has plenty of size to bother Iowa inside and Iowa's struggles to get to the free throw line and keep opponents off the offensive glass don't figure to improve much against Purdue. Turnovers and transition points are going to be critical in this game and whichever team can best limit the other from getting out on the break should have a leg up on getting a win. Something has to give in the match-up between Purdue's lockdown defense and Iowa's sweet shooting -- let's hope it's the Boilermaker defense. This has been a very good shooting Iowa team so far this season (for the most part) and they're going to need to maintain that trend for 40 minutes if they want to leave West Lafayette with another win over a Big Ten contender.