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Hawkeyes vs. Penn State in Philly

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Iowa heads to an all-time arena to face the Nittany Lions

NCAA Basketball: Kennesaw State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In the return of conference play the #23 Iowa Hawkeyes (10-3, 1-1) will face off against the #21 Penn State Nittany Lions (11-2, 1-1) in front of a capacity crowd (8,900 people) at The Palestra in Philadelphia. There’s plenty of history being renewed here: game notes share that it’s Iowa’s first time at the historic venue since 1961, Fran McCaffery’s return to his old stomping grounds where he played a couple dozen games (and watched countless more), and the first ranked matchup between the two teams since 1997.

Penn State’s 2019 is highlighted by an upset win over Maryland, 76-69, as well as victories over Syracuse, Georgetown, Alabama, and Yale - all ranked 48 to 68 according to KenPom. Their losses are to Ohio State and Mississippi, both away from home. All told, it accounts for a 120-ish schedule via KenPom; Iowa is top 40.

It is Pat Chambers’s ninth season in State College. He has zero wins in the NCAA tournament because they have been to the NCAA tournament zero times. They won the NIT in 2018, though.

Three Guys

  • Mike Watkins: After sideways sophomore and junior years, Watkins has played out of his mind in his senior year. He’s averaging 11.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and, most impressively, 3.5 blocks a game. He’s tallied the most KenPom MVPs for PSU and has posted wild stat lines like 9/10 shooting, or 11 offensive rebounds, or 8 blocked shots.
  • Lamar Stevens: Though the fellow senior has seen his usage and minutes decrease slightly and is now tallying his most efficient season in reduced minutes. He has seen a decrease in points from 19.9 to 16.4. The three-point shot remains his biggest weakness, as he’s shooting 25% on the season.
  • Myreon Jones: The sophomore guard is the Nittany Lions’ best three-point shooter at 42% from deep on almost 6 attempts a game. In addition to his 14.6 points/game, he’s proven to be a capable ball-handler, with a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio.

Three Questions

  • Will Luka Garza keep it going? At 21.6 points/game, The Peacock is leading the Big Ten in scoring by nearly 3 points. His efficiency all over the court is about to be tested big time against Watkins, who is blocking 15.7% of opponent 2-pointers while he’s on the floor. Whomever succeeds down low is likely to be the guy who gets the other into foul trouble. With Garza drawing 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes to Watkins’s 4.4, he’ll have the advantage there. One way he’s been exceptional is offensive rebounds (55th in the country in offensive rebound rate) and there will be plenty of opportunities as PSU has allowed 13 opposing players to get 3+ offensive boards per game.
  • Can Lamar Stevens have another inefficient game against Iowa? In four games against the Hawks, Stevens has tallied 8, 9, 17, & 22 points. The wins? Games in which he’s scored 17 and 22 points. A volume shooter, he’s never once exceeded 50%, but the games he’s shot in the 40s have been the wins, including the game he made his only 2 threes against Iowa. With Joe Wieskamp and Connor McCaffery, Iowa will match up two capable defenders on Stevens but he’ll have 2-3 inches and 15-20 pounds on each guy, so look for him to attack them in the paint.

Which Joe Toussaint will show up? After Toussaint’s topsy turvy game against Cincinnati, he came out on a mission against Kennesaw State, tallying 7 assists and 5 steals to just 2 turnovers. As Iowa’s most volatile starter, it’s incumbent he has more games like those against KSU to help drive Iowa forward. His defense is going to be a constant, but if his offense can be a net neutral, he is going to be a major x-factor in Iowa’s season going forward.