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Previewing the Hawkeyes rematch at Penn State

Can Iowa double dip against the Nittany Lions to pull to .500 again?

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

In a scheduling quirk, the Iowa Hawkeyes (14-6, 4-5) return will face the Penn State Nittany Lions (8-9, 3-6) for the second time in each teams’ last three games. The Nittany Lions game between their matchup in Iowa City was a loss at Indiana, 74-57. The two 17-point losses shuttled PSU from 69th to 83rd in KenPom’s rankings.

Since little has changed since these two last faced off, here’s a recap of that preview:

  • Best win: home against IU; also: went to overtime against KenPom’s #14 LSU
  • Worst loss: at Massachusetts (81-56, oomph)
  • Bottom 10 tempo, even slower on offense
  • Struggle on offense with turnovers, getting to the line, and shoot a ton of threes despite average percentage from deep
  • Better defensively by keeping opponents off the free throw line and locking down the boards

I think that just about does it.

In the loss to Iowa, they were able to control tempo (just 62 possessions, a non-Virginia season low for the Hawkeyes) but allowed Iowa more success on the offensive glass than normal. The Hawkeyes were also able to force 17 turnovers, an Achilles’ heel for the Nitts, and simply couldn’t make enough shots at 17/51.

Ranked 69th (nice) by KenPom, Penn State has had a little more down than up in Shrew’s first season. Their best win was a home victory over IU and they took LSU, now ranked 13th, to overtime but also have a loss against Massachusetts on the balance sheet.

What first sticks out is Penn State’s tempo. On offense, their possessions are the second slowest in college basketball (Iowa’s is 9th fastest), and they take threes 43% of the time. They don’t get to the line and they struggle with turnovers. Not necessarily good combination. Their defense is exactly 30 spots higher than their offense, at 61st, and they do it by contesting shots, locking down the boards, and keeping opponents off the free throw line.

Projected Starters:

G: Jaheam Cornwall (Sr, 6’0”, 190 lbs) - 2.9 PPG, 22% FG%, 18.8 MPG
G: Jalen Pickett (Sr, 6’4”, 202 lbs) - 13.4 PPG, 4.4 APG, 1.9 TOPG, 41% FG%, 32% 3P%, 35.9 MPG
F: Seth Lundy (Jr, 6’6”, 217 lbs) - 13.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 40% FG, 35% 3P%, 32.1 MPG
F: Greg Lee (Sr, 6’9”, 217 lbs) - 6.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 ORPG, 38% FG%, 22% 3P%, 24.1 MPG
F: John Harrar (Sr, 6’9”, 240 lbs) - 10.3 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 3.4 ORPG, 66% 2P%, 27.1 MPG

(stats via sports-reference)

I remarked in the previous lookahead how the Nittany Lions struggled to put a consistent starting lineup on the floor before rolling out their 8th against Iowa. The above listing is their most recent, having rolled it out in four of the last eight games.

Sam Sessoms & Myles Dread would come off the bench with this configuration. Sessoms is remains their best, at 44%, while Dread is shooting 39%. They’re combined for 23/55 (42%) in conference play, and could get their offense rolling if Iowa isn’t prepared.

I’m keeing this: Greg Lee is a transfer from Western Michigan, which brings back my PTSD from Brandon Johnson going 8/9 from deep against Iowa last year (6/46 in other games!) after transferring to Minnesota from Kalamazoo.

One question

Can the Hawkeyes bounce back?

Just one question, the same as before, and arguably more important. The Hawks dropping a tough one to Purdue highlighted what this team has struggled with through much of the year - inconsistency. They’ve shown an ability to defend at higher levels, but have only sustained it for about 20 minutes at a time. They’ve been able to make shots, though the last time they did was so long ago it borders on irrelevant. The rebounding has been better, though (last 4 games make up 4 of 5 best defensive ORB% games against Big Ten teams), and needs to remain as such to limit Penn State from additional shot opportunities.

The prior game against Penn State was as balanced an offensive output as the Hawkeyes have had - four in double digits - in conference play. Patrick McCaffery, Jordan Bohannon, and Kris Murray each made 3 threes. Iowa will need at least one of them to supplement Keegan, if they hope to win the game.

The best way they can bounce back, though, is 40 minutes of hard-nosed defense, with a Penn State bunch prone to turning the ball over with regularity.

With two losses in the last three games, facing a stretch of three away games in four, the Hawkeyes margin for error is razor thin if they hope to make the tournament. It’s easy to look at their record and schedule and find a way to 11 wins - an indicator they’d likely make the tournament - but that includes sweeping teams like Penn State.

In the postgame, Micah Shrewsberry remarked Iowa was the tougher team in the second half. I expect him to use that to build up Penn State’s toughness. Iowa will need to be ready if they hope to get to the .500 mark again.