Iowa (6-2) vs. Western Illinois (6-1)
Lost in the football team's weekend trip to Indianapolis and Rose Bowl bid: There's basketball at the moment, too, and Monday night presents a sneakily difficult test for the Hawkeyes. The Western Illinois Leathernecks come to Carver Hawkeye Arena, with tipoff set for 6 p.m. CT. And if you get there early, you win a prize.
Western Illinois has one of the season's most inexplicable wins -- an opening-night victory at Wisconsin -- and a Kenpom sheet to match. Let's start with this: WIU is the nation's best three-point shooting team by percentage, yet among the lowest in three-point attempts. The Leathernecks are shooting more than 56 percent from behind the arc, eight points higher than they are shooting from two. They don't turn the ball over, and they don't force turnovers on the other end. And while the Leathernecks are fairly horrible at rebounding, they make opponents miss so much, particularly in the post, that it doesn't much matter.
Western Illinois starts three guards: Senior J.C. Fuller (6'4, 190, 18.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and juniors Garrett Covington (6'5, 195, 18.5 ppg) and Jabari Sandifer (6'1, 175, 10.2 ppg, 4.5 apg). The trio of guards are the three highest scorers for the Leathernecks. Fuller is the nation's top three-point shooter so far this season, making 10/13 attempts. Covington's 11/20 performance isn't far behind, and while Sanders doesn't take as many shots, he's still making 44 percent from three. That's a 64 percent rate from three for WIU's guards. And yet, even though they are prolific from the perimeter, WIU takes less than one in four shots from behind the arc, one of the lowest rates of any team nationally. The selectivity in shot attempts certainly has to help the percentage made, but it's nevertheless an odd dichotomy in today's game. Senior guard Jamie Batish (6'4, 195) and freshman point guard De'Angelo Bruster (5'11, 170) come off the bench, with Batish capable of pouring in points if needed.
While the Leathernecks rely on their backcourt for points, it's the frontcourt responsible for the defense. Center Brandon Gilbeck (6'11, 250) has been an effective shot-blocker in his first collegiate season, but backup forward/center Jalen Chapman is the true defensive threat. Chapman is blocking 12 percent of shot attempts when he's in the game, the highest individual block rate of any Iowa opponent so far this season and the highest rate of a player under 6'8 anywhere in the nation this season. While half of his blocks came against Illinois-Chicago, he's nevertheless been solid against Wisconsin and Creighton. Senior Tate Stensgaard (6'9, 200, 5.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg) doesn't do much from the other starting post position, but he'll be there. Freshman Jalen Morgan (6'8, 195, 4.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg) provided depth off the bench.
What to Watch
There are a couple of causes for concern tonight for Iowa. For one, that three-point rate gives them an efficient, defense-resistant method of scoring a bunch of points. Western Illinois beat Wisconsin by shooting at a 61 percent effective rate and 78 percent from three, blocking a handful of Badger attempts and hanging tight on the boards; anyone who thinks they can't do that against Iowa hasn't watch Iowa much this season.
The other concern is more psychological: Iowa is headed to Ames on Thursday night, and the combination of an upcoming in-state rivalry game against a top five team and upcoming finals could have the team distracted or looking ahead. The good news: The tune-up opponent headed into the Cy-Hawk game hasn't been within 20 points of Iowa in the last three years. The bad news: None of those opponents were this dangerous. It should be a fairly comfortable Iowa win, but it won't be fully comfortable until it's over.