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Hawkeyes and Panthers Square off in Final Hy-Vee Classic

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It’s A.J. Green and other guys for UNI!

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

After a hopefully successful week of finals for the #21/22 Iowa Hawkeyes (7-2), they return to the hardwood to face a Northern Iowa Panthers (4-5) squad struggling to find their footing in this young season in the last Hy-Vee Classic at Wells Fargo Arena.

Half of the Panthers’ wins have come against sub-Division 1 opponents as they opened with a 97-51 schellacking of Bemidji State and most recently came from behind against Dubuque, 75-67. Their other wins include Eastern Kentucky and Old Dominion as part of the Paradise Jam. ODU is their best win, as they rank 87th according to KenPom. Unfortunately, they lost to the Monarchs just four days later when they faced them in Norfolk, VA. Away losses to UT-Arlington and Utah State and neutral losses to Penn (Paradise Jam) and South Dakota State (Minneapolis) round out their record.

UNI highlights are, frankly, hard to come by in the young season but one can surmise it has been tough sledding for their offense so far. With an eFG% of just 45.5% according to KenPom, they rank 302nd as of this writing. They’re not helping themselves with a offensive rebounding rate of just 23% either, as that ranks below 300 as well. Adding back in the non-D1 games (KenPom does not take them into account) only improves their eFG% 47.1% and actually sees their ORB% dip to 22.6%.

While the offensive rebounding is in line with what one would expect from a Ben Jacobson squad as he puts a premium on stopping transition baskets, their shotmaking has really dipped in recent years.

All of this might stem from who is manning the offense: A.J. Green. The freshman point guard comes to (technically stays in) Cedar Falls as the top prospect of the state. At 6’4”, 175, he is the leading scorer for the Panthers with 15.8 points a game. While he shoots 41.7% from the field, it’s driven by his high rate of three pointers: 7 out of his 13 shots are from deep and he is hitting them at about 34%. All said, the 32% of his team’s shots when he is on the floor ranks in the top 50 according to KenPom.

With Green leading the pack, scoring-wise, UNI’s staring lineup round out the remaining high-scorers, though none average over 10 PPG. Particularly of note is Luke McDonnell. He played just 4 minutes the last time these teams faced off but has flashed potential as a stretch five by hitting 5/9 threes on the season. He’s scored in double figures five times and has drawn about five fouls per 40 minutes which has resulted in a free throw rate of .61 free throw attempts to field goal attempts.

Wyatt Lohaus hasn’t yet found his stroke from deep but he proved to be a capable shooter last year at 44%. Though he’s hitting just 28% of his shots, he could get hot to provide the Panthers secondary offense. Isaiah Brown and Trae Berhow round out the starting lineup.

Get it to the Big Dog(s) Let (Th)em Eat

Luke McDonnell is 6’9”, 212. Isaiah Brown is 6’7”, 180. It isn’t rocket science or even an advanced basketball scheme to get the ball to Luka Garza and Tyler Cook, who might look laughably bigger against the UNI frontline.

That being said, opponents have made it difficult for Iowa big men to get the ball and put it through the hoop. Cook’s turnover rate is just over 20% and Iowa has been hesitant in throwing the ball his way, making it easy for undersized teams like Iowa State or Pittsburgh to overwhelm the entry pass.

Just because the mismatch is obvious doesn’t mean Iowa can’t be patient. I’d like to see them run more sets to get even better passing lanes and looks inside the paint. If nothing else, Iowa should be able to take advantage of UNI’s penchant for fouling.

Dull the Point of the Spear

While Green is showing to be more of a shoot first point guard, keeping him on the perimeter will make Iowa’s defense look much better. They continue to break down at the second level and force unnecessary rotations. Overall, they’ve been better in managing these rotations, as uncontested threes are much harder for opponents to come by than last year.

However, you never know what a split second might mean on those rotations. If UNI gets a couple open threes early, it could make this game a lot closer than it’s projected to be.

Bueller-hannon?

Jordan Bohannon has largely been absent from this offense most of the season as his best game from behind the arc is... 3/8 against Wisconsin? 3/6 against Green Bay? It’s clear he’s working through something so it’d be tremendous to see him figure it out in Des Moines with plenty of runway to the conference season.

Iowa should be able to run away with this game but the familiarity from these players - many came through the Barnstormers - could make it closer than expected. If the Panthers catch fire, it could prove to be a tough game. If not, it’s smooth sailing for Iowa until conference season restarts