Northwestern has played a series of “most important” games over the past two weeks. In those two weeks we as fans have felt some major highs and some major lows, but to borrow from NU’s football program the only question that matters is what’s important now? And the answer is the game against Iowa on Saturday afternoon. If the Wildcats win that game and one Big Ten Tournament game I believe they’ve got a great shot at the NCAA Tournament as the bubble isn’t that strong. So, I guess NU is basically playing in the Big Ten Tournament already in the sense that a win makes a major difference in the team’s future compared to a loss.
The Hawkeyes have been playing very well of late and they’ve been a strong home team all during the Big Ten season. However, they’ve got some tough losses on their resume and Northwestern made them look terrible against the 1-3-1 zone when the two teams met in Evanston. You would think Iowa would have practiced against the 1-3-1 since then, but they looked bad enough I’m not sure there could be enough practice that could see the Hawkeyes solving the defense.
If Iowa were to solve the riddle of NU’s 1-3-1 zone, I think the guy who will be most responsible is Matt Gatens. A senior playing in his last home game (well, maybe not if Iowa hosts an NIT game) Gatens has shown the ability to knock down shots in bunches. Before an average game vs Nebraska, he was on a total tear as the Hawkeyes beat Indiana and Wisconsin.
Iowa’s other star to contain is Roy Devyn Marble. Marble’s size makes him a tough matchup and he’s taken on the role as one of Iowa’s primary ball handlers as Bryce Cartwright missed some time due to injury. I’m not sure who would guard Marble if NU played man-to-man so that might be another good reason to play the zone.
Height-wise Iowa’s front court isn’t one that dominates NU in terms of size or athletic skill. However, Aaron White concerns me as does an improving Melsahn Basabe. Both seem to have that desire to be aggressive and get rebounds that sometimes I think the NU front court lacks.
For Northwestern to win this game they need to successfully force turnovers and make three point shots. Northwestern has been able to cover a lot of mistakes with made threes this season. Hopefully, the ‘Cats remember their lights-out shooting performance against Iowa in Iowa City last year and play with confidence.
I think this is going to be a very close game (which is no shock the way the Big Ten’s gone this season). Northwestern hasn’t been great in close games this year, but for whatever reason I feel confident about this game. I think we’ll see a Northwestern team that plays with focus and for once isn’t overcome by the magnitude of the event. I predict: Northwestern, 71 Iowa, 67