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Hawkeyes Basketball: Previewing Iowa vs. Rutgers

Big Ten Tournament Quarter-Finals Edition

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Iowa vs Northwestern Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Your, my, and our Iowa Hawkeyes (23-9, 12-8) move on to the quarter-finals of the Big Ten Tournament to face the Rutgers Scarlett Knights (18-12, 12-8).

Iowa beat the ever-loving $#!+ out of Northwestern in the second round, 112-76. Iowa broke all of the records, breaking the tournament single-game records for made 3s (19), field goals (43), points scored (112), and margin of victory (36). It’s a game where literally everything clicked for Iowa. Keegan dominance? Check. Jordan Bohannon heating up? Check. Defense slipped for a portion of the first half? Fran got a little hot and defense immediately cleaned up, so, check. Lunch beers? Check. At one point Iowa was over 1.8 points per possession in the first half, a half in which they scored 64 points. For comparison, Michigan scored 69 points (nice) in the first game of the session. That’s for the whole game. We even got Fran a little hot at the end due to a made 3 on a heave from Luc Laketa, but Northwestern was also hounding Austin Ash as he was trying to run clock out near half-court, so…yeah, Fran doesn’t want him taking that, and I get it - we don’t need a Juwan Howard replay here - but shooters gotta shoot and it banked in. Whatever.

This was so out of hand a guy at the table next to me at Sports Column that tagged along with his Iowa buddy for a few lunch beers (by “a few lunch beers” I mean a few pitchers) said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this that didn’t involve Michael Jordan.” Which, ok, he was a nice dude but maybe throttle down on lunch beers, buddy. He’s a Gonzaga grad and he immediately followed his MJ comment up by saying, “Sometimes we get into shooting contests and those don’t go well. So I don’t think I want Iowa in our bracket...” No you don’t, Gonzaga guy!!!

I said in my Northwestern preview that if the Hawks have their heads screwed on tight, they could go on a run and settle some family business this weekend. First up? Rutgers, who took the 4-seed and the last double-bye on the back of a hot stretch of play in early-to-mid February, beating Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin (away), and Illinois all consecutively to rescue their NCAA chances. That sequence is as good a stretch of wins in conference play as I can remember. For some reason, Joe Lunardi still has Rutgers as a bubble-ish team (right side of the bubble, but still bubble), and I can’t understand why. They had some bad early losses, sure, but they’ve more than made up for it in league play with a slew of quality wins, both home and away. Are we going to focus on good wins or bad losses? Lunardi is focusing on the bad losses, I guess. He had Michigan a spot ahead of Rutgers in the pecking order for the last four byes, and IU right on their heels as the first team out, though that order could shake up a bit given IU’s win over Michigan in the first game of the Thursday session. Either way – no way is Rutgers a bubble team right now. It’s preposterous.

I’m burying the lede a bit here - Rutgers also got the double-bye by winning the lone meeting with Iowa this year, a 48-46 rock fight in New Jersey on January 19. That disastrous foul call by Courtney Green on Keegan with 2 seconds left secured the head-to-head for the Scarlett Knights and ended up being the difference-maker for the double-bye. The game would otherwise be forgettable were it not for that call. Iowa had a tough time getting any clean looks offensively, as the Scarlet Knights defense swarmed Iowa in all spots. Iowa’s defense was equally ferocious, but you know what? Enough about that game. That game sucked on all levels, both ways, and it was decided on an abhorrent call by Green when it really looked like Ron Harper, Jr. might not even get a game-winning attempt off - he was still dribbling around a screen with 2 seconds left and Keegan was right there to contest if he was going to get a shot up at all (to me, it looked like Harper didn’t know how much time was left). It was a huge bail out call and it ended up being crucial to seeding.

Projected Starters

F - Ron Harper, Jr. (Sr., 6-6, 245) 15.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.1 spg, 44.0 FG%, 39.9 3P%
C - Clifford Omoruyi (So., 6-11 240) 11.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 61.7 FG%, 58.9 FT%
G - Geo Baker – 12.0 ppg, 3.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 39.1 FG%, 31.7 3P%
G - Paul Mulcahy – 8.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 5.2 apg, 43.8 FG%, 35.3 3P%
G - Caleb McConnell – 6.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 37.4 FG%, 25.0 3P%

It starts with Harper, their do-everything forward. Being real here – I really enjoy Harper’s game. From a neutral point of view, the guy has it all. Good off the dribble, can knock down 3s, good athlete overall, and a good defender. If I had one complaint, it’s that he never seems to be in great shape. If he was in better shape, he’d get draft buzz. I just checked 4 different mock drafts and he was nowhere to be found (Keegan’s floating between 5 and 8 in the first round).

The rest of the lineup is good too – Baker’s a fun player and a true pest, Omoruyi is a good, mobile big that can go vertical quickly, and Mulcahy is Rutgers version of Connor McCaffery, a guy that does a little bit of everything.

It’s a defense-first team that struggles offensively despite some otherwise decent offensive players like Harper, Baker, and a good garbage man in Omoruyi. Their season high in points is 93 (vs. Nebraska; 93 points is a huge, enormous yawn for me given what Iowa just did), but they only broke 80 three other times (UMass - one of the weird early season losses they sustained - Maine, and Michigan State). Overall, I just can’t dislike this team though, despite their rock fight win over the Hawks. It’s not their fault Green called that terrible foul. They’re fun in a weird way and managed to rescue this season after a trio of terrible losses early in the year to DePaul, Lafayette, and UMass.


Can Iowa match Rutgers on the glass?

One of the big stories from the first game, the Courtney Green atrocity aside, was Rutgers dominance of the glass. That was one of the last times Iowa really got punked in that stat column, as they were outrebounded by 11. After a close first half, the Scarlett Knights did what they wanted to Iowa in that department. Iowa’s been much better rebounding since mid-January, but this is a Rutgers team that plays hard for 40 minutes so Iowa can’t let up on the glass and give them second-chance opportunities.

Missing the double-bye hurt…or did it?

Usually I want that extra rest, but Iowa got what was essentially a tune-up game with the Wildcats and the opportunity to find their groove again after that difficult Illinois loss. They did not have to exert much effort at all – Keegan played 21 minutes and scored 26 points. I mean of course Iowa can’t sustain that kind of offense for a second game, but damn – that Northwestern team was 50th in Kenpom adjusted defense and Iowa eviscerated them. Rutgers is at 38th in adjusted defense. They’re better defensively than Northwestern, more athletic, and they give Iowa fits. Rutgers will do what they do and muck things up, but right now, Iowa’s hitting on all cylinders. Every single one.

Settle all family business

“Barzini is dead. So is Phillip Tattaglia. Moe Greene. Stracci. Cueno. Today, I settled all family business.”

You know what to do, Hawks.