After another loss, the Iowa Hawkeyes (11-12, 2-8) continue the long march towards the end of the regular season. They’re hosting the underperforming Minnesota Golden Gophers (14-9, 3-7) who have lost six out of their last seven games - worse than Iowa if you can believe that!
At the crux of the Golden Gophers’ poor outings are the suspended Reggie Lynch for allegations of three sexual assaults. Minnesota’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action found him responsible in two of the three instances. Richard Pitino was also without Amir Coffey for five straight games and after playing two, seems to have injured his shoulder. His status is up in the air.
If Coffey is able to go, he’ll be an instant mismatch for the Hawkeyes to guard. Though he has a lower usage rate, his game is much like Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr., who recently torched Iowa for 28 points. Nicholas Baer needs to be better defensively, as the 6’8” wing is averaging 14 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists a game.
Should Minnesota be without him, they will look to point guard Nate Mason and power forward Jordan Murphy to continue their impressive play. Mason schooled Jordan Bohannon in their matchup last year as he regularly found himself in the lane on the way to 25 points and 7 assists in the double overtime win at The Barn. Murphy was a nightmare as he tallied 25 points (on 10-13 shooting) and 19 (!!!) rebounds. M&M lead the team in scoring this year at 17.6 (Murphy) and 15.8 (Mason). Murphy is averaging 11.7 rebounds (4.4 offensive) per game.
Outside of Murphy and Coffey, Minnesota aren’t strong down low. They’ve shown a propensity to getting their shots blocked - opponents average close to 5 per game. Mason will pose a threat outside, as he’s shooting over 40% from three. If Jordan Bohannon is able to run him off the line and recover - big if - it’ll be a huge win, as Mason shoots under 40% from inside the arc.
Without Lynch, the Goofers lose their defensive rock and leading shot blocker at 4 a game. In his stead, they play a duo of foul-prone seniors: Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou. Jordan Murphy will also get some time at center, as well.
So where can the Hawkeyes attack to get the win?
Don’t yield the three: Though Minnesota isn’t a great shooting team from deep, the Hawkeyes can’t get complacent. Through 10 games, Iowa has the worst three point defensive percentage in the conference (44.1%).
It is a team-wide effort: close-outs need to be crisp, rotations need to be clean, and off-ball defenders need to be aware. Iowa showed ever-so-small steps towards it against Nebraska to no avail. This is a good opportunity at home to show those steps (and additional practice time FINALLY) are not figments of their imagination.
Keep the pedal to the metal: Throughout the season, Iowa has shown 5-10 minute bursts of greatness followed lots of meh. When they are able to leverage those great minutes to get leads instead of climb out of holes they dig themselves, it’s much more palatable.
This also means crashing the glass - Jordan Murphy cannot have 19 boards again, even if it goes 4 overtimes. The frontline of Tyler Cook and Luka Garza are fantastic hitting the offensive boards. Garza’s offensive rebounding rate is second in conference play while Tyler Cook and Nicholas Baer are not far behind. Speaking of Baer - he’s had an up and down season offensively so when he is able to manufacture points via offensive rebounds, it is a bit of found money.
Find a spark: Isaiah Moss has been the brunt of some criticism and not without reason. With the departure of Peter Jok, he’s found himself struggling to find some consistency this season. Fran McCaffery would do well to run some early plays to get him some open looks and reignite the play he demonstrated against the Gophers last year.
McCaffery also needs to find some steady bench scoring. Iowa’s bench scoring has been much better of late, scoring 21, 18 and 18, against Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Purdue. Before this run, Iowa averaged 12.8 points off the bench since conference play restarted. Cordell Pemsl has been the guy but others need to support him, particularly a guard. If Dom Uhl is going to play, especially as a wing, he needs to contribute offensively.
Iowa faces another test of mental fortitude with the reeling Gophers coming to Carver-Hawkeye. They showed a lot of effort last week, now let’s see some more execution.