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Iowa Hoops: #3 Hawkeyes look to bookend weekend with wins, host Northern Illinois

Luka Garza and company return to the hardwood against the Huskies

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The #3 Iowa Hawkeyes (5-0) look to close out an impressive week which saw them take down North Carolina and Iowa State against the Northern Illinois Huskies (0-4). These two last faced off in 2017, where the Hawks led wire-to-wire for a 98-75 win in an otherwise disappointing season.

Iowa will look to do the same this afternoon and still have the leading scorer from the previous showdown: Luka Garza. The big man came off the bench to go 8/8 from the field and score 25 points in just 16 minutes of play.

Since then the Huskies have been expectedly MAC-y and finished atop their division before their conference tournament was cancelled last year. Their do-it-all point guard, Eugene German, graduated and they have been searching to replace his team-leading minutes (32.8), points (20.5), and assists (2.6).

Mark Montgomery is 10th season as their head coach, with last year’s 11-7 conference record being the best. He’s got them on an upward trend, prior to the beginning of this season as he took over a program which operated in the high 200s of KenPom (where they now reside). They finished above 250 each of the last seven seasons, included four in the 100s. They’re the kind of team Iowa should schedule more vs. the 300-level schools.

Their ohfer start includes losses to Illinois Chicago, SIU Edwardsville, Pittsburgh, and Ball State.

Three Guys

Tyler Cochran (G, 6’2”, 220 lbs): The sophomore bowling ball is NIU’s leading scorer with 14 PPG and operates primarily within the three-point line (50%). He does a good job creating space against larger defenders and finishes well with both hands in the paint.

Note: the Huskies play on a genuinely horrible court, though I respect the creativity

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Trendon Hankerson (G, 6’2”, 185 lbs): Hankerson is their best three-point shooter, making 40% of his attempts this year and 42% last year. He averages 13.3 points and also serves as the Huskies point guard at times, according to KenPom’s algorithm.

Adong Makuoi (C, 6’9”, 220 lbs): Northern Illinois tallest starter. He operates primarily in the paint and is a foul machine as he’s been called for 8.1 fouls/40 minutes and ending the game twice on the bench with five fouls. He’s done a solid job getting to the free throw line himself where he’s an 83% shooter, and is averaging 6 points and 3.3 rebounds.

Three questions

How does Luka Garza follow that up? I’d say there’s no way for him to match his outburst from the Cyclones this afternoon but he literally made every single one of his shots the last time these two met. Perhaps the most important thing for Garza to do is play clean basketball which does not force him to the bench with foul trouble.

Maybe he only plays 16 minutes, but as a result of Fran rotating bigs as planned and getting reserves plenty of run in a blowout.

Does the defense look good enough for long enough stretches? Iowa does not need to have a great defense to do well, that’s just how good the offense is. The Hawks have held each of their first four opponents below that margin (when rounding to a single decimal point) but did see it slip a smidge against Iowa State.

  • Last year, Iowa was 17-0 when holding opponents to 1.0 or less PPP, according to KenPom and 3-11 when they didn’t.
  • 2018-19? 15-2 with opponents under 1.0 & 8-10 when they were over.
  • 2017-18? 8-1 & 6-18

Iowa is not going to be a team which simultaneously operates an elite offense (currently #1 in KenPom) with an elite defense. They just do not have the personnel to be suffocating in that way, which would juice their advanced metrics in that department. But they do have the right pieces to amp up pressure - Joe Toussaint, Keegan Murray, & Pat McCaffery - as defensively-oriented players within an elite offensive operation.

Seeing better performance on that side of the floor will ease some concerns as Iowa is set to face Gonzaga 12/19.

When does Fran McCaffery dive into the “deep bench?” One consistent issue fans have taken with McCaffery is his willingness to play a ton of players. So far throughout this season, he’s largely resisted that urge and leaned on nine players which compromise of a clear starting five, backups at key positions (PG & C), and versatile wings.

Yet he has shown a willingness to go beyond that if Iowa puts enough distance early as Ahron Ulis received first half minutes against Southern.

Yes, this question is asking how quickly Iowa can build a convincing lead. Probably better than “when does Iowa hit the over?”