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#18 Hawkeyes head to #23 Illinois for Big Ten finale

Iowa’s hopes for a double-bye hinge on a win against the Illini

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NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The #18 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-10, 11-8) look to bounce back from another dispiriting loss to the Purdue Boilermakers by heading 250 miles southeast to face the #23 Illinois Fighting Illini (20-10, 12-7) coming off their own frustrating loss. This one is for all the marbles, as both Illinois and the Hawks control their own destiny for the fourth double-bye in the Big Ten tournament.

In the first matchup between these two, Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, and CJ Fredrick combined for 61 of the 72 points (all scored by starters) as the Illinois big men were largely neutralized by Iowa’s four-guard lineup, though they had a decided rebounding edge, as they snagged 37% of their misses.

Since the Hawkeye win, both teams have gone an even 4-4, albeit in different ways. Iowa has alternated losses and wins, save back-to-back victories over Minnesota and Ohio State. Illinois went on a four-game skid, including the Iowa game, before four straight wins and a loss to the aforementioned Buckeyes.

Ayo Dosunmu remains the biggest perimeter threat for the Orange Krush, averaging 16.4 points on 48% shooting. After missing the Penn State game, he’s been on a bit of a tear, upping his scoring to 20.2 points per game, including 65% from inside the arc. Two weaknesses in his game are turnovers (2.6 a game) and three-point shooting. The last game he made more than one from deep was against Michigan on January 25th. So... he’s due.

Kofi Cockburn (pronounced Coburn) is the main cog down low, as he has largely supplanted Giorgi Bezhanishvili’s presence in the paint. The Jamaican freshman had an underwhelming performance against the Hawks but has averaged double-digit points since that game. It’ll be imperative Luka Garza doesn’t find himself in foul trouble, as he draws over six fouls a game and shoots .58 free throws for every shot attempt.

Andres Feliz, an x-factor disguised as a glue guy, is their third leading scorer and went off against Iowa for 17 points in one of three conference games where he’s hit more than one three. After coming off the bench throughout much of the Big Ten season, he’s slid into the starting lineup over the last six games.

Can the Illini make shots?

Illinois enters this game as the worst shooting team in the Big Ten by making 29.4% of their attempts from deep. This means it’ll be a heavy dose of zone from the Hawkeye defense as Iowa looks to collapse passing angles inside and driving lanes into the paint. The 36.4% they shot in Carver-Hawkeye Arena is essential the Mendoza line for them:

  • 8-0 when shooting over
  • 12-10 when shooting at or below

If there’s one guy Iowa absolutely needs to be cognizant of from behind the arc, it’s Alan Griffin, their only 40+% shooter from deep. Trent Frazier is a capable shooter experiencing a down year. You might remmber him from his 7/11 game in January 2018.

Oh brother, where art Joe?

Come on Joe! We’re all cheering for you. There’s no one who is cheering for his slump of all slumps. It’s really pretty inexplicable:

  • First 13 B1G games: 18.0 points per game, 46% shooting, 40% from 3
  • Last 6 B1G games: 9.7 points per game, 31% shooting, 14% from 3

The numbers on the first line are that of an all-Big Ten player. They’re that good, as just Garza, Daniel Oturu, and Cassius Winston are averaging that many this year. The second line are not that.

Sunday would be a great time for Joe Wieskamp to show he has it back: he’s averaged 18.3 points in three matchups against Illinois.

Will Iowa’s rebounding woes linger?

The four guard lineup is not rolled out because it is going to keep an opponent off of the glass. If Iowa is making shots and keeping opponents out of the paint with limited defensive rotations, it’s more than manageable and has served Iowa quite well for much of the season.

But it definitely has its downside and when shots aren’t falling or the defense is jumbled, the cracks in Iowa’s rebounding capabilities show up. In three of their last four losses, opponents have gathered over 40% of their misses. The fourth loss? Against Michigan State where Iowa held them to a tight 22.6% as second chance points were at a premium for the Spartans.

Simply put, Iowa is not good enough defensively to continue giving opponents second and third cracks at making a basket.

With a single regular season game, a top four finish in conference is in play. Having a chance is more than many expected coming into the season and while Iowa doesn’t need to play perfect to get the win, they can’t play dumb.

And if Luka Garza has his way, Iowa won’t get outhustled either. As much as anything, that single change can put Iowa into the double-bye of the conference tournament.