Iowa (20-5) at Penn State (12-13)
Time: 5:30 p.m. CT
Location: Bryce Jordan Center
TV/Streaming: Big Ten Network/BTN2Go
Line: Iowa -10.5
When Iowa Has the Ball
offense Note: All numbers in this piece come from Kenpom or Sports Reference. Additionally, ratings in the four factors charts are scaled so that 100 = average. Thus, above 100 is above average, while below 100 is below average. For example, Iowa's 104 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been 4% better than the national average during Big Ten play, while Penn State's 96 means they have been 4% worse at contesting opponent shots.
Last time these two faced off in Iowa City, the Hawkeye offense had their way with the Penn State defense; at least, in the first half they did. In the first twenty minutes of that game, Iowa won all four factors, which allowed them to jump out to a 45-26 lead, where they outscored Penn State in points per possession (PPP) 1.25-0.72. The second half saw Iowa's shooting cool down quite a bit, and Penn State actually held the Hawkeyes to less than a point per trip down the floor. But Penn State's offense was so bad that night that the game was never in doubt.
This time around, Iowa still looks to have the advantage on this end of the court. However, keep in mind that Penn State's diamond looks a lot smaller than Iowa's, but they have also faced the most difficult Big Ten schedule to date. So their defense is better than what the chart shows, and closer to that #94 Kenpom ranking.
Now, a few things are potentially different on this side of the ball from last time. First, this game is at the Bryce Jordan Center, and even though Penn State isn't outstanding this season, crazy things can happen on the road. Just ask Indiana's offense, who put up a 46% eFG%, grabbed barely a quarter of their offensive rebounds, and turned it over 15 times there not that long ago. Second, Penn State is probably hoping they can keep Brandon Taylor out of foul trouble this time. Having him on the court for the full 34 minutes per game he's averaging could potentially help out on the defensive end as much at it could on the offensive side of the court.
But even after taking all those things into consideration, Iowa still has the talent advantage here. For as good as Brandon Taylor is, he is at a vertical disadvantage when it comes to trying to guard Jarrod Uthoff and he likely isn't quick enough to cover Peter Jok on the perimeter. In all honesty, Penn State doesn't really have anyone who is a good defensive match up for either of Iowa's stars. In the last match up, Penn State's defenders had a hard enough time keeping Jok in front of them, let alone trying to keep him from rising and firing from deep. And don't forget, Uthoff and Jok only scored 26 combined points in the first match-up with the Nittany Lions. That's because Penn State's defense also struggled to keep Anthony Clemmons away from the rim, and this was also the last time Iowa's bench had a nice game. Dom Uhl scored 8 points by hitting a three and throwing down a few dunks, while Nicholas Baer hit a few three threes and Ahmad Wagner threw down a dunk and made a living at the free throw line.
Even taking into account the different venue and circumstances, Iowa should still have a sizable advantage over this Penn State defense.
When Penn State Has the Ball
If Penn State was bad on defense last time these teams played, they were absolutely horrific on offense. Iowa's defense held the Nittany Lions to 0.73 PPP for the entire night, and that number was consistent in both halves. The main issue for Penn State that night was shooting, where they struggled to make anything that wasn't right at the rim. More specifically, though, going 1-20 from downtown absolutely killed them. And for as good as Iowa's defense has been this season, we have to acknowledge that Penn State probably won't make only 5% of their threes this time around. The regression of their three-point shooting alone should be enough to make this game closer than it was the last time out. Of course, Penn State is only shooting 27% from long range against Big Ten defenses this season, so simply regressing closer to the mean still shouldn't be enough to keep this game all that close.
Instead, it would likely take a combination of Penn State shooting, rebounding the ball, or getting to the free throw line uncharacteristically well, while Iowa's offense sputters. And the odds of all those things happening aren't exactly great. If Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell can keep Shep Garner in check, while Jarrod Uthoff makes Brandon Taylor work for every point he gets, the Hawkeyes should be in good shape here.
Style of Play
Penn State plays at a much slower pace than Iowa, and that was reflected when these two teams met a few weeks ago and combined for 67 possessions. Iowa still found their opportunities for quick offense, though, as they outscored Penn State 13-0 in fast break points by doing things like this:
Clemmons and Jok combined for 8 of Iowa's 13 fast break points, as the Hawkeyes were able to run off of Penn State makes and misses and get easy offense by doing so. Penn State's offense will help keep the tempo down, but look for Iowa's offense to find their spots in transition.
When we look at the types of shots each team takes, we see that Penn State attempts more threes than Iowa does. That is an interesting strategy for both teams, considering Penn State doesn't shoot very well from outside, while Iowa does.
Both teams are more comparable from inside the arc and at the free throw line in conference play, but it is interesting to note how Iowa seems to be moving back toward the two-point heavy approach that was the norm under McCaffery in previous years. Their percentage of field goal attempts from outside have gone from 37% in November, to 35% in December, to 36% in January, to now just 31% in February thus far. I'm not sure why that's the case, but that may be something to keep an eye on, as Iowa's eFG% and PPP have also decreased a bit this month (though both stats are still at high levels).
When you look at the scoring distribution for each team, you can really see how bad Penn State is from long range. They shoot from outside more often than usual, but they get a below average number of points off of those threes. Iowa, on the other hand, shoots such a high percentage that they still get a normal amount of points from long range, even though they shoot them less often than the norm.
Players to Watch
Note: A quick reminder on how this chart works. The horizontal axis represents a player's usage rate, while the vertical axis represents a player's offensive rating. The circle size represents playing time (bigger means more time on the court). This chart should tell us how involved in the offense the player is, how efficient they are in doing so, and in how many minutes per game they accomplish all of this.
Since I just wrote about Penn State a few weeks ago, I won't write about every individual player like I did last time. If you would like a refresher on each player's role on their team, check out the preview from the first game.
Instead, let's talk about a few key match-ups. Because Brandon Taylor and Shep Garner are the big threats Iowa needs to worry about for Penn State.
Last time, Taylor led the Nittany Lions in scoring, with 15 points. But it also happened to take him 20 field goal and two free throw attempts to do so. Jarrod Uthoff is the primary defender on Taylor when Iowa is in man-to-man defense, and he played a big role in making Taylor so inefficient last game. Uthoff has the length to block and alter Taylor's shot, but he also has the lateral quickness to make sure Taylor can't take him off the dribble. Taylor will likely score double-digit points in tonight's game, but I feel confident that Uthoff can make it so he has to take a million shots in order to do so again.
The other important match-up for Iowa will be Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell on Shep Garner. Garner is a huge threat to score at the point guard position for Penn State, but he struggled against Iowa last time, mustering only 8 points (shooting 0-5 from long range*) and 3 turnovers in 38 minutes of play. Iowa has done well with scoring point guards like Melo Trimble and Yogi Ferrell this season, usually forcing other players to beat them. Maryland and Indiana had those other options at home, but Penn State doesn't really have anyone outside of Brandon Taylor and occasionally Payton Banks. If Iowa can make Garner and Taylor as inefficient as they did last time, then Iowa could win this game handily. But if Iowa's defense looks like it did against Minnesota, these two could help Penn State stay in this game.
*Since shooting 5-12 from three-point range against Michigan on January 30th, Garner has made 0 of his last 16 attempts over the past three games.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #5, Penn State #147
Projected Outcome: Iowa 75 (85%), Penn State 65 (15%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.12, Penn State 0.97
Projected Possessions: 67
Overall, this is another Big Ten game that Iowa is projected to win by double figures. But Penn State at home is not a team that Iowa should take lightly. The home court advantage is enough for Kenpom to consider the 147th-ranked Nittany Lions a Tier B (Top 100) opponent, and Indiana found out about that advantage the hard way a few weekends ago. If Iowa's offense is cold, and the defense struggles with Taylor and Garner, then this could be a nail-biter.
But if Iowa plays up to their potential -- if the bench plays like they did the last time they faced Penn State -- then they could run the Nittany Lions out of their own building. I expect a closer game than last time, but I expect Iowa to come out more prepared than they did for the Minnesota game. Really, though, I'm just hoping the Hawkeyes get another double-digit victory because I really don't want to start investigating a potential downward trend.