It’s been a rough week for the Iowa Hawkeyes. After a hard-fought loss to Penn State in a raucous Palestra, the Hawkeyes lost their best three-point shooter when CJ Fredrick was diagnosed with a stress reaction injuries his foot. The next day, they suffered their first bad loss of the season in one of the worst shooting performances in recent memory at Nebraska.
Tonight, Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes look to right the ship with their first game in Carver since a December 29th win over Kennessaw State and just their third true home game since before Thanksgiving. It will be no easy task as Iowa hosts the #12 Maryland Terrapins.
Maryland enters the game at 13-2 on the year and riding a three game winning streak that includes a beat down of Indiana and victory over #11 Ohio State. Iowa will clearly need to play at a high level to pull off the upset. Here are the keys to tonight’s showdown.
Can Iowa force Maryland to guard the perimeter?
The Hawkeyes shoot an abysmal 12.1% from beyond the arc against Nebraska on Tuesday. That’s the 8th worst shooting performance of the Fran McCaffery era. If Iowa had shot just poorly, they likely leave with a road win in the Big Ten.
Tonight, they face off with a much better defensive team in Maryland. The Terrapins are holding opponents to just 61.3 points per game on the season and rank 7th nationally in KenPom’s adjust defense.
Over those last two wins against Indiana and Ohio State, Maryland allowed just 33.5% shooting from the field and only 20% from deep. After the win over Ohio State, head coach Mark sturgeon was quoted by ESPN as saying, “We won because our defense was just outstanding.”
The Terrapins are substantially better on the defensive side of the ball than Nebraska, but they’re likely to use a similar game plan. Luka Garza remains the Big Ten’s leading scorer, but the double- and triple-teams by the Cornhuskers held him to 16 points on Tuesday. If Iowa has any hope of giving the Peacock room to operate in the post, they have to be able to knock down open shots from deep when they’re available.
Can the Hawkeye defense slow down Anthony Cowan Jr.?
While the Iowa offense struggled against Nebraska, they also gave up 76 points. That just a few short days after allowing Penn State to hang 89 on them. Put simply, without CJ Fredrick, this Iowa offense doesn’t have the firepower to hang with teams scoring at the rate they’ve been giving up.
A big key to holding Maryland under their season average of 75 points a game will be keeping Anthony Cowan Jr. in check. The senior guard leads the Terrapins in scoring at nearly 17 points per game.
Cowan shoots nearly 39% from three and has Jordan Bohannon range. He can also get into the lane and finish in traffic. Iowa will need to play him tight beyond the arc and get good rotations on help defense. That’s been a problem the entirety of Fran’s tenure at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes will likely employ some zone to help keep guys fresh with all the injuries, but Cowan may just shoot them out of it. If so, the Hawkeyes will need freshman Joe Toussaint to utilize his quickness to bother Cowan or perhaps try the length of Connor McCaffery.
Can the Hawkeyes get big nights from guys not named Garza or Wieskamp?
For Iowa to pull off the upset, they clearly need their stars to show up. If Joe Wieskamp shoots 1-10 from three-point range again tonight, Iowa will lose. But that seems unlikely. It seems equally unlikely Maryland (or anyone, for that matter) will be able to keep Luka Garza from getting his. The question is who else will step up for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa had only three players score in the second half against Penn State. They only have seven true scholarship players healthy. They’re going to need significant minutes from all seven of them and someone other than Garza and Wieskamp needs to step up for the Hawkeyes to keep up in what is sure to be a high-scoring game.
Joe Toussaint has shown the ability to get into the lane at will, but his outside shot isn’t respected by opponents. And for good reason - he’s shooting just 25% from beyond the arc. But he’s quick enough to get into the paint regardless of how closely he’s guarded on the outside. Iowa needs him to get into the defense if for no other reason than to draw fouls on big man and leading rebounder Jalen Smith. Getting opposing bigs in foul trouble will lighten the load on Garza and should manufacture points at the free throw line, where Toussaint excels as an 80% shooter.
Beyond Toussaint, the Hawkeyes need something out of Bakari Evelyn and Ryan Kriener. Both have shown flashes, just not on the same night. Kriener caught fire against Kennessaw State in Iowa’s last game at Carver, finish with 20 points on 9-9 shooting. And Evelyn has the hot hand in Chicago against Cincinnati, finishing with 15 points on 3-4 shooting from deep. Now, with the myriad injuries and a top-15 opponent in the house, it’s time for these role players to step into the spotlight.
It will be a tall task against a very good opponent. But Maryland has had their struggles on the road with losses at Penn State and Seton Hall. We know this Iowa team has the heart to pull out some gritty wins, now can they do it when it matters most?