Iowa has not played in eight days. The Hawks’ last game was a resounding win against Southeastern Louisiana, 93-62. The Hawkeyes (9-3) take on Rob Jeter’s Western Illinois (10-3) team tonight at 7pm. Iowa will face a good team that has already beaten one Big Ten team (ok, it was just Nebraska, but still) this season.
The game will have an Iowa flavor to it as Coach Jeter’s dad Bob starred for the Hawkeyes on the gridiron, and Western Illinois’ top two scorers hail from the Hawkeye state. Will Carius (17.8 ppg) is from Bettendorf, and Trenton Massner (15.9 ppg) is from Wapello. Oftentimes these reunions result in a little extra something that will raise the level of play for the entire Leathernecks team. Carius and Massner are both excellent from 3 point range, hitting on 43% and 42% respectively. Carius made his division one debut last year against the Hawkeyes, scoring 10 points. After the two Iowans, Western Illinois remains balanced in scoring with Colton Sandage (15.0 ppg), Luka Barisic (12.3 ppg), and Tamell Pearson (8.8 ppg). Western Illinois is outrebounding its opponents by five boards a game. Barisic and Pearson are both 6’10”. The Leathernecks can score the basketball. They come in averaging 81.8 points per game.
As the Hawkeyes play their final nonconference game of the year before heading into the nightly battles in the Big Ten, Coach Fran McCaffery will try to make any final tweaks to his lineup/rotations. Scoring points has never been an issue for a McCaffery-coached team. Iowa comes in averaging 87.6 points per game. The Hawks rank third nationally behind just Arizona and Cornell. Last year the Hawkeyes averaged 83.7 points a game with two NBA players on the roster in Luka Garza and Joe Weiskamp. Defense has been the Achilles heel for the Hawkeyes under Coach McCaffery. Last season the Hawks allowed 72.7 ppg. So far this season the Hawkeyes are allowing 70.1 ppg. During the B1G season, both of the offensive and defensive numbers will go down based on familiarity of opponents and physical Big Ten play. Iowa still has times when it looks like defense is optional. It’s tough to get past a coach’s philosophy of “Let’s outscore them”, but the Hawkeyes have put together some excellent defensive possessions this season, especially when applying 3⁄4 court pressure. Luka Garza is the GOAT, but he had some defensive shortcomings. Filip Rebraca has done a nice job of coming in and being an active defender with his feet. So much of defense is playing defense before your man catches the ball. Also, I’m a very big fan of Tony Perkins and Ahron Ulis, especially on the defensive end. Much is said and written about Keegan Murray, but Keegan and Kris Murray provide excellent length and instincts on the defensive end. Kenyon Murray was one of the best defensive Hawkeyes over the last 40 years. The apples didn’t fall far from the tree. Jordan Bohannon appears to be a healthier, more-willing defender this year as well. Patrick McCaffery will play in The League when his shot becomes more consistent. He has tremendous length to go along with an attacking mentality and ability to run the court.
Iowa will have to find ways to rebound the basketball. That is the first, second, and fifteenth thing that will determine how successful this season will be. Kris Murray has done a nice job coming off the bench and grabbing boards (5.1). Ahron Ulis can rebound from the guard position. The Hawks won’t be able to play half court offense against Big Ten teams with big, dominant posts. In the half court setting Iowa will need to apply great ball pressure on the perimeter but not allow straight-line drives, work tirelessly to not allow the ball to get into the post, and if entered, dig down with an extra defender to get the ball out of there. The trouble with that is this allows open looks from three. Not a good combination. The solution more than likely will be the Hawkeyes should incorporate more Perkins, Ulis, and Kris Murray while playing trapping/pressing defense. That should be our bread and butter going forward. Fran has the opportunity to re-invent himself by going with a more defensive-minded approach. Fran teams will always be able to score points. If the Hawkeyes can get stops, this team can make the NCAA tournament despite losing two NBA players. As always, Go Hawks!
Opponent: Western Illinois Leathernecks
Betting Lines: Iowa -18.5 //O/U 160. (DraftKings)
Game Time: 7:01 PM CST // Wednesday, December 29, 2021
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena // Iowa City, IA (Tickets)
TV: BTN+ (Scott Sudikoff and everyone’s favorite Jess Settles)
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network