Time for some good ol' fashioned hoopyball, in the anti-Kinnick Stadium - aka, the one place in the world where no matter the talent disparity, NU always seems to lose - Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Luckily, Todd Lickliter, who had all types of hexes and whatnot on NU, mainly connected to the one time at Big Ten Media Day where he congratulated me on going to Northwestern because "I hear that's a pretty good school" leading to a pregnant, awkward pause before I continued asking how he planned on coping with Iowa's major losses before the 2009-10 season, is gone, so NU will surely fare better on this trip to Iowa City.
Are they good?: Part of Iowa's sub-.500 record is a tough schedule: five games against top 100 teams on kenpom. That said, they've lost to all five, in addition to embarrassing losses to South Dakota State and Wake Forest (possibly the worst major conference team in the nation this year). Meanwhile, their signature win is a neutral-court victory over a mediocre Alabama team. Not sure it's exceeded expectations for the Hawkeye's crappiness, but it's been close. The Hawkeyes are a definite candidate for worst team in the conference, and although its hard to tell from their three opening conference losses to extremely good ranked teams - they put up a good fight against Ohio State - the Big Ten season might not be kind to Iowa.
Who they got?: The leading scorer for the Hawkeyes is once again Matt Gatens, who for two years now has stunned the conference with his ability to hit 18-23 footers that his coach probably isn't thrilled he's taking even though he leads the team in scoring. His shooting percentage has gone up over 40 percent this year, and he's connecting on 34 percent of 3-pointers, up from last year, but, still, it's Matt Gatens. For a leading scorer, he's not going to hit 20 much, in part because of the team's slow pace and in part because he's Matt Gatens and averages 12.3. There's some intriguing new blood for the Hawkeyes this year: transfer point guard Bryce Cartwright and freshmen Melsahn Basabe and Zach McCabe have infiltrated the rotation. Cartwright leads the team in minutes, possessions used, and percentage of shots taken - shots because he trusts his shot to much, possessions because he turns the ball over an alarming amount - but he's definitely been impressive, converting assists on 34.1 percent of shots made while he's on the floor, one of the top 50 numbers in the nation. However, his 26 percent and 62 percent stats from 3 and at the line show his 10 points per game might be due more to volume than skill. Basabe is the type of post player the Hawkeyes haven't had in a while - he blocks 8 percent of opponents shots and is best rebounder on the team (Jarryd Cole gets minutes too, but has had many of them taken by Basabe), in addition to scoring decently - he's averaging over nine points per game on the season.
What are they good at?: Color me surprised, but, defensive consistency. Iowa has been very good in three metrics: not committing fouls (24.8 FTA/FGA, the third best number in the nation) defensive OReb% (29 percent of opponents misses are offensive rebounds, 52nd in the nation) and forcing turnovers (23.5 percent of opponents possessions, also 52nd in the nation.) All that combines to give them the country's 41st best defense, allowing 91 points per 100 possessions. Translation: players playing against Iowa have scored at a similar rate to Bryce Cartwright (ORtg of 88.6), and that's awful.)
What are they bad at?: Scoring. Matt Gatens is your most efficient scorer. Bro.
Us and them: NU has been a better team than Iowa over the last few years, but not on the court, as the teams have split the home and home the past two years. Mainly, we as a fanbase blame Devan Bawinkel, the wildly ineffective player whose eyes lit up with NU's 1-3-1 on the court, sinking a dagger in the last minute two years ago at Carver-Hawkeye to cap a 56-51 win, then draining five threes last year as Iowa Corey Wootten'ed NU's tourney hopes with a 78-65 win. At home, NU hasn't struggled, coasting to a boring 17-point win that could've been bigger last year.
Does NU's football "rivalry"-ish thing extend onto the basketball court?: Iowa doesn't dig basketball as much as football, which, by my reckoning, has two reasons: first off, football fields are more conducive to the outdoorsy corn vibe Iowa is going for, because HAHA FARMER JOKES. Secondly, Iowans are too busy focusing on the state's statetional sport, wrestling,which also takes place in winter, and features Iowa and Iowa State constantly jockeying to be the No. 1 team and win the national championship. Sadly, this sport is played on basketball courts with mats on them, meaning the average Iowan probably knows Carver-Hawkeye best as the wrestling place with the big orange hoopybuckets on either side. It's difficult to notice mediocre basketball when you're transfixed by dudes in unitards grappling.This is for the best for NU fans, as Iowa has helped ruin NU's basketball dreams the past two years, and if they knew about this it would probably ease their ability do the jokes that they are known for when NU does the same in football.
How can NU beat Iowa?: Loretta outlined this already, but it's simple: the 3-point arc has to be guarded, even without Bawinkel, because I simply don't trust Basabe and Cole to highlight an offense and Matt Gatens is nothing if he can't gun from downtown. Last year, Iowa shot 50 percent against NU from downtown as NU went down with the 1-3-1 ship. Then, at home, less emphasis on the zone, Iowa went 3-21 from downtown, including a fantastic 0-for-7 performance from Eric May. That said, Iowa hasn't been particularly great from downtown on the year - they shoot 33.9 percent, which is about average in the nation. (Then again, last year, they shot 31.7 percent.)
Should NU beat Iowa?: I would say yes hands down, as NU is the better team and crappy losing streaks in opposing arenas are made to be broken, but Kenpom says no, that Iowa has a 59 percent chance of victory, and if there's one thing I have learned this year, it's that every time I look and say "hey, this projection doesn't make any sense!", he turns out to be way righter than me.