Later today, the #5 Iowa Hawkeyes (10-2, 4-1) will be taking on the #16 Minnesota Golden Gophers (10-3, 3-3). The win on Christmas launched the Goofers into the rankings. Since then, they’ve gone:
- win vs Michigan State (81-56)
- loss at Wisconsin (71-59)
- win vs Ohio State (77-60)
- loss at Michigan (82-57)
So a couple trends seem to be at play with Minnesota: strong home showings (10-0) and spotty road performances (0-3). When you add in the December loss at Illinois, Minnesota is getting outscored by an average margin of over 20 points. Yeash.
With the additional games added to the sample, we’ve seen Minnesota settle into a middle of the road team offensively & defensively, in conference. How could they not with those home/road splits? What is really hurting them defensively is allowing opponents to maximize possessions through low turnover numbers (ex: Iowa had just 7 in 77 possessions) and many offensive rebounds. Both are conference worsts, according to KenPom.
Offensively they’re pretty strong at everything except getting the ball in the basket, with the 13th eFG% in conference-only games. They’ve played strong defensive teams, to be fair, as all five of their non-Iowa opponents are the five teams posting the best defensive efficiency numbers in Big Ten games. However, their road games have seen eFG%’s of 33%, 37%, and 38%. Their worst home eFG% was 46%.
Being self-referential (12/25 preview)
Marcus Carr (G, 6’2”, 195 lbs) - Quote from 12/25 preview which sums him up:
He still poses a tall task for Iowa as he could certainly pull off a poor man’s Jalen Suggs against the Hawkeyes. Carr has shown high upside defensively (4 steals against the Billikens) and from deep (37% shooter on the season) and his assist numbers speak for themselves.
vs. Iowa: 30 points, 9/16 shooting, 8 assists, game-tying 3
since Iowa: 14.5 points/game, 33% shooting, 4.3 assists/game
He’s cooled way off since a hot 2020. We know what he’s capable of because he did it against Iowa, but it’s been two weeks since he has played as well as the defenses have really ramped up.
Liam Robbins (F, 6’10”, 235 lbs) - Quote from 12/25 preview which sums him up:
The former [Drake] Bulldog is an opposing big man who most resembles Garza, himself. Robbins is an inside-out threat (35% from deep, 48% from the field) and currently looks the part in 24 minutes a game, adding 2.4 blocks/game. What’s currently holding him back is fouls. He averages 3.5 a game.
vs. Iowa: 18 points, 5/10 shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks
since Iowa: 15.5 points/game, 45% shooting, 9 rebounds/game, 3 blocks/game, last week’s B1G player of the week
Where Carr has dipped, Robbins has picked up the slack. He played well against Iowa, including the game-sealing 3, but has been much more assertive since they last faced off. He went to the line 17 times against OSU.
Both Gach (G, 6’6”, 185 lbs) - This was the whiff. He’s been totally average against Iowa and since, which means he’s absolutely going to go off.
vs. Iowa: 7 points, 2/8 shooting, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
since Iowa: 6.8 points/game, 36% shooting
Will someone get loose? Iowa has done a much better job defensively since the first time these two faced off from both a raw numbers & per possession basis. There is one exception...three point shooting defense. Since allowing 39.5% against Minnesota, Iowa’s allowed 44%, 39%, and 34% shooting from deep in each of their last three games. The Hawks have mitigated that through simply better offense, but the concerns linger, especially considering Brandon Johnson’s 8/9 career-high performance still weighs heavy, even if it didn’t carry into his next games.
Minnesota is a capable team from deep and has plenty of guys - Carr, Johnson, Gach, and even Gabe Kalscheur - who could take advantage of lackadaisical defense, especially around the perimeter.
How much will
the updated rotation Keegan Murray impact the game? In an overtime game, Keegan Murray played a grand total of 8 minutes. Since then, he’s played 20+ in Iowa’s three wins. Coincidence, I think not.
Now, in the loss to Minnesota, he did have a couple turnovers - his worst tally of his short career - but the positives Murray has built are significant. 8 steals and 5 blocks equate to the best steal percentage and 5th best block percentage among Big Ten players in conference games. He is rebounding both ends of the floor at a top-25 rate among the same sample. All he does is dunk and take wide open threes so his 71% shooting percentage from 2 is 3rd in conference.
As a bench player, Murray also provides the stick for Iowa’s starters. His versatility allows Fran to substitute him in for virtually anybody and impact the game.
Where will Iowa get shooting from? CJ Fredrick’s 5/6 shooting from deep buoyed Iowa’s 10/30 performance on Christmas. Since then, he’s gone just 4/10. Joe Wieskamp has been in a funk from 3, but solid otherwise. The Hawks found gold in College Park with 5 from the McCafferies & Nunge.
But the story of the last three games has been Jordan Bohannon. It was against Minnesota where the Joe Toussaint v. Bohannon debate reached a fever pitch and why wouldn’t it, considering the ball Bo was playing. Since then, a talk with Fran has the fifth-year PG playing arguably the best basketball of his career.
If he can keep it going, his play is reason to believe Iowa can go further than ever. But there will be off nights and times when he can’t carry the load from three. That’s where everyone else comes into play.
The Hawks have plenty of motivation this afternoon but will need to back up their bark with a bite. There are a dozen “types” of games a Big Ten title contender must win and this is one: Iowa simply can’t get swept.
Not only is the win imperative for the look and feel of a title contender, it’s also necessary to keep pace as there are three other teams with one or less loss so far this season. Let’s hope it stays that way...at least until Illinois plays later tonight.