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Home Cookin’: Iowa Hawkeyes Face Northern Illinois Huskies

Can the Hawkeyes take a winning streak into the New Year? Let’s hope!

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Iowa Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

In the Iowa Hawkeyes’ (8-6, 0-2) final non-conference game of the season, they host the Northern Illinois Huskies (7-5) tomorrow night, 12/29, at 7:00 PM.

The Huskies have had a similarly up and down season as the Hawkeyes on their way to a 7-5 record. They haven’t yet lost or won more than two games in a row. Their 7 wins include two over non-D1 opponents (St. Francis and Rockford) and five sub-200 opponents, according to KenPom ($). They’ve lost to the four teams better than 200, plus Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic (257, as of this writing).

Their losses to Iowa State and Marquette are indicative of their ability to hang around for a little while but inability to close it out. Against ISU, they were down 4 with roughly 15:00 remaining and Marquette, the Huskies kept it close for another five minutes. Iowa should expect similar fight from this team.

Mark Montgomery’s squad appears to be an interesting bunch, in terms of point distribution. Despite having another small-ish roster for the Hawkeyes to defend, they do not lean on the three. Only 26% of their shots are from deep, which ranks them in the bottom 15 of all D1 teams. When they do shot it, it’s not particularly good at 35%. Which means I expect them to catch absolute fire in a dormant (I’m assuming) Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Dante Thorpe, a 6’4” wing, is their best shooter in incredibly limited attempts (7/12). The junior college All-American is more of a slashing type and is shooting 64% from two this year. Joining him in the backcourt is Eugene German who leads the team with 19.8 points per game. He is an absolute gunner and takes 36.6% of his team’s shots when he is on the floor according to KenPom, which ranks 4th in the country. Much like Thorpe, German makes his living inside the three-point line but also at the foul line, as he draws 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes. Though he isn’t all that good from the charity stripe (67.8%), his style could give Jordan Bohannon fits much like McKinley Wright IV of the Colorado Buffaloes.

A post to know is Levi Bradley, who averages 14.8 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. Though he’s listed as a wing by Northern Illinois, KenPom’s algorithm denotes him as their starting power forward. Though he bangs down low, most of his rebounding is done on the defensive end. He’s another player who has found himself at the line with regularity and he has made them at an 85.7% clip so far this year. Montgomery has also deployed freshman Australian Gairges Daow as a starter in recent games. He’s received the 6th most minutes on the team and has a nose for the basketball on the offensive glass.

So what does Iowa need to build on as they head into conference season?

CLEAN UP THE MOTHER-LOVING TURNOVERS! It cannot be overstated how bad Iowa was in this department a week ago. They literally gave the ball right back to Colorado one out of every four possessions. There are not many teams Iowa can post such a stat against in the Big Ten and expect a win. So please, for the love of all that is good in Sherm Dillard’s wardrobe, look as crisp on offense as he does on the bench.

Northern Illinois isn’t the most vaunted team defense in this regard, so they should offer some opportunity to improve. Individually, Bradley, Justin Thomas, and Anastasios Demogerontas will all pose threats to take it away from the Hawkeyes and with Connor McCaffery and Brady Ellingson still looking less than 100%, they should expect a heavy dose of pressure from the Huskies.

Lock down a rotation. It seems to me a clear top seven is solidifying for Fran McCaffery as we enter league play. Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, and an emerging Maishe Dailey are rounding into form in the backcourt while Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Nicholas Baer, and Jack Nunge look like the best of a deep frontcourt. No doubt others are worthy of playing time - most notably Luka Garza and Connor McCaffery - but clear roles should be taking hold at this time.

The player who will prove most to be an x-factor in the conference season is Dailey. He demonstrated a confidence and efficiency which has been an absolute necessity at the wing. As he plays more, he opens up additional lineup opportunities for Fran McCaffery with him as the nominal small forward and Baer or Nunge as a stretch big. Such a setup would provide a center to operate with more space than usual.

I also like what all three bring defensively. Not only is Northern Illinois is a bottom 10 team in terms of assists per field goals but they also get their shots blocked at a high rate. They’re a team of iso basketballers which is fine. It also means Iowa should be able to force them into bad shots, especially against the zone. It looked great against Colorado and I expect lots of it if NIU does not pound the offensive glass.

Get Nicholas Baer going. In the non-conference slate last year, he shot 30% from three, which is better than where he currently sits (23%). If Iowa is going to be at its best, he needs to be hitting shots in addition to all of the energy, hustle, and defense he brings.

It is not difficult to see his defense has at least maintained the same standard he set the second he began seeing the floor at Iowa. He has, however, not shown himself to be a particularly good decision-maker with his increased role.

He is also forcing his shot a bit more than in past seasons (he was taking 16% of the shots on the floor each of his first two seasons but is now over 21%). He’s been best when he’s taken what the defense has given him. If Iowa can find him for some open shots, he should return to form after missing the first six games. It also means it’s not incumbent upon him to create like he currently is.

The Huskies are likely to give Iowa a scare for more than a little bit of time but the Hawks should pull away in the end. If they play crisp basketball and hit open shots, all the better.

Let’s end the non-conference on a high note.