Week in Review: Wisconsin, Maryland, and Illinois
The last week was a big one for Iowa. The Hawks were able to protect their home court, emerging victorious with victories over both Wisconsin and Illinois, and came up short in College Park, Maryland against the Terrapins. Despite the loss to Maryland, Iowa sits within 1.5 games of the Big Ten lead, poised to make a jump if they take care of business this week against Purdue and Nebraska.
The Week in Review
January 27, 2020, 7:30 P.M. CT
Wisconsin 62 Hawkeyes 68
Final Betting Line: Iowa -6.5
Iowa City, Iowa
The Positives: Iowa continued to show mental toughness after trailing by as many as 12 with less than 8 minutes left in the game. In those final 8 minutes, Iowa made it a priority to drive to the rim. This aggressive mentality put pressure on the Wisconsin defense and made the Badgers uncomfortable down the stretch. Iowa also showed composure during a physical game that was largely played at Wisconsin's .
Joe Toussaint asserted himself as a go to option when Iowa needed a basket, making two key drives to the basket and completing two 3-point plays. Garza continued to be a presence inside, having one of his best games of the season with 21 points and 18 rebounds. Both Joe Wieskamp and C.J. Fredrick were decisive in their drives to the basket, and both hit key 3's when Iowa needed them.
The Negatives: Iowa had another rough night shooting the basketball hitting just 3 of 20 3-pointers and accumulating a shooting percentage of just 15%. Because of the poor shooting, Iowa never really got into their rhythm and tempo and was unable to impose their will on an undermanned Wisconsin team, who made the trip to Iowa City without their leading scorer.
The Takeaway: The way this game played out allowed Iowa to demonstrate growth from earlier in the year. This was the third really bad showing from Iowa this year. The first resulted in a blowout loss at the hands of the DePaul Blue Demons that Iowa was never competitive in.
The second was the terrible shooting performance against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln, where they went an abysmal 4 of 33 from 3-point range in the absence of C.J. Fredrick. Iowa continued to fight, but couldn't find enough offense to beat the Huskers.
On Monday, instead of continuing to throw up 3's, Iowa's guards took the ball to the rim and found ways to generate offense. That is a huge step forward for a team that seemed to adopt the "shoot myself out of a slump" strategy in Lincoln. The other thing that really stood out to me was Fran's willingness to put the ball into Joe Toussaint's hands when Iowa needed a basket. Early in the season, Toussaint looked either lost or overwhelmed frequently, but on Monday Joe looked like a guy who Iowa could turn to when they needed a basket. If Toussaint continues to grow in both confidence and execution of the Iowa offense, this team is only going to become more dangerous.
January 30, 2020, 7:30 P.M. CT
Maryland 82 Hawkeyes 72
Final Betting Line: Maryland -5.5
College Park, Maryland
The Positives: Iowa fought through serious foul trouble for both Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener that began around the first media timeout of the game, and persisted throughout the game. In just 24 minutes, Garza still amassed 21 points by playing aggressive, under control offensive basketball. Wieskamp and Fredrick scored in double figures to fuel the offense while Garza saw limited minutes.
Iowa's bench was productive, contributing 11 points to the effort, with Riley Till supplying some much needed minutes in the low post to get Garza through the first half with just two fouls.
The Negatives: They didn't win the game. Iowa just couldn't score enough points to hang with the homestanding Terrapins, but fought hard anyway.
The key to the loss was Iowa's inability to slow down Anthony Cowan Jr, who accumulated 31 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Couple that with Jalen Smith's 18 points and 14 rebounds in Garza's absence, and the winning recipe wasn't there for the traveling Hawkeyes.
The Takeaway: Right after this game, I felt much worse about this loss than I do a few days later. Maryland is a legitimate contender in the Big Ten this year, and its been extremely difficult for the road team to prevail throughout conference play. Iowa continued to fight hard and respresented themselves well under adverse circumstances in a tough road environment.
In a lot of ways, this game feels like one that would have gotten out of hand for Iowa in recent years. Iowa's best player all year struggled with foul trouble for most of the game, they are already down two starters, and it would have been easy to pack it in early. Instead, Iowa made a game out of it, continued to fight, and despite losing by 10, were much closer than the scoreboard indicated. There were far more positives to be taken out of this game than negatives and can still be used as building block for the rest of the season.
February 2, 2020, 12:00 P.M. CT
Illinois 65 Hawkeyes 72
Final Betting Line: Iowa -5.0
Iowa City, Iowa
The Positives: This was a classic, physical, Big Ten basketball game that came right down to the wire, and served as yet another example of what makes this Iowa team different. One of the biggest things that stood out to me is something that has been a rarity under Fran McCaffery, and that is Iowa's defense making Illinois uncomfortable in the half court. Iowa was forcing long 3's all day from an Illinois team that is shooting just 31% percent on the season from deep. Iowa also forced Illinois into a few costly uncomfortable by showing the full court pressure at select times and just generally kept the Illini out of sync for most of the afternoon.
Add to the defensive effort exceptional days from Wieskamp (18 points), Fredrick (18 points), and C. McCaffery (9 points, 7 Assists), and you have a recipe for Iowa pulling Illiinois back within one game at the top of the standings.
All of the above would have been for naught however, if not for the play of Luka Garza. 25 points and 10 rebounds seems par for the course at this point for Luka, but the story for me was his complete domination down low on both ends of the floor. On the offensive end, Garza forced Illini big man Kofi Cockburn into foul trouble early in the second half, and at that point it became apparent that there was no one else in the game that could slow Luka down. Defensively, Garza, along with Ryan Kriener and Cordell Pemsl, forced Illinois' primary big men Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili to combine for just 13 points and 12 rebounds after entering the game averaging 22.2 points and 14.2 rebounds per game.
The Negatives: This game is being overshadowed by the events that transpired at the end of the game and directly following the game. This game should have been held up as the example of what Big Ten basketball should be. Two evenly matched teams, fighting tooth and nail for every rebound, every basket, and every possession. Instead, everyone is talking about a late dunk, some hard fouls in garbage time, and the handshake line that wasn't.
The Takeaway: Iowa has what it takes. Iowa fought off Illinois run after Illinois run. They found a way to get the ball inside on a day where Illinois was trying to make anyone but Garza beat them and hit enough big shots to pull away in the end. The defense continues to be one of the better defensive units of the McCaffery Era and could be the difference come Late February and March. The next month and a half should be a lot of fun.
From The Corner of Kinnick's Player(s) of the Week:
Luka Garza: 22.3 Points per Game, 10.7 Rebounds per Game, 1.0 Assists per Game
Honorable Mention: Connor McCaffery: 5.0 Points per Game, 5.0 Rebounds per Game, 4.7 Assists per Game, 0.7 Turnovers per Game, Currently leads the nation in Assist to Turnover
A Look Ahead
The road certainly doesn't get any easier for Iowa as they travel to West Lafayette, Indiana on Wednesday to take on the Purdue Boilermakers (February 5, 2020; 6:00 P.M. BTN), then play host to the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday in Iowa City (February 8, 2020; 5:00 P.M. BTN).
The Boilermakers are down this year, but have played well at home, accumulating a 9-2 record including a 29 point victory over the Michigan State Spartans in early January. Look for Iowa to employ a similar defensive strategy to the one they employed against Illinois, as Purdue is shooting just marginally better than the Illini at 33% from 3-point range on the year. Wednesday should mark another big time matchup of big men too, as Luka Garza will square off with 7'-3" Matt Haarms who averages 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Iowa should look to work inside out, as Purdue gets substantially smaller behind Haarms, and early foul trouble for the Boilermaker big man could spell doom for Purdue. Mackey Arena is a tough place to play, but I don't think Purdue has the size or shooting to hang with Iowa in this one. The game should be close throughout, but Iowa prevails with somewhere around a 10-point victory thanks to free throw shooting down the stretch.
Saturday marks an opportunity for Iowa to get some sweet, sweet redemption on a Nebraska team that beat them in Lincoln on January 7. On that night, Iowa was without CJ Fredrick and went an abysmal 4 of 33 from 3-point range en route to one of their worst performances of the year. The Huskers were triple and quadruple covering Luka Garza all night and Iowa never really found prolonged success on the offensive end, scoring 70 points in the losing effort. I just don't see that game repeating itself this week. Iowa has grown on offense throughout the season, looking to drive to the basket more when the 3-point shot isn't falling, and I can say with certainty that Iowa will not shoot 12% from deep again. Nebraska may hang around early, but Saturday should be one of the more decisive wins of Iowa's season to date. Iowa cruises by 15+.
With two wins this week, Iowa would push their record to 18-6 (9-4 in Big Ten) and could find themselves in the conversation for the lead in the Big Ten standings.
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Current Big Ten Standings (Following Games on February 3)
1. Michigan State - 16-6 (8-3)
2. Illinois - 16-6 (8-3)
3. Maryland - 17-4 (7-3)
4. Iowa - 16-6 (7-4)
5. Rutgers - 16-6 (7-4)
6. Penn State - 16-5 (6-4)
7. Wisconsin 13-9 (6-5)
8. Indiana - 15-7 (5-6)
9. Minnesota - 11-10 (5-6)
10. Purdue - 12-10 (5-6)
11. Ohio State - 14-7 (4-6)
12. Michigan - 13-8 (4-6)
13. Nebraska - 7-15 (2-9)
14. Northwestern - 6-15 (1-10)