The Iowa men’s basketball team has a chance to amass some momentum following an exciting 67-49 win over No. 12 Maryland on Friday night in the form of a road trip to Evanston this evening.
Northwestern shares a cell with Ohio State in the basement of the Big Ten standings right now; each team has just one win in the conference—with the Wildcats gritting out their first B1G W on Friday night in a 62-57 win over a Nebraska team that downed Iowa earlier in the week.
Northwestern owns a 6-9 record overall, and was riding a five-game losing streak before the win over Nebraska. The Wildcats are led by a pair of unknown faces for Hawkeye fans, with freshmen point guard Boo Buie and fellow greenhorn Matt Kopp averaging about 34 points a game combined.
Buie has missed the past two games due to injury, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be in action tonight; he and Anthony Gaines have each missed all of January, leveling the playing field against the most injured Iowa basketball team of all time.
The obvious thing to watch here is how Fran tinkers with his lineup — does Joe Toussaint start at point guard after Bakari Evelyn replaced him there in the second half of the Maryland game? Do we start to see Riley Till over Cordell Pemsl off the bench? And how Iowa builds on its win over an objectively team, just three days after losing to Nebraska, an objectively bad team.
It’d be nice if Northwestern can shoot 18% from range like Maryland did, but I’d feel better if the Hawkeyes just went out and took this one with some heavy doses of strong Luka Garza and silky Joe Wieskamp. It seems like everyone else on the Iowa roster is figuring out its role as Fran McCaffery deals with replacing three starters, and Iowa can’t really afford to spend more time with growing pains with a roster that’s not getting any healthier during a season that’s not getting any younger.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Chris Collins and the Wildcats deal with Garza; Miller Kopp and Pete Nance are the two most likely candidates be on Garza duty, and I don’t think either of them will have much luck in corralling the peacock.
I’ll be most interested in watching how Joe Wieskamp is used based on what the Northwestern defense is giving Garza. If he can nail 5 from deep again, that’ll relieve some pressure in the paint and give Iowa’s offense the wiggle room it lacked in the earlier loss to Nebraska where the Hawkeyes shot 12 percent from deep.
Even with the injuries to the Iowa roster, every game seems winnable in the league this year. Northwestern is always winnable, especially in the high school gym it calls home. While it’d be Supremely Iowa to lose after beating the No. 12 team in the country, I think the kids will pull it off in Carver East.