Iowa’s a team that doesn’t have a great record, but has the talent to be much better than their 3-7 Big Ten mark. In many ways they are like Northwestern last season in that they’ve suffered repeated close losses. They just can’t seem to make the key play at the end of a close game that turns a two point loss into a two point win. As a result, they enter Saturday’s matchup with Northwestern in the position of needing to secure a home win over a Wildcat team they dismantled in Evanston to keep their NCAA dreams alive. On the face of it one would assume this Hawkeye bunch will be very motivated, but you never know how a team will respond in a high pressure game. Especially after so many close defeats.
Northwestern is in a position which is similar yet different. The Wildcats are coming off a very nice 75-60 win over Purdue. In that contest the Wildcats got a career game from Reggie Hearn and solid contributions from virtually everyone else on the court including perhaps the best game of the year from freshman center Alex Olah. The lack of ability to be consistent has always been the thorn in the side of Northwestern as they try to make history and make the NCAA Tournament and that battle to be consistent has to be won in Iowa City if the ‘Cats have any plans of playing in the Big Dance.
I think NU will be able to count on Hearn who battled illness in his tough games vs Nebraska and Michigan. I also think they can count on Jared Swopshire to play a solid all-around game. But can they count on Olah, Tre Demps, and Dave Sobolewski to provide the offensive bunch needed to compete with the Hawkeyes? The key for NU will be getting those players off to a good start. That didn’t happen last year in Iowa City, but NU did manage a comeback which allowed them to narrowly defeat Iowa. In the past, though, NU has gotten off to solid starts in Iowa City. It is an arena which the Wildcats have some (recent) history of success and a place where they have shown the ability to run a clinic-like Princeton Offense. Getting off to a good start will be the key tomorrow. I think NU needs to try to get shots for Sobolewski and Olah early as both seem to do well if they have good starts. If they make early shots then NU will have a chance. Also, watch how Iowa defends Olah. Do they give him 15-footers all day or has he earned the respect from Big Ten teams so they defend him on the perimeter and allow backdoor cuts to open.
Iowa’s biggest issue this year has been shooting the ball, but against NU in Evanston they resolved that problem by having near double-digit dunks. It is hard to miss when you’re slamming the ball through the hoop. Aaron White is the Hawkeyes leading scorer and NU needs a good effort from Jared Swopshire to keep him off the glass. I think part of the reason for Iowa’s past success vs NU is that their shooters believed White would grab the offensive rebound if they missed (and probably dunk it) so they shot with total confidence. If Swopshire is beating White on the boards then NU’s odds of winning improve. NU will also need a good defensive effort from Reggie Hearn vs Roy Devyn Marble because with the way Iowa tore apart NU’s 1-3-1 zone last month it seems unrealistic that NU will play that defense even if Iowa isn’t a three point shooting team. Marble and Mike Gesell are really Iowa’s only realistic three point threats and I’d hope that NU keeps that in mind and the defenders on those guys are fighting through screens and getting hands in the shooters faces.
Prediction: This seems a pretty even game. I think it’s likely the type of contest which will turn on something like a player who doesn’t generally do much having a big game (look at Iowa’s Josh Oglesby and his 27% 3PT shooting as an example of someone who fits that mode or perhaps Alex Marcotullio will have a game where he hits three three for a quick nine points for NU) or the mental state of the two teams. NU should theoretically be a in a better place mentally, but amazingly at times they seem to become overconfident (see Nebraska). Iowa also does probably get an advantage in playing at home, though, as I noted earlier this group of NU players has had success in Iowa City. In the end this game is almost in impossible to predict with any certainty. It might be home bias, but somehow I think NU pulls off a narrow win in this one and gets payback for what Iowa did to them in Evanston. Northwestern, 62 Iowa, 60