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Iowa-Illinois II: The Illiniing

The Hawkeyes have a quick turnaround before facing their eastern border rival

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Hey hey hey. Let’s do that again.

Roughly 16 hours after walking off the court at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Iowa Hawkeyes (21-7, 14-6) will be BACK to do it again. This time over their vaunted rivals to the east: the Illinois Fighting Illini (21-6, 16-4). Illinois is on absolute fire, with their only loss in their last 13 games coming in a game as physical as it gets at the Michigan State Rocket Spartans.

Unlike Iowa, who had to scratch tooth and nail to pull out their 62-57 win against Wisconsin, the Illini coasted in the biggest margin of the day, a 90-68 win over Rutgers. That didn’t stop Brad Underwood from playing Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, and Kofi Cockburn 89 collective minutes, though!

The wins of the two teams moved them to 3rd & 4th in KenPom in combination with Baylor’s loss to Oklahoma State. Michigan is 2nd. Ohio State is 7th. If I had more time, I’d write a column about how these games could be better than the Final Four in a couple short weeks.

Without further ado, let’s get to the bits.

Three guys

Ayo Dosunmu (G, 6’5”, 200 lbs):

vs. Iowa: 25 points, 11/18 (3/3 from deep), 4 assists, 2 turnovers
since Iowa: 19.1 PPG, 50% (29% from deep), 6.1 APG, 3.9 TPG
last night: 23 points, 8/11 (0/2), 6 assists, 5 turnovers

Dosunmu torched Iowa from deep the first time out, but his 3 threes that game were just the third (and most recent) game where he made 3 or more. Will he be able to keep Iowa’s defense honest with strong shooting again?

Kofi Cockburn (C, 7’0”, 285 lbs):

vs. Iowa: 9 points, 2/7, 10 rebounds (4 offensive)
since Iowa: 17.9 PPG, 63%, 8.9 RPG (3.6 ORPG)
last night: 18 points, 6/10, 12 rebounds (7 offensive)

When these two last faced off, Iowa had another Big Ten caliber big backing up Luka Garza in Jack Nunge. With Keegan Murray as Iowa’s nominal backup center, will Cockburn be able to feast.

Da’Monte Williams (G, 6’3”, 215 lbs):

vs. Iowa: 0 points, 0/1 from deep, 3 rebounds (0 offensive)
since Iowa: 5.5 PPG, 45% from deep, 5.3 RPG (1.2 ORPG)
last night: 9 points, 2/4 from deep, 5 rebounds (1 offensive)

I got too cute with this selection as Illinois’s third guy, though he remains the Illini’s most efficient player. He’s still shooting 54% from deep, buoyed by early season performances.

Three questions

How does Iowa respond? Four of Iowa’s starters played more than 30 minutes, including two kinda-injured guys in Joe Wieskamp (35) and CJ Fredrick (32). It is, frankly, the type of rotation I would expect when Fran is absolutely grinding to win a game - play your best players the most.

Well, that leaves Iowa in a little bit of a sticky wicket with a late bedtime and early COVID-19 testing time, as McCaffery mentioned in his postgame remarks. Fatigue is very likely to set in, especially for Garza who played a game-high 38 minutes.

If the game against Wisconsin wears on Iowa, I suspect we see the rotation extend a smidge to throw another defensive look or two at Illinois. Worth noting: Keegan Murray played a season high 31 minutes in the start against Illinois. His 15 minutes last night may prove valuable if Fran is looking to get a little more rest for some of his starters.

Iowa can’t shoot that poorly again, right? Your guess is as good as mine...but some positive indicators: in each instance where Iowa has shot under 30% from deep, they’ve followed it up with a performance over 35% from deep:

  • v Gonzaga, 18%; v Purdue, 35%
  • v Indiana, 22%; @ Illinois, 40%
  • v Michigan State, 29%, v Ohio State, 44%

Also, four of the six teams playing more than one game in the Big Ten tournament saw their percentages go up in their second game. All told, those teams averaged 31% from deep in those games. That’s an improvement over 10%!

Can the Hawks match last night’s (defensive) intensity? It’s tricky to describe just how great Iowa’s defense was last night but here are some key figures for just how good they were last night.

  • 10 blocks (first time since Peak Uthoff that has happened and a 25% rate)
  • Forced 14 turnovers (22% rate for Wisconsin...well above their average)
  • Allowed 9 offensive rebounds (27% rate) while snagging 12 of their own (32%) with 9 coming in second half

They’ll need to bring the same emphasis in all three areas, if they want to beat Illinois. Not only are they susceptible to turnovers and blocks - both rank in bottom 5 of the conference - but they mitigate that with elite rebounding. Both rates rank in the top 2 of the conference and were on full display last night. Rutgers rebounded just 10% of their misses while Illinois rebounded over 50% of theirs!

The Hawks won a hard fought battle last night which was a monkey off Fran’s back...there’s no denying it. But for as important as yesterday was, it might be even more important for Iowa to get the W today, as it opens the door for a 1 seed.

They may need to lean on depth and certainly can’t win with a shooting performance like yesterday but the gap between these two teams is not that much. It was just 5 points on the road without CJ Fredrick and KenPom has it as a coinflip.

If Iowa can contain Illinois’s stars by maintaining impressive defensive effort and bounce back offensively, the Hawks will put themselves in a position to be on the one-line.