Saturday, February 7, 2009

Game 21: Northwestern @ Iowa

The Matchup: Northwestern (13-7) @ Iowa (12-11)

Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)

TV: Big Ten Network (5:00 PM CT)
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Fun Fact: Northwestern plays at Iowa then hosts Illinois. In 2004, the Wildcat schedule featured the same stretch of games. NU won 77-68 in Iowa City then knocked off ranked Illinois 70-60 at Welsh-Ryan.

About the Game
Though it might seem to regular readers like this these previews are getting repetitive, this is a big game for Northwestern’s postseason hopes. Right now, the major knock on NU’s potential postseason resume is a 2-5 record on the road. Yes, one of those two wins is at Michigan State, but that won’t be enough to impress selection committees on its own. The Wildcats need to show consistency away from the friendly confines of Welsh-Ryan Arena and this game presents an opportunity to do so.

Iowa enters the game with a 2-8 record in the Big Ten. They are in tenth place, one spot above Indiana, who they lost to Wednesday night. The Hawkeyes best player is guard Matt Gatens who scored 22 points against the Hoosiers and averages 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. He is a dead-eye three point gunner who could give NU’s 1-3-1 zone serious fits. Actually, as a team Iowa is shooting an impressive 38.1% from three. This is scary for an NU squad that has struggled defending the three at times this year. Iowa’s big weakness is they do not take care of the ball well. They have a -1.1 assist to turnover ratio. If Northwestern chooses to play the 1-3-1, it will be critical they cause enough turnovers to negate Iowa’s three point shooting.

A key question for the Hawkeyes is up front. This is critical because as any Big Ten fan knows, NU is a team which can be victimized on the boards. Cyrus Tate has been out for the Hawks for sometime now, but his return was rumored before the Indiana. There is a chance he will come back against the Wildcats. If he does not, the Hawkeyes will rely on David Palmer, who has shown the ability to get hot, and Jarryd Cole. Neither player is as large as Wildcat center Kyle Rowley, but they are athletic. Still, if Rowley can use his bulk to get them into foul trouble like he did Wisconsin’s Marcus Landry, NU could find themselves able to dominate inside.

The key to this game is going to be the ability of Nortwestern to contain Iowa’s three-point shooting. Last season, Northwestern had a great chance to win at Iowa until the Hawkeyes shooters got hot and started picking apart the NU zone. This year, it seems NU Head Coach Bill Carmody has more faith in his team’s ability to change defenses. Can Jeremey Nash get steals from the top of the 1-3-1 and chase around Matt Gatens and Jake Kelley in a 2-3 or switching man-to-man? I think he can. Does NU know the importance of this game? I’d like to think so. Northwestern, 65 Iowa, 57

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