After another midweek home victory, the Iowa Hawkeyes (12-12, 3-8) hit the road for a game against the Penn State Nittany Lions (15-9, 5-6). The Hawkeyes faced this squad over two months ago during the early December conference games in a 77-73 loss which they never led.
In retrospect, the game against PSU was a foreshadowing of Iowa’s many struggles they’ve faced so far this season: early deficits (Penn State opened on a 14-4 run), hot opponent shooting (Tony Carr and Shep Garner each shot 4-6 from deep), limited inside presence (Mike Watkins went 9-13), and an inability to climb out of the hole they placed themselves (Iowa only closed the difference to two points with 1:11 remaining in the game).
Since then, Penn State has been an up-and-down bunch with wins against two top-four conference opponents (OSU and Nebraska) and multiple losses against the conference’s bottom half (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern).
The key cog for them remains Tony Carr, who currently leads the Big Ten in scoring at 19.6 points per game. He’ll remain a handful for Jordan Bohannon and his recently improved defense. To Iowa’s credit, they forced him into 1-9 from inside the arc earlier, which is an indicator of his overall poor midrange shooting (39.8% from two).
He is joined in double-digit scoring by all four of Penn State’s most recent - and prolific - starters: Lamar Stevens (15.3), Mike Watkins (12.9), Josh Reaves (10.7), and Shep Garner (10.2). Garner is the three point specialist of the bunch and the other three will force the action around the hoop. Watkins, specifically, is impressive in his ability to rebound and draw fouls. Luka Garza continues to have his hands full.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions are among the worst in the conference at three-point defense and allow 36.1% percentage from behind the arc. They are also good at blocking shots, as they’ll turn back 13.7% of shots. It comes with a downside as they’ll often send opponents to the line.
What can’t the Hawkeyes forget to pack on the long flight to State College?
Three-point shooting: We know Jordan Bohannon is going to be ready to go, as he’s made 5 threes or more in 5 straight road games. Who is going to be the man sinking them besides him?
Isaiah Moss has been so hot and cold he’d make Katy Perry blush but the Hawkeyes need performances like the one he had against Minnesota. He was rearing to go, too, as he showed some aggression on his second foul which had him riding pine (and Fran playing the lineup of Dailey-Uhl-Nunge-Wagner-Pemsl). He channeled that into an impressive second half of 3-4 shooting from deep en route to 13 points.
If you get the 5 from Bohannon and another couple from Moss, Nicholas Baer, Luka Garza, or Jack Nunge need to combine for a couple more to stretch the defense inside for Tyler to cook.
Rebounding! It’s been a rough couple of games rebounding-wise as Iowa has allowed Nebraska and Jordan Murphy to have their way inside. Mike Watkins represents an opportunity to turn a recent weakness back into a strength. Penn State doesn’t do much offensive rebounding other than him, so he’s the priority one when a shot goes into the air.
Offensively, Luka Garza (and Tyler Cook) need to stay out of foul trouble so they can continue their strong offensive rebounding in conference. Garza is second in conference-only ORB% and he’s joined by Cook (and Baer!) in the top 11. Baer has been doing a better job of finding those garbage man points and will likely have a size advantage as the Nittany Lions often play three guards.
Tight rotation: It’s been addition by subtraction since the concussions to Brady Ellingson and Ryan Kriener as their absences have opened the door for guys to improve within their roles. Nunge has looked good as he hasn’t played as much wing as normal. Cordell Pemsl is really finding his way as the bench scorer. Even Ahmad Wagner has been more assertive in his limited minutes as the 9th man.
If and when the two are able to return, Fran McCaffery needs to do his best to limit their minutes to an as-needed basis. Basically, if Dom Uhl or Nicholas Baer are set to play the 2, go ahead and get Brady in instead. If foul trouble decimates the front line, give Kriener some run (or go small if he’s feeling frisky!).
There are only 40 minutes in a game and the shorter rotation has allowed the lineups on the court to build chemistry.
It’s the first of four chances for Iowa to rectify a poor performance against an earlier opponent. Let’s hope Iowa can go into Happy Valley and build on their strong play till the season’s end.