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Previewing the Hawkeyes at Rutgers

These guys are old!

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

The Iowa Hawkeyes (13-4, 3-3) head to New Jersey today to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-6, 4-2). As Chad Leistikow dove into earlier this week, their numbers belie their ability, with half of their losses coming without Geo Baker being able to play the full game, including a 30+ point one at Illinois. Flipside is they also beat #1 Purdue at home the very next game without the second-season-senior Baker. Weird team.

KenPom ranks the Knights, 93rd, with a defense that has regressed to 54th since topping out at 6th in 2020. They’re not elite in any single area, defensively, but have block and steal rates over 10% while holding teams to 46% from 2. Their offense? 142nd. Shooting from inside the arc and at the foul line is where they struggle - 47.8% from 2 (over 50% in 4 of their last 6) & 67% at the stripe.

Steve Pikiell has been there six seasons. They’ve had better advanced stats seasons, and might well regress positively to the new normal as those really bad results become 1 of 30 and not 1 of 16. Considering the number of guys they brought back (minutes continuity ranks in the top 100), it’s probably a safe bet and in line with Leistikow’s take.

Projected Starters:

G: Geo Baker (Sr, 6’4”, 185 lbs) - 11.2 PPG, 4.3 APG, 1.4 TOPG, 41% FG%, 32% 3P%, 32.3 MPG
G: Caleb McConnell (Sr, 6’7”, 200 lbs) - 6.9 PPG, 37% FG%, 24% 3P%, 27.7 MPG
G: Paul Mulcahy (Jr, 6’6”, 213 lbs) - 7.3 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.1 TOPG, 38% FG%, 32% 3P%, 29.9 MPG
G/F: Ron Harper (Sr, 6’6”, 245 lbs) - 16.6 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 2.2 ORPG, 45% FG%, 47% 2P%, 33.2 MPG
C: Clifford Omoruyi (So, 6’11”, 240 lbs) - 11.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.4 ORPG, 61% FG, 27.0 MPG

(stats via sports-reference)

Few teams stick out quite like Rutgers in terms of leaning on their starters, with each of their five averaging 27 or more a game. KenPom tracks their bench minutes at under 30%, and 232nd in the country.

The guy to stop is Ron Harper, who is off to a blistering pace again. Last season, he fell off a cliff from range, going 15/79 (19%) in his last 17 games. He’s had Iowa’s number in the past, though, with games of 27 & 29 against the good guys and an average of 18.8 PPG in five games, including 44% from deep. He can light it up.

Geo Baker...what more needs to be said except for the fact that I continually combine his name with Geno Stone’s for Geo Stone in Google searches. But I love what he brings - tough as nails, not afraid of big shots - and there seems to be genuine friendship between he and fellow elder statesman, Jordan Bohannon.

Fun stuff.

Three questions

Can Jordan Bohannon continue to come out on top of the matchup with Baker?

While they’re not necessarily gonna get each other every possession, with Bo as the 2 and Baker a little more 1, the history of Bohannon against Rutgers got the Hlas treatment earlier this week. He averages a blistering 17.8 points/game, making 57% of his 3s and touting a 3-1 record at the RAC. (I’m not calling it Jersey Mike’s Arena...just a little too on-the-nose)

If J-Bo can continue his hot shooting, it’s gonna put Iowa in a really nice position to quiet the normally-raucous environment. Keegan Murray & Ahron Ulis also played well in Piscataway last season...but there were no fans. It’ll be a different environment tonight and having somebody like Bohannon who’s been there before will be immeasurable if Iowa’s going to come away with their third straight (second on the road) Big Ten victory.

How many times can I talk about the rebounding?

The Hawks have trended well here, outrebounding their last two opponents in raw numbers and with division (offensive rebounding rates). And while Race Thompson & Trayce Jackson-Davis were tough opponents in this area, Clifford Omoruyi is a different force to manage. At 6’11” and made of granite, he will be a tough cover for the already-undersized Filip Rebraca. Additionally, Rutgers height down the roster matches up well against Iowa, with the Hawkeyes yielding inches at the guard spots and Mulcahy/Harper as savvy ball-players who can make hay on second chances.

Considering the likely tempo of this game, Iowa must be willing to send five defenders to the glass so Rutgers cannot manufacture second shots on long possessions. It might be a game where we see Ahron Ulis and Connor McCaffery (if he’s healthy) play extended minutes to match the Knights’ size and demonstrate a willingness to slow it down with them.

We got a jersey game?

I love these teams playing each other. They always seem to bring it and it’s turned into a nice pseudo-rivalry. How much of that will go when these seniors go is to be determined but for now, let’s just enjoy it.

Rutgers sure seems to be with their throwback unis. Can Iowa match with their gold ones?

Additionally, it’s the 29th anniversary of Chris Street’s death. Iowa typically plays with an edge in these games, manifesting the energy Street played with in his way-too-short career. I’m too young to have ever watched him play, but the highlights are something to behold.

The climb up the standings now has Iowa 8th, with a win tonight moving them into a tie for 6th with Rutgers, who they’d have the head-to-head tiebreaker against as this is their only meeting of 2022. Let’s go Hawks!