Northwestern and Iowa are 4-9 and 3-10 respectively in the Big Ten and both have lost their last two games. Only Indiana has been worse than these two squads, but Northwestern still has something to play for in this game as they could still qualify for the NIT with a nice end to the season. I think if NU wins their three remaining home games and matches last year’s 7-11 Big Ten record they likely will make the NIT. If they lose this contest or any of the others they’ll very likely drop out of the NIT and maybe to 10th or 11th place in the Big Ten. That’s why this game is so important and why some might argue that Northwestern coach Bill Carmody is facing down unemployment as much as the Hawkeyes.
When these two teams last met Northwestern pounded Iowa in one of the best Big Ten games NU has played in recent memory. Since then things have gone more south for NU and north for Iowa. Iowa pulled off a couple nice upset wins against Michigan State and at Indiana while Northwestern has managed to embarrass themselves against Wisconsin and Penn State.
Iowa’s step forward has been led by point guard Bryce Cartwright who has mastered the ability to get his own shot against teams which lack a guard quick enough to defend him. His shot to beat Indiana has to be a high point in what has been a tough year for the Hawkeyes. Against NU, I expect Iowa to try and run pick and rolls as Penn State and Michigan did in order to isolate Cartwright on a big such as Luka Mirkovic. If that happens and NU switches, Cartwright will score with ease and I think I’ll encourage a walk out at Welsh-Ryan. NU has constantly been burned because they don’t fight through screens. It’s terribly fundamentally unsound basketball and needs to change, but NU hasn’t made such a change yet.
At 12.5ppg Matt Gatens is Iowa’s top scorer and is a three point threat to be contended with if NU tries to go 1-3-1, however, I’m really worried about 6-5 forward Eric May. May is kind of Iowa’s Drew Crawford. He can go off and score 25 points, but he might also post five. If he has a good night Iowa is much much more likely to win just as NU is when Crawford plays well. NU has to defend May’s three and keep him from getting easy drives as well. In the front court with May, Iowa has Jarryd Cole and Melshan Basabe. Basabe scores 10.5ppg and gets 7.0rpg and is a decent shot blocker, but at only 6-7 he is a little smaller than the guys NU will play up front. With Cole being just 6-7 as well, NU could get a number of baskets from Luka Mirkovic.
As has been the case a number of times this year, I have no idea what to expect from Northwestern. Will they pack it in and wait for the season to end or do they still want to keep competing for a postseason bid. I think by playing at home NU should be more motivated and I think Iowa’s lack of size really works to NU’s advantage. Hopefully, NU will play quick and be confident and hit some threes as they did at Iowa. That would be huge because other than a few nice games by Juice Thompson NU hasn’t shot well in a long time. A stretch of hot shooting to end the year is really what NU needs. I predict: Northwestern, 81 Iowa, 80