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Previewing Iowa vs Northwestern

The Hawkeyes look to continue their strong run of play at home

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

The Iowa Hawkeyes (13-8, 5-5) look to keep it rolling at home against the surprise second-place team in the Big Ten Northwestern Wildcats (15-5, 6-3). In the brief write-up yesterday, I alluded to just how compressed the conference standings are, with 1.5 games separating the ‘cats from the four-way tie at 7th (through 10th), which include the Hawks.

Chris Collins has led the turnaround with improvement on the defensive side of the floor, something they’ll need to guard against Iowa performances last year of 112 & 82 points. The 61.0 points they give up this season ranks 13th in the country and is third among Big Ten teams behind Rutgers & Purdue.

The defense has dropped off a bit in conference play, as they’re yielding 1.027 points/possession (7th in the conference) but they’ve seen an uptick in their offense with their 4th ranked 1.082 points/possession. The math (66.7 possessions/game) brings it to 72.2 points for & 68.5 points against in conference play.

The statistical profile on Northwestern’s offense has changed a bit despite losing Pete Nance & Ryan Young to ACC teams. While their effective field goal percentage has dropped off, they’ve crashed the glass better as a team and are getting to the free throw line more frequently. Nance & Young were the best at those two areas off last year’s team so the growth they’ve seen is from forwards Robbie Beran & Brooks Barnhizer as well as the emergence of center Matthew Nicholson.

In addition to Beran, the Wildcats’ starting guards are all shooting above 80% from the foul line. Foul them at your own risk, Hawkeyes... It’s probably going to be their best offense for some stretches to try and get to the foul line. Thankfully Iowa does a nice job of not fouling, especially Ahron Ulis who has a foul rate of 1.8/40 minutes. I’ve thought Ulis has done a good job of late making opponent guards inefficient since Iowa notched their first Big Ten win:

  • v Rutgers: Cam Spencer, 10 points on 4/10 shooting (12.9 PPG, 44% FG)
  • at MSU: Tyson Walker, 10 points on 4/14 (13.9 PPG, 44% FG)
  • at OSU: Bruce Thornton, 0 points on 0/4 (8.1 PPG, 41% FG) - Isaiah Likekele killed Iowa though...
  • v Maryland: Jahmir Young, 20 points on 8/17 (16.0 PPG on 42% shooting)
  • v Michigan: Dug McDaniel, 12 points on 5/15 (7.0 PPG on 36% shooting)
  • at Rutgers: Spencer, 13 points on 4/10 shooting (12.9 PPG, 44% FG)
  • v Indiana: Tamar Bates, 8 points on 3/9 shooting (8.2 PPG, 46% FG)

Can Northwestern return keep Iowa’s pace under control and ... does it help?

In terms of adjusted tempo, Northwestern is 6th in the conference in all games at 66.3 per game. It ranks 224th in the country which tells you the state of Big Ten Basketball (TM) right now. Yuck.

As far as Chris Collins is concerned, it’s a bit of a return to his previous teams which were more methodical, though maybe not as pronounced as his teams which were in the bottom 15 of adjusted pace. They’ve played six games under 65 possessions and gone 3-3 in those contests.

It’s an arbitrary number to identify but 64 is actually the least number of possessions Iowa has had in a regulation game in addition to the 64 in the first 40 minutes against Michigan. The Hawks have played 9 games at/under 68 possessions and are a surprising 6-3 in those games and all three of those losses came away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Duke, Michigan State, Nebraska). So Iowa is, maybe surprising, comfortable playing those slow games.

Part of it is getting out to fast starts: all of Iowa’s wins save the Michigan one featured winning the first five minutes.

Iowa started well against Michigan State but turnovers plagued Iowa early against OSU and Rutgers. Is it a function of the early start time? I sure hope so. With an 8p start tonight, Iowa should be primed as they honor Chris Street.