Have you been living under a rock lately?
Well, have I got news for you: Iowa is actually playing for something this week in the Big Ten Tournament … in Washington D.C. (yeah, I’m confused too).
By most accounts the Hawkeyes are still on the outside looking in as far as the NCAA Tournament goes, but will have some opportunities coming up to strengthen that resume and work their way into the field.
That quest starts today against a potentially difficult Indiana team that has had one helluva roller-coaster ride in 2016-17.
Iowa is looking to extend the four-game winning streak that got it in the bubble conversation, which, coincidentally, started with a crucial overtime win against the Hoosiers almost two weeks ago, 96-90.
That prior defeat of Indiana notably featured a 35-point outburst by Peter Jok (on 6-12 shooting) and strong supporting outputs from Tyler Cook, Christian Williams, and Nicholas Baer, all of who eclipsed double figures scoring in the win.
The emergence of a legitimate supporting cast around Jok has been perhaps the biggest factor in the Hawkeyes’ emergence down the stretch of this season. For example, Iowa was able to knock off two top-25 teams, Maryland and Wisconsin, on the road with only a combined 19 points from the star senior guard.
That sort of outstanding production from players such as Nicholas Baer, Tyler Cook, and Jordan Bohannon, all of whom are averaging nearly 14 points per game over the course of the winning streak, will need to continue if the Hawkeyes are going to claw their way into the Big Dance. And in that regard, recent returns are certainly positive among Iowa’s young role players.
With the context of this matchup out of the way, let’s take a look at today’s matchup in more detail.
Scouting the Hoosiers
For a season that started with a fair amount of optimism in Bloomington, the 2016-17 campaign has been objectively disappointing for Tom Crean’s squad. Indiana was dealt a poor hand with the injury of OG Anunoby and has struggled mightily since his departure, including dropping 8 of its last 11 games in B1G play.
The Anunoby injury, plus general disappointment in Indiana’s performance this year has led to a whole host of rumors swirling around Crean’s future in Bloomington, which can’t be helpful for the Hoosiers at this point in this season; by most accounts, the Indiana job will be one of the more high-profile vacancies this offseason.
That’s not to say the Hoosiers lack the talent to quash Iowa’s tournament dreams today, of course, after all, these two teams just recently battled beyond regulation in Iowa City.
James Blackmon Jr. remains Indiana’s biggest offensive threat, averaging 17 points per game and shooting an impressive 41% from beyond the arc. In these teams’ recent matchup, Blackmon dropped 18 points, but was held to 6-16 shooting and ultimately fouled out after 38 minutes.
That sort of containment of Blackmon is a reasonable goal for the Hawks in today’s game (Blackmon will still “get his” to a large extent, regardless, it’s up to the Hawks to make him as inefficient as possible in reaching those numbers) and will go a long way toward determining the outcome of the contest.
Along with Blackmon, 6-10 sophomore Thomas Bryant is generally a handful and will pose a substantial challenge to Iowa’s young post players. The last time these teams met, Bryant pitched in a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, to go along with 4 blocks. The Hawkeyes will have their hands full here.
Rounding out the primary threats for Indiana is 6-3 junior guard Robert Johnson. Johnson, who finished with 19 points (on 50% shooting), 6 rebounds, and 7 assists in these teams’ first matchup, figures to be a focus of the Hawkeye defense in this one.
What Iowa has to do to win
The Hawkeyes should have an opportunity to exploit Indiana down low with the injury of OG Anunoby. If Iowa is able to attack Thomas Bryant early and force him into some foul trouble, this game suddenly looks a lot a different.
The Hawks have the benefit of multiple post options that can go on the attack offensively. Case in point: the first time these teams met, Tyler Cook, Nicholas Baer, and Cordell Pemsl combined for 33 points and 15 rebounds and managed to force Bryant into four fouls. A similar impact from that group will go a long way toward determining if the Hawkeyes will remain in the NCAA Tournament discussion after today.
On top of that—and this should go without saying—a strong offensive game from Peter Jok will make Iowa very tough to beat in this game, and any contest going forward.
Let’s be honest, Iowa could’ve gotten a much better draw in this opening B1G Tourney game (looking at you, Nebraska), but it’s really tough to not feel good about where this team is as a whole. I’d be foolish to bet against the Hawkeyes in their quest for March Madness at this point; give me the Hawks in a fairly close, stressful game, because why not?
Prediction: Iowa 79, Indiana 72