Iowa comes into this week at .500 in conference play. But for some illogical reason, the retiring of Greg Davis has me feeling more optimistic than usual. Because the OC for the football team has so much impact on Fran and Co. But that’s why I have the computer, to temper my irrational humanity with cold hard numbers and logic.
Iowa split its games last week against Nebraska and Rutgers, playing a very talented Husker team to double overtime only to showcase some ugly basketball to squeak out a win over a very bad Rutgers squad. There have been some flashes of brilliance and some downright head-scratching lapses. But right now the Hawks sit at 10-7 (2-2), and there isn’t much of a path to get this team to 20 wins by the end of the regular season. Going 10-4 over the last half-ish of this season seems unlikely with the upcoming game against Purdue and visits to MSU, Maryland, Wisconsin, and a surging Minnesota ahead. That doesn’t even account for another spat with Nebraska and a visit from an always tough Indiana unit. Iowa’s NCAA Tournament chances rest on a balls-out performance in the Big Ten tournament at this point.
Purdue (Round Two)
But let’s get back to the week at hand. Purdue comes to Iowa City looking to repeat their victory over the Hawks from a couple weeks ago. And since then very little has changed. The Boilermakers did drop an overtime game to Minnesota, but the Gophers look like the real deal. After that, Purdue went on to beat Ohio State in Columbus and demoralize Wisconsin in West Lafayette.
Purdue’s excellent guard play continues to impress me, and they’ve made serious hay with second chance opportunities. Even though they’re not ranked in the top-100 in offensive rebounds, this is because they’re incredibly efficient, shooting .488 overall on field goals, good for 24th in the nation. When they shoot, their shots are falling. And if the shot doesn’t go, they’re pulling down a lot of offensive rebounds. This is what makes this team so dangerous and is likely the key to Iowa pulling off a huge upset in this game. If Iowa’s bigs can effectively box out Purdue and limit their second chance opportunities, this could be a closer contest than expected. Sadly, the computer doesn’t see this happening, predicting a Purdue victory here, 68-64. I’m not so sure it’s going to be that close, either. I’d hazard a guess at something closer to 78-65.
Northwestern has never (as in not even once in all of history) been to an NCAA tournament. Out of the 360-ish teams playing Division I basketball, 160 have been in D1 since the inception of the NCAA tournament. Northwestern is one of only five schools to never make a tournament. And it’s not great company to be in, as they join Army, The Citadel, St. Francis of Brooklyn and William and Mary. This year’s team is probably going to exit that group, or at least come very very close to it.
It pains me to say this, but the Wildcats play a very similar style to the Hawks, and may play it a little bit better. This is predominantly because they have a little more experience in their starting lineup. That’s not surprising since 4 of Iowa’s 5 starters are freshmen.
The Cats are a bit undersized, but they make up for it with athleticism and length, outperforming Iowa in hustle stats like offensive boards and blocked shots (7th in the nation). Statistically speaking, they really don’t have any glaring weaknesses nor do they have any outstanding strengths either, other than blocks. However, they do move the ball around well to find the open shot. Iowa will need to either play lights out defense or force some passing errors against a Northwestern squad that ranks 16th in the country in assists.
There is a path to victory here, and the artificial intelligence thinks Iowa finds it, predicting a Hawkeye win 63-62. I like that prediction so I’m going to stick with it. This will be a close game that should be low scoring. But this is essentially a tossup in my mind.