We’re here. In a season filled with its share of both ups and downs, the finish line is within sight. To be clear, the #18 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-9, 11-7) have experienced far more highs - Luka Garza’s all-time campaign, unexpected stability at guard, 20 wins for the 6th time in Fran McCaffery’s tenure - than lows - injuries, injuries, and weird blowout losses - and have an opportunity to close out the home season on a very high note.
With a win against the Purdue Boilermakers (15-14, 8-10), Iowa would be the only Big Ten squad to finish out the conference season undefeated at home. The only blemish for the Carver-Hawkeye slate writ large is the early season loss to a “we thought they were going to be good!” DePaul team.
It won’t be an easy task, as Iowa faces a desperate Boiler squad. With two wins, it would give them a .500 record in the nation’s toughest conference and make it difficult for the Selection Committee to keep them out of the tournament. The Hawks have their share of motivation after losing by approximately one million points to these guys about a month ago.
Purdue has had a poop sandwich in the six games since, with wins against Indiana bookending losses to Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan. They’ve averaged 64.5 points in those contests on 41.0% shooting and 27.6% from deep.
Sophomores Trevion Williams and Eric Hunter, Jr. are their only double-digit scorers at 11.7 & 10.2 points, respectively, with grad transfer Jahaad Proctor right behind at 9.2.
Through a combination of pace (they are the conference’s slowest team in Big Ten play) and intensity, opponents average just 62.2 points/game (16th in the nation). Matt Painter’s squad has allowed opponents over 80 points just twice this season, and one of those games required two overtimes.
With it all on the line, Iowa will get their best shot.
Can Iowa match Purdue’s intensity?
Throughout much of the last month, Iowa has played with an intensity misaligned with the popular “February Fade” narrative. While they’ve had times where the “Fade” has poked through, the lazy play has largely confined itself to the state of Indiana.
It’s likely that we see seniors Ryan Kriener and Bakari Evelyn get the start for freshmen Joe Toussaint and CJ Fredrick, if Fran McCaffery’s past tradition holds, and will certainly have their share of motivation: Kriener playing in front of a busload of Spirit Lakeans, while Evelyn looks to continue the best play of his short Hawkeye career.
As a team, Iowa will need to counteract the poor rebounding they displayed in the early parts of the first matchup between these teams. Purdue missed just 25 shots, but they rebounded an astounding 40% (10) of them. Iowa cannot hope to win with those types of numbers. With a bigger lineup, you’d expect the rebounding to ... rebound.
Will Luka Garza close out the season in style?
The junior has turned the National Player of the Year race into a back-and-forth affair with Obi Toppen, as the Dayton Flyer now leads the betting markets. Perhaps more impressive, Garza has found himself just 13 points behind John Johnson’s 699-point 1970 campaign, an Iowa Hawkeye record. Considering The Peacock has scored less than 14 points just twice this season (v. Cincinnati and SDSU), the chances are pretty pretty pretty good that he will have Iowa [men’s] basketball’s first 700 point season.
Yet Iowa can ill afford another marginally inefficient game out of Garza, as he’s shot under 40% against States Michigan and Penn. Finishing out strong at Carver, especially with a win, will go far in closing the gap between himself and Toppen.
When is Connor McCaffery going to turn the ball over?
To quote the great Jon Rothstein, Connor is the mortar which holds the bricks together. He’s been that good amid a turbulent season with Iowa’s backcourt: losing Jordan Bohannon, bringing Toussaint and Evelyn up to speed, managing inconsistency from Joe Wieskamp (spotty play) and CJ Fredrick (injury). McCaffery has been Iowa’s rock, especially of late:
Connor McCaffery has registered 22 assists & only one turnover over the last four games (140 minutes). Over the last eight games, he is boasting a 9.25 assist-to-turnover ratio (37 assists; four turnovers in a combined 265 minutes). #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/ME8hLJe1H1— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) February 29, 2020
Purdue poses their share of challenges as a defensive front. Though they don’t necessarily have the depth inside to deter Garza, they have a bevy of guards who can harass Iowa’s perimeter and possess the third highest steal rate in B1G play.
He’s shown solid play against the other top teams in the metric (Nebraska and Penn State). In 148 minutes (5 games), he’s got just one turnover against all three.