The #5 Iowa Hawkeyes (18-7, 12-6) enter the week needing, most simply, two wins to receive the 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. There are other scenarios, of course, but does it make sense to rely on Indiana and Illinois to win games on Saturday?
So the path to the double-bye starts tonight with the surging Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-17, 3-14) who have played 12 games over the last 26 days, including eight with one or less days rest. Could the conference have set up Michigan with a similar schedule to close the season? Probably but that’s neither here nor there.
They’ve won their last two games (home against Minnesota & Rutgers), took Illinois to overtime, and beat Penn State in a squeaker. Other than that, nine of their 14 losses have come by double digits. Throughout the season, their KenPom ranking has hovered somewhere between 104 and 130 before the 21-point win against the Scarlet Knights launched them into double digits at 91.
Of note, their leading scorer Teddy Allen left the program less than a week after scoring 41 points in their loss to Penn State. Some of it is attributable to injury and he will graduate in the spring. So that makes this section interesting.
Trey McGowans (G, 6’4”, 191 lbs): The junior is Nebraska’s now-leading scorer at 10.8 points/game and 2.3 assists/game. Iowa fans may remember him from the Hawks’ game against Pittsburgh in 2019 when he scored 10 points. He shoots 38% from deep.
Dalano Banton (G, 6’9”, 204 lbs): Banton serves a bit as a poor man’s Franz Wagner as a long, tall ballhandler and leads the Huskers in assists at 4.1 a game to go along with 9.8 points. What holds him back is a turnover rate of 21.2% (2.5/game) and suspect shooting from deep (24.6%), though he has had strong games from behind the arc.
Derrick Walker (F, 6’8”, 232 lbs): The Tennessee transfer sat out the first 16 games of the season due to violations which occurred at his prior stop. Since becoming available, he’s started every game for Fred Hoiberg and provided 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds/game. Perhaps most importantly as the first guy going against Luka Garza: he averages 6.2 fouls/40 minutes. In three minutes against Iowa off the bench in the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, he had two fouls.
Can Iowa carry over their rebounding dominance from Ohio State? The Hawks allowed just two offensive rebounds against the Buckeyes, a season low. It was an outlier as Iowa has yielded double digit offensive boards in seven of their eight prior games. Nebraska, though, might be a team to continue that advantage as they rebound just 23.3% of their misses (bottom 60 in the country).
This will be one area which demonstrates if Iowa is truly locked in without looking ahead, given the sheer effort & focus required to shut down second chances.
Can the Hawks crack Nebraska’s perimeter defense? Fred Hoiberg...defense? That’s been the Huskers calling card this season and the biggest piece of it is incredible three-point defense, allowing just 30.1% in Big Ten play (best in the conference). The also yield the most three pointers, with 45.9% of opponent attempts coming from deep. Perhaps most impressive is Nebraska hasn’t yielded a team to shoot over 40% from deep since December 11th against Creighton.
Iowa has hit that mark in 14 of their 25 games and average over 40% on the season. If there’s a team capable of taking the shots Nebraska is willing to give, it’s the Hawks.
A stat I threw away from yesterday’s column was this iteration of the Hawkeyes have three of Iowa’s best 12 shooters from deep since the 1992-93 season (> 45% on more than 30 attempts). The only other group of Hawks to have as many as 2021 was the 1998 team, though the volume this team shoots is higher than that Dean Oliver & JR Koch’s combined 70 attempts that season. (Garza has 77 himself)
Does Iowa get the same production off the bench? With Jack Nunge out the rest of the season, the Hawkeye bench was reduced to three players against Ohio State, yet they still out produced them with 15 points, 9 assists, and countless hustle plays among Keegan Murray, Joe Toussaint, and Patrick McCaffery. These three fit with nearly any combination of starters, though I still hope Toussaint gets significant run with Fredrick, Wieskamp, & Garza.
Yet if those three are unable to produce, it may force Fran deeper into his bench. He may go there, anyways, as Nebraska provides more margin for error than Ohio State but it would be nice to see an eight-man rotation solidify down the stretch of the season.
Nebraska has been pesky and has ability to match Iowa where they are strong. If Iowa can bring the shooting, it should be a runaway. Yet weird things have happened the last week or so in Big Ten play so I will remain ever so guarded about weirdness striking Carver-Hawkeye later tonight.