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Hawkeye Basketball: Previewing Iowa vs. Northwestern

The hottest team in the league vs....well I’m not sure, honestly

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Nebraska Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Your, my, and our Iowa Hawkeyes (20-8, 10-7) come back home from their 88-78 win over Nebraska for Senior Day in Carver-Hawkeye Arena against the Northwestern Wildcats (13-14, 6-12).

Monday’s participants in Senior Day will be Austin Ash, Connor McCaffery, and Jordan Bohannon. Ash appearances are always fun. McCaffery, ever the lightning rod, might be playing the best ball of his career. Injuries have clearly taken a toll, though, and this is likely the twilight of his athletic career.

Bohannon’s career will end as one of the most decorated in Iowa history. He’s nearing 2,000 career points (he’s currently at 1,938), he is in range of the all-time Division I made 3s record (457, held by JJ Redick; Bohannon sits at 431) and he’s closing on 700 career assists (687). Love him or hate him, that’s a remarkable career.

As Boiler laid out, Iowa is the hottest team in the league. That said, they struggled to beat Nebraska Friday night. The following happened in Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln:

  • Keegan Murray played his worst game in a month, going for 15 points and 11 rebounds on 6-13 shooting, didn’t make a 3, and are free throws becoming a problem here? Keegan was 3-7 from the charity stripe.
  • Jordan Bohannon was just 1-5 from 3.
  • Patrick McCaffery was ok - he took a knee to the groin (and was called for a foul for his troubles) and while he came back, he didn’t do a ton after that.
  • Tom Izzo put his stink on Iowa’s other guards - Iowa did not get much from Joe Toussaint, Ahron Ulis, or Payton Sandfort.
  • Iowa felt stuck in 2nd gear the whole night.
  • Nebraska played a decent game overall, certainly well enough to win.

And yet, Iowa got a career game from Tony Perkins, they got a solid showing from Kris Murray off the bench to the tune of 12 points and 7 rebounds, and Connor McCaffery is playing with a ton of swag again, making all three of his 3-point attempts. Iowa didn’t get out of 2nd gear all night...and they still scored 88 points in a 10-point win. That’s a “Yo” for me. How many times have we seen the above scenario end in an Iowa win? (hint: the number is small). A loss Friday would’ve hurt seed-wise. Iowa didn’t play their best and still won. On to Northwestern.

Projected Starters

F - Pete Nance (Sr., 6-10, 225) 15.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.6 apg, 49.3 FG%, 44.0 3P%
F - Robbie Beran (Jr., 6-9, 215) 6.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 45.4 FG%, 34.7 3P%
G - Boo Buie (Jr., 6-2, 180) 14.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.5 apg, 44.6 FG%, 34.5 3P%
G - Chase Audige (Jr., 6-4, 200) 10.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.9 spg, 36.1 FG%, 25.3 3P%
G - Julian Roper II (Fr., 6-3, 180) 3.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.0 spg, 32.6 FG%, 33.3 3P%

(Stats via Sports-Reference)

Northwestern’s top three of Nance, Buie, and Audige is pretty good. I like Nance a lot, though he never quite made a big leap like Keegan did. He gave Iowa fits last year, scoring 21 points on 9-15 shooting in Iowa City, while going for 16-9-5 in the return game in Evanston (both Iowa wins). Buie and Audige give Northwestern solid play in the backcourt - Buie’s the better shooter, while Audige is a good defender. I can’t ignore Audige’s nearly 2 steals per game.

A player to watch in the second unit is Ty Berry, who’s averaging over 7 points a game and is a tad over 39% from 3.


What is this Northwestern team, exactly?

I saved my synopsis on Northwestern’s form for this section, as they’ve been all over the map. I have no idea what to make of them. It starts with their coach, Chris Collins. Collins is probably the patron saint of Northwestern basketball given he has the lone NCAA tournament appearance and win in school history, coming in the 2017 tournament. That alone would say he’s pretty good! It was and is a great accomplishment given how difficult that job is - since the end of the Lyndon Johnson Administration, they have exactly 1 season at .500 in Big Ten play (03-04), and exactly 1 season above .500 (16-17, the NCAA year). They’ve had as many winless seasons in league play since 1967-68 as they’ve had .500 or above seasons. But in talking about this with Boiler, this appears to be a similar problem to the Scott Frost conundrum Nebraska has in football. They’ve been in close games all year long, but mostly lost those games (here’s their schedule - it’s too many close games to list). So are they close because they’re in those tight games and they just need that final push, another guy or two to get them over the hump to get those in the win column, or are they in these close games constantly because the coach stinks and is under-achieving with a decent core? I thought it was Collins making the most he can out of this...but then they went to Minnesota and got dump trucked, then blew a halftime lead at Penn State right before Iowa took the floor against Nebraska. So I’m leaning toward under-achieving. He seemed safe, but in the last week his name started showing up on lists of guys that might be on the hot seat. That’s ominous for Collins.

I’m fairly confident that the Nance-Buie-Audige core is solid and if Fran is coaching this team, they’re far more competitive and some of these games are in the win column.

Keegan - do we have a free throw problem?

Iowa did not shoot well from the line against Nebraska, but especially Keegan. His free throw shooting in league play is now at 63.4 percent. For the month of February, he’s right at 60 percent (27-45). Given Northwestern is in an endless line of close games, that’s something to watch. Free throws matter, and if Iowa’s missing those freebies in a tight game we might have a problem.

Again - can Iowa keep their focus?

This is kind of standard-issue, but we saw how that can be a bit tricky. Nebraska’s a bad team, but Iowa struggled Friday night. They got Nebraska’s best shot, plus seemed off themselves the whole night. They won by 10 and scored 88 points, but Northwestern’s better than Nebraska (they swept the Huskers), so Iowa better be focused. Failure to get out of 2nd gear can be a major problem with Northwestern. No screwing around.