The Matchup: Northwestern (16-7) @ Iowa (8-16)
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
TV: Big Ten Network (7:30 PM Wednesday February 10th, 2010)
Radio: WGN 720AM
Fun Fact: Todd Lickliter is 2-0 at home against Northwestern is has career as Iowa’s head coach.
About the Game
On the face of it 8-16 Iowa doesn’t appear to be much of a challenge for Northwestern, but the truth is, like their namesake, the Hawkeyes are remarkably tough. After all their off-season and early season problems, it would have been easy for Iowa to mail in the season. To assume their coach was going to get dismissed and that more star players would transfer. Instead, the Hawkeyes have persevered. While that perseverance hasn’t resulted in many wins, it has resulted in a number of teams not wanting to take on the Hawks after hard-fought battles. This will be a tough game for Northwestern.
Like Wildcat teams of the past, because of their limited talent, Iowa plays at a slow pace. In fact, Iowa only averages 61.1 ppg as a team, and probably wants to score less. I’d bet in Todd Lickliter’s ideal world his team would win 52-47 games each night. This might be the one game where Northwestern wants to try to play fast and speed up an opponent. It is also a game where NU’s ability to take care of the ball will be put to the test. Iowa plays tough on defense (freshman Eric May gets more than a steal a game), but even more important is that fact that since the game against the Hawkeyes will be played at a slow pace, every empty possession is even more serious.
When the Hawkeyes do score the responsible party is more often than not sophomore Matt Gatens. The 6-5 Gatens is the only Hawkeye currently on active who averages double figures. Gatens scores 12.0ppg in addition to averaging 4.3 rpg and 3.5 apg. Gatens is also a decent three point shooter making 34.4% of his threes. He has a very smooth stroke on his shot, but some might say his release is not as quick as experts might want. 6-5 forward Eric May is the Hawkeyes next best scorer at 9.4ppg. May has improved during the year as a shooter. He currently is only shooting 29.8% from three point range, but his average has gone up in Big Ten play. Another Hawkeye who has improved in Big Ten season is Aaron Fuller. Fuller is the Hawkeyes top rebounder at 5.6rpg and in Big Ten play is the Hawkeye’s leading scorer at 11.1ppg. Fuller gets most of his points inside (averaging about 1 three point attempt a game) and his improvement at scoring inside has given point guard Cully Payne a reliable player to dump the ball of to when he penetrates the defense. Payne is a freshman from Schaumburg who committed to both DePaul and Alabama before landing in Iowa City. Lickliter was lucky to get him as with the number of defections the Hawks had in the offseason, and Anthony Tucker’s suspension during this season, only Payne and John Lickliter (the coach’s son) are legitimate choices at point.
Iowa’s issues at the guard spot and spotty three point shooting (32.4% as a team) might make one think this is the game for NU to go back to the 1-3-1. I, however, am not so sure. The Hawkeyes have shown the ability to get hot from the outside and in a low-possession game it is a bad idea to give a lot of open looks. In addition, like Indiana, NU has some very positive matchups against Iowa. For example, other than Michael “Juice” Thompson, every NU starter is bigger than or about as big as their Iowa counterpart (Matt Gatens may have an inch or two on Jeremy Nash on paper, but Nash plays much bigger than 6-3). In addition, Iowa’s biggest big man, Brennan Cougill (Iowa’s Mr. Basketball last year) is 6-9 255. That makes him smaller than both Luka Mirkovic and Kyle Rowley height wise. He has some weight on Luka, but Mirkovic has shown how he can use athletic skill against bulkier opponents. What is important in defending Cougill is to remember he is one of Iowa’s better outside shooters. NU must defend him on the perimeter. This might be tough for Rowley, but I think Mirkovic and Davide Curletti or Ivan Peljusic would excel at this. On offense, I expect to see NU attack the smaller Iowa inside players. This could be a big game for Mirkovic and Shurna inside. Iowa’s limited size and depth might even allow Mike Capocci to get into the game and post up as he did against Indiana with positive results.
Prediction: This might the scariest game left on NU’s schedule. Obviously at Wisconsin is tough, but that game doesn’t really feature expectations. Everybody is going to expect Northwestern to win this game to setup a showdown with Minnesota on Sunday. As long as the Wildcats don’t read the press clippings, I think they’ll be fine. They are without a doubt the better team. Iowa’s once impressive home court advantage is gone. NU’s young players should not feel intimidated. As long as makes the right defensive calls (which I believe is limiting use of the 1-3-1 unless Iowa is having major ball handling issues), the Wildcats should triumph in Iowa City for the first time since 2004. Northwestern, 61 Iowa, 51