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ALONG CAME ... NORTHWESTERN

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Wait Northwestern’s good this year?

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Right on the heels of an exciting and improbable victory over Purdue Thursday, the Hawkeyes (11-7, 3-2) are heading to Evanston to take on a solid (seriously) Northwestern (14-4, 3-2) team in a game that will air on BTN at 6:30.

Fran and the boys, especially Peter Jok and Tyler Cook, acquitted themselves nicely in the win over the Boilermakers and need to build on that performance if they’re going to notch their first road win of the season. Simply put: if we see another all around performance of that caliber, Iowa will knock off Northwestern.

Granted, that’s obviously easier said than done, especially for a team that features five freshmen making regular contributions that has been plagued by inconsistency for most of the year. Speaking of the youngsters, though, how great must that Purdue win have been for their confidence? The positive effects of coming from behind to take down a top-20 team cannot be overstated, particularly in the wake of the gut-wrenching loss in Lincoln a week ago.

Even the most avid pumpers of sunshine and rainbows knew this would be a season replete with growing pains, but it is certainly good to see that a lot of these guys are taking tangible steps forward. The big payoff probably won’t be this season, but the Hawkeyes are learning to cut their teeth in a tough conference and close out tight games—that’s cool with me.

So, with that out of the way, let’s turn our attention to tonight’s matchup in Evanston shall we?

Scouting Northwestern

Chris Collins has already done a great job of turning around the Wildcats’ program and in year four has his squad poised to be in the mix to (finally) make the NCAA Tournament.

So what’s led to the vitalization of Northwestern basketball? For one, Collins has proven to be an outstanding recruiter and has already significantly upped the talent level of his program.

That’s especially evident when you take a look at Scottie Lindsey and Vic Law, the Wildcats’ leading scorers. Both are long wing players at 6-5 and 6-7, respectively, with some offensive tools and eye-popping athleticism. Law also doubles as a lockdown defender and is the odds-on-favorite to attempt to contain Peter Jok in this one.

Beyond Lindsey and Law, Bryant McIntosh is (somehow) still around (and only a junior?) running the show at the point. McIntosh has struggled some with turnovers and shooting the ball this season, but his ability to create off the bounce will nonetheless pose a challenge to Iowa’s young guards.

Down low, 6-8 235-pound sophomore Derek Pardon is back in the mix after missing some time due to injury. Pardon has been highly effective since returning, averaging 10 points and 8 boards over the last three games and really flashed last time out against Rutgers to the tune of 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 blocks. I for one am looking forward to Pardon vs. Cook/Pemsl tonight.

Overall, the Wildcats are a fairly well rounded team; according to KenPom, Northwestern ranks highly in both adjusted offense (46) and adjusted defense (51), which is a testament to Collins’ coaching chops. There’s no doubt that he has this team moving in the right direction.

Iowa will win if…

The Hawkeyes are able to control the glass and benefit from some hot shooting.

While Northwestern certainly has more talent than we’re used to seeing, this team isn’t very big in the post and can be exploited on the glass. Again, per KenPom, Northwestern ranks 249th in allowing offensive rebounds—paging doctors Cook and Pemsl.

It probably goes without saying, but the Hawks also need a strong offensive performance from Peter Jok and company on the perimeter. I have a feeling this game will largely hinge on that Jok/Law matchup on either end of the court.

Prediction Time

This is a tough one considering how up-and-down the Hawkeyes have been this season. Northwestern is obviously much improved and will be fighting for a bid to the big dance, but damn if that Purdue game didn’t get me pumped up for this team. I say the Hawks pick up that road win.

76-71 Hawkeyes