The post Bill Carmody extension era begins Wednesday night in Iowa City as Northwestern travels to play the Hawkeyes. While I can’t say an NU victory will justify Jim Phillip’s decision to extend Bill Carmody’s contract for what the Chicago Tribune reports is two more years, I do think a win would convey a positive message of progress for Northwestern this season. Last year NU was abysmal on the road they beat N.C. State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Michigan in Big Ten play, but other than that didn’t post a “true” road win. Two years ago NU briefly flashed road warrior status with wins at ranked Michigan State and ranked Purdue, but overall Bill Carmody hasn’t demonstrated great success away from Welsh-Ryan Arena. Therefore, getting a win at Iowa would at least show fans that NU has improved over last season as a victory would be NU’s third “true” road win of the year.
If NU is to make that happen they need to duplicate much of their offensive game plan from Sunday against Indiana. Iowa doesn’t start a player over 6-7. Therefore, NU should be able to feed the ball inside to Luka Mirkovic and get him on the scoreboard early. If Luka starts hot in a game he usually stays hot and it opens up passing lanes for NU to find space for jump shots. That’s particularly important right now because since his ankle injury John Shurna requires a little more space and time to get a shot off.
Iowa is in many ways a lot like Northwestern. They’re a team that is probably going to get most of their points from the guard and small forward positions, but if they get inside production their chances of winning jump significantly. Also like NU, the Hawkeyes prefer to play a relatively high scoring game. If both teams shoot well and refuse to play defense it wouldn’t surprise me to see the game played with the final score for both sides in the 90s. The Hawkeyes best statistical player is Matt Gatens who scores 12.7ppg and makes 34.2% of his threes, but the player I’m most worried about is forward Eric May. May is one of those guys who has the ability to do a number of things well. He makes 46% of his threes, gets four rebounds a game, and averages double figures. His big weakness is that he isn’t a great free throw shooter. The other Hawkeye who averages double figures is point guard Bryce Cartwright. Cartwright took over those duties when Cully Payne got hurt and has been solid if not spectacular in taking care of the basketball with 69 assists and 47 turnovers. He isn’t a great shooter however at just 26% from three and if you force him to give up the ball the rest of the Hawkeyes have more turnovers than assists. It’ll be interesting to see if NU tries to play some 1-3-1 and trap Cartwright. If they do so, they better not leave May open in the corner. In some ways this would be great game to play a triangle and two or a box and one and focus man defenders on May and/or Gatens and try and let the rest of the Hawkeyes do enough to win.
As good as the perimeter players for both sides are, I’m anxious to see how Luka Mirkovic deals with Iowa’s Jarryd Cole and Melsahn Basabe. Both are smaller than Luka at 6-7, but Cole has shown the ability to be very physical, which sometimes knocks Luka back, and Basabe has long arms and will block Luka if he goes to the hoop with his weak flipper layups. Luka needs to stay tough and his teammates need to get him the ball in good position to score as they did versus Indiana.
I’d love to say I think Northwestern’s defense will show up in this contest and NU will blow the Hawkeyes out, but I just can’t see that happening. I can, however, see a contest where the fact NU has just a few more guys who score than Iowa makes a difference and results in a close Northwestern win. I predict: Northwestern, 88 Iowa, 85