Looks like we’re getting a late present to unwrap as this holiday season winds down in the form of Big Ten basketball.
Another gift within that gift is the return of Tyler Cook, who’s suiting up tonight for the first time since late November. Cook is coming off a hand injury, and his return could not come at a better time.
Cook will have his work cut out for him tonight against No. 15 Purdue, who boasts some of the best big men in the conference in Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan.
Just about the entire Iowa team has its work cut out, though. Purdue is probably the best team Iowa has faced all year save for Virginia, and one could make the argument the Boilers ranking is low, seeing as how their only two losses came at the hands of Villanova and Louisville.
In any case, this should be a fun matchup, and it will be nice to have Cook back for this one. Hopefully he’s already in playing form and the rust is minimal.
Get to know the Boilers
Purdue is led by the aforementioned Swanigan and Haas, who lead the team in scoring with 18 and 14 ppg, respectively. Swanigan is also averaging a double-double, raking in 12 boards a contest. Iowa is going to have a problem corralling him in. In Iowa’s two games against Purdue last year, Swanigan scored just 11 points total, so maybe the blueprint to bring him down is there, but its fair to assume he has progressed since then while this Iowa team ... hasn’t.
P.J. Thompson might just be the catalyst for this whole team, though, as the junior point guard is posting a 5:1 assist/turnover ratio and running Matt Painter’s offense to near-perfection.
Small forward Vince Edwards is the guy who Purdue might use to try and stop Peter Jok from being Peter Jok, but it could be a whole guard-by-committee thing there.
Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias rounds out guard play for the Boilermakers, and both those guys are just about averaging double-digit scoring. This team is really deep and athletic, while Iowa isn’t the deepest or perhaps most athletic team. However! Iowa did sweep this team last year, so maybe Fran McCaffery has Matt Painter’s number? We hope so.
What Iowa has to do to win
I think it starts and ends with bottling up Haas and Swanigan, and disallowing them from exerting their will under the rim and in the paint. That order will fall largely on greenhorns Cordell Pemsl and Cook, who have never seen big men of that caliber in their Iowa careers.
Keeping those two bigs from doing their thing will allow Jok and Jordan Bohannon to run the floor and create scoring opportunities in the same fashion they’ve been doing as of late. I really like the quick progression I’m seeing out of Bohannon, and think this game could be a coming-out party for him of sorts.
Nicholas Baer is going to have to get involved early and often. His 10 points and 8 boards off the bench were instrumental to beating Iowa State, and his fearless style of play is going to be much-needed in this sort of game.
And finally, Peter Jok is going to have to be Peter Jok. I don’t see how Iowa wins this one without Jok scoring about 25 or so. I imagine there’s been some plays drawn up to get him the ball in space so he can shoot his shot, allowing him to take over. If he gets down or frustrated early, though, it could be a long night.
As of this writing, Las Vegas has Purdue as 13-point favorites. That’s a lot of points! It’s easy to look at Iowa’s lackluster KenPom ratings (No. 52 in offense, No. 108 in defense) compared to Purdue’s (No. 15 offense, No. 12 defense) and conclude this is going to be a bloodbath with no Iowa survivors, but as we saw with the Iowa State game, anything can happen, and we’ve seen a lot to like from this Iowa team as of late.
I predict we see the best game Iowa has played all year, but small mistakes like turnovers and dumb fouls shoot us in the foot. I think the first half is close, and Iowa makes it a game for much of the second frame, but Purdue’s size gives it the edge late, and the Boilermakers come away with 9-point win.
Post your predictions below, and check out our Q&A with Purdue blog Hammer & Rails for further game coverage.