Big Ten Tournament Preview: Minnesota/Northwestern
Iowa enters the 2020 Big Ten Tournament as the No. 5 seed and will begin their journey toward a Big Ten Tournament title on Thursday at approximately 1:25 P.M. The Hawks await the victor of the 12/13 seed matchup between Minnesota and Northwestern on Wednesday. Iowa combined to accumulate a 3-0 record against the Gophers and Wildcats with two road victories during the regular season.
Of the two opponents that Iowa could face on Thursday, Northwestern is the better matchup for Iowa.
Northwestern struggled to finish for a majority of the season, racking up just 8 wins, two of which were over fellow Big Ten basement dweller Nebraska. The Wildcats were close on numerous occasions, but their youth often showed down the stretch in a deep Big Ten Conference. The Wildcats lack a true, bruising big man to match up with Luka Garza. A game against Northwestern would provide much lighter wear and tear on Luka Garza's body, which could help his performance if Iowa makes a deep run in the tournament.
Outside the lane, Northwestern boasts some talented, although inexperienced, guards led by Pat Spencer and Boo Buie and a wide array of shooting big men. The perimeter matchup would be the wild card in a tilt between the Hawkeyes and Wildcats. If Northwestern is shooting the ball well, they can hang with (or even beat) some of the best teams in the Big Ten, just ask Penn State.
A Thursday matchup with Northwestern would come down to Luka Garza dominating in the paint early and the Iowa guards forcing Northwestern to take tough, contested shots early on to keep the shooters off balance. I see a matchup with Northwestern being dominated by Luka Garza, especially after the Wildcats had to deal with Daniel Oturu on the previous day. Iowa should beat the Wildcats comfortably, potentially setting themselves up to control Garza's minutes down the stretch and keep him fresh for Iowa/Illinois 3.
The more likely matchup that awaits Iowa is a third date with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers limped to the finish in Big Ten play, dropping 6 of their last 8 games including a home loss to Iowa in mid-February.
The Gophers boast a talented lineup, led by guards Gabe Kalscheur and Marcus Carr, and potential first round draft pick center Daniel Oturu. Despite their record not showing it at 14-16, the Gophers are pesky with wins at Ohio State as well as home victories over Penn State and Michigan. Minnesota's gameplan runs through Kalscheur, Carr, and Oturu, so limiting those three would be the key.
The path to victory would be a little rougher in a matchup with Minnesota, but the formula looks similar with a heavy dose of Luka Garza and a need for solid perimeter defense. Luka Garza outscored Minnesota 10-2 in the early going in February, so the Gophers would likely key on him out of the chutes. Iowa would need to shoot or drive early, with Joe Wieskamp, CJ Fredrick, and Joe Toussaint providing the offense early, then get the big man going as the game wears on and ride him to victory. A matchup with Minnesota should be closer than against Northwestern, but should still yield a victory somewhere in the 10-point range.
The Bottom Line
No matter who the opponent is, Iowa needs to stick to who they are, and in some cases, rediscover who they are. Luka Garza has been stellar all year, and a good performance from the All-Big Ten big man is essential to get Iowa going in the tournament. CJ Fredrick will need to rebound after a poor, foul trouble ridden performance on Sunday and Iowa's role players will need to continue to do what they do best.
Perhaps the biggest key to Iowa making a deep tournament run is the much needed resurgance of Joe Wieskamp. Joe has struggled to get open down the stretch in Big Ten play. I would look for Iowa to run a set or two to get Joe open looks early, whether that is a corner 3 or a layup, something to help him see the ball go in the basket. If Iowa can get CJ Fredrick and Joe Wieskamp going along with the interior presence of Luka Garza and point guard play of McCaffery, Toussaint, and Evelyn, this Iowa team can become really dangerous at the right time of the year.
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