When the #20/20 Iowa Hawkeyes (18-5, 7-5) traveled to Evanston for their first of two games against the Northwestern Wildcats (12-10, 3-8), there were plenty of questions surrounding the team. How much can Luka Garza and Tyler Cook play? Was the win against Nebraska a sign of desperation or something more? Can the Hawkeye defense travel outside of Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
Pretty much all of those questions have been answered in the month since Iowa’s win at Welsh-Ryan. Garza and Cook have asserted themselves as impressive inside forces after getting healthy. Their first Big Ten win was quickly followed by six more. And the defense does get packed sometimes and when it does it’s good enough.
As the great American philosopher, Michael Lee Day said, “two out of three ain’t bad.”
The same can’t really be said of Chris Collins’ Wildcats, as they’ve lost four of the last six since the two teams faced off on January 9th. Their offense is the worst in Big Ten play per 100 possessions according to KenPom (90.4) as well as raw numbers (60 points/game). Their defense ranks better at 5th in both metrics but when you’re giving up 7.6 points more than you can muster, you’re gonna have a bad time.
If there’s anything positive for Northwestern, it’s that Dererk Pardon (14.0 points, 7.8 rebounds) has the type of game which has given Iowa’s interior fits. There’s been a slew of opposing bigs who have made hay against Garza, Cook, and Ryan Kriener, most recently Juwan Morgan who scored 17 points on 9 shots in 22 minutes. Fortunately, foul trouble kept him from having even bigger numbers against the Hawkeyes.
While Pardon found himself in foul trouble against the Hawkeyes throughout much of the second half, he was able to have some success against Iowa with 3/4 shooting inside and 3 offensive boards. The problem? Northwestern could only get him the ball for 5 shots and a trip to the free throw line. As their premier interior scorer - no other NW player comes close to his 63.1% shooting from two - Iowa can focus their efforts on his postups. Northwestern’s inadequate outside shooting - 33.3% and 218th in the country according to Kenpom - gives teams free reign to collapse inside.
The Hawkeyes also limited Vic Law (15.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists) as he had 13 points in the prior game and went 0-5 from three. His three point shooting has remained off the cliff in conference play - 24% vs. 39% in non-con - so the gameplan Iowa employed against Michigan’s Charles Matthews and Indiana’s Romeo Langford is likely to remain in place for Law.
An early three or two could go a long way in getting Fran McCaffery to adjust Iowa’s defense. In addition to Law, Ryan Taylor (11.4 points, 34.7 3P%) and Aaron Falzon (5.1 points, 50.0% 3P%) are a couple guys who have some potency from deep. Falzon was unavailable in the first meeting due to injury.
So, where does that leave Iowa?
In this Mark Emmert article, he expounded on Iowa’s March possibilities. There are some good stuff in it, so I urge you to read it if you haven’t. Yet I can’t in good faith, even as the resident Fran apologist, talk up March possibilities before getting through the next week.
And yet, Iowa’s Final Four goal is tied to a day-to-day mindset:
“““You have to start with the end in mind.”
- Sherman Dillard”
- Jordan Bohannon”
- Mark Emmert
While the next four games are a huge opportunity for Iowa to jump up the standings, games against Northwestern and Rutgers are, in their own way, the riskiest games on Iowa’s schedule. Two losses in the next week would represent a blow to the Iowa’s resume which is largely built on no bad losses. Both teams are riding that Quadrant 2/Quadrant 3 line. It’d be nice to see the loss column stay clean in both Quads.
If March aspirations sharpen Iowa’s focus tonight and Saturday, I’m here for it. If the Hawkeyes falter, it’s fair to say they might be a bit of a distraction.
As alluded above, Iowa had to “one on, one off” Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener in the first matchup between these teams. Garza was a bear down low and got to the free throw line for 11 attempts (making 10). With Cook back in the fold, Iowa has huge opportunity to build on that gameplan, especially considering Northwestern’s strength at defending the perimeter.
The Wildcats have held conference opponents under 30% shooting from three (Iowa went 4/17), and that dedication has meant a higher percentage inside. 51.8% of opponent twos are finding the net, which ranks 11th in conference. In addition, the Wildcats are offering free throws at a ratio of .339 to 1 field goal attempt, also 11th.
After some lackluster games in both areas, Northwestern is a perfect opponent to reassert the will down low.
He remains incredibly feast or famine in his junior year. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Iowa has won plenty of games with a variety of performances from Moss. It seemed like it had really clicked for him through the Minnesota game, where he only had one conference game under 9 points in 8 games.
Yet he’s posted a couple goose eggs in the last two Iowa wins on 11 shots. Against Northwestern he showed some aggression with 12 shots, many of which were in the lane. Iowa can manage around poor offensive performances from him but it would be nice to see him return to the scoring column.