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Key Matchup: Northwestern vs. Iowa: Defending The Three

Northwestern travels west to Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight, a building that's been a house of horrors over the past few years. The Wildcats haven't won there since 2004, and the last two years, they've seen their NCAA hopes take a major hit in Iowa City, both times because of poor three point defense.

2009: Iowa 56, Northwestern 51

This is one of the more bizarre box scores I've ever encountered, mainly because of the ridiculous percentage of threes attempted. Iowa managed to win despite making only two 2-point field goals the entire game, which has to be a record. They won because they hit 12 of their 30 three point attempts, capped off by a Devan Bawinkel three in the final minute to give Iowa the lead for good (perhaps the strangest stat of all was that Bawinkel actually attempted a two in the game, one of only five twos attempted by Bawinkel in his two years in Iowa City, seriously). Bill Carmody stayed in the 1-3-1 for far too long in this game, and the Hawkeyes made him pay.

2010: Iowa 78, Northwestern 64

This game was perhaps the most pathetic defensive effort of the Bill Carmody era, which is really saying something. Northwestern let Todd Lickliter's final Iowa team score those 78 points in just 60 possessions (their best offensive game of the season), and were it not for a bunch of missed free throws by Cully Payne late in the game, it would have been even worse. Once again, Devan Bawinkel took advantage of the 1-3-1 zone, hitting 5 of his 8 three point attempts, and the Hawkeyes would hit 12 of 24 threes, just about all of them of the wide-open variety. Carmody went deep into his bench looking for answers, using all 4 of his centers and giving little-used Mike Capocci a season high 15 minutes, but it was all for naught, and Northwestern fell off the bubble for good.

The good news for tonight is that Bawinkel has graduated, and new head coach Fran McCaffery hasn't really found a completely one-dimensional 3-point shooter to replace him. Walk-on Jordan Stoermer fits the profile well, but he's barely played in the Big Ten season and doesn't figure to be a factor tonight. Still, Iowa has several dangerous shooters, and Bill Carmody would be well served to stay away from the 1-3-1. While the match-up zone wasn't perfect against Indiana, it was effective for long stretches and kept the Hoosiers from getting hot behind the arc, so let's see Northwestern stick with the match-up, correct the problems that allowed Indiana to make a late rally, and continue to protect the rim. If that happens, I like NU's chances. But if the crappy defense from last season shows up, we'll probably see another depressing loss.