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Previewing the Big Ten Championship Game

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The Hawkeyes & Boilers are the best in the conference

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Iowa Hawkeyes (25-9, 12-8) are taking on the Purdue Boilermakers (27-6, 14-6) later this afternoon to crown a Big Ten Tournament Champion. Both teams have an element of unfinished business to them: Purdue missing out on a regular season title by virtue of a number of close losses, Iowa looking to validate the last month and a half of basketball as who this team actually is.

These teams are basically the Spiderman meme. Elite offense (they’re the nation’s top 2) and complementary defense (100ish). They sit 13 & 14 in KenPom’s rankings, 12 & 14 in Bart Torvik’s, 11 & 14 in the NET.

Both have superstars who will be taken high in this year’s NBA draft. Both have players who could have bigger roles elsewhere but have sacrificed to stay at their respective schools and win.

Both are looking for their first conference tournament title since the aughts (‘09 for Purdue, ‘06 for Iowa).

The rub for Iowa? Purdue’s got their number. Fran McCaffery is 7-12 against the Boilers with six of the last seven tilting their way with an average margin of 12 points. Not fun.

So a lot of ills could be cured with a Hawkeye win.

Projected Starters:

G: Eric Hunter (Sr, 6’4”, 175 lbs) - 6.3 ppg, 2.0apg, 49% fg, 46% 3p
G: Jaden Ivey (So, 6’4”, 195 lbs) - 17.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.4 topg, 46% fg, 37% 3p
G: Sasha Stefanovic (Sr, 6’5”, 205 lbs) - 10.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 41% fg, 40% 3p
F: Mason Gillis (So, 6’6”, 230 lbs) - 6.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.3 orpg, 52% fg, 44% 3p
C: Zach Edey (So, 7’4”, 295 lbs) - 14.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.0 orpg, 66% 2p

(Stats via Sports-Reference)

Trevion Williams moved to a bench role, won 6th man of the year, and still does his thing as a 12 point/7 board player. The guy who led Purdue in scoring last time these two faced off was Isaiah Thompson with 18. Ethan Morton is a pest on offense and defense. Brandon Newman reemerged in their rotation against Penn State for 12 points. Point being...Purdue has GUYS around their GUY.

One question

Who has more left in the tank?

Iowa floated through a record setting performance in their first game against Northwestern before playing to absolute bangers against Rutgers & Indiana. Iowa’s lack of post depth really came to to a forefront, struggling to stop Trayce Jackson-Davis for 38 minutes (31 points on 15/21 shooting). Clifford Omoruyi went for 17 on 8 shots inside the arc. Even bench big Ryan Young got 14 for Northwestern in 17 minutes.

Considering Iowa ended last week facing Kofi Cockburn (he was the least efficient post scorer of this run), Iowa will have gotten ALL THE BIGS in an 8 day span.

Anyways, the load for that largely rests on Filip Rebraca. He was outmatched yesterday but if there’s a singular positive to take from the performance, it’s that he didn’t foul. TJD had 3 attempts from the line. Despite being one of the worst +/-’s on the team, his time allowed Kris Murray to finish the game down the stretch. Guarding without fouling will be important because Iowa’s offense is so good, it can turn opponent makes into transition opportunities of their own. That goes out the window when a defense can get set after a free throw attempt.

I also think Iowa’s got some gas left in the tank of the backcourt. Ahron Ulis has played just 14 minutes across 3 games. Joe Toussaint hasn’t crossed the 15-minute threshold in a game yet. Tony Perkins has started, but his minutes haven’t gotten out of hand. Really, nobody’s has.

I see Iowa doing a lot of pressing as a result. Purdue has shown a propensity to struggle against the press each time they’ve played the Hawkeyes this season and have a bottom half turnover percentage in conference play. The press also allows Iowa time, which is sorely needed in a post-oriented offense. Every second Iowa uses to keep the Boilers from getting into their offense is one less second they can spend trying to get the ball down low.

Then it comes down to the offense. Purdue’s has been worse than Iowa’s for a lot of the season. They’re sneaky easy to score on (getting second chance or free throw opportunities is a different story), as they don’t turn you over and allow a 51.5% eFG.

Can Keegan be Keegan again? Can Iowa get enough scoring from enough other places? Can they get key stops? Can they overcome another presumably partisan crowd? Iowa’s been incredible in going on FAST scoring runs to extend the game or get back in it but Purdue is one of the offenses who can do the exact same thing. If enough of those questions are answered in the affirmative, Iowa can add to their trophy case.

Let’s get a chip.