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Iowa 76, Northwestern 50: rapid reaction

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The worst thing Northwestern could have done in this game was try to run with Iowa, the fastest-paced team in the Big Ten during conference play at 71.1 possessions per game. Northwestern instead did what’s worked for it over the past four games: try to slow the game down and play defense. In the end, the Wildcats’ couldn’t keep the Hawkeyes’ in check. Iowa turned a close game at halftime into a rout midway through the second half and went on to win, 76-50.

- In the first half, the Wildcats forced 10 turnovers and held Iowa to 30 points. Only one Hawkeye, center Gabriel Olaseni, had more than four points (he had six). Not surprisingly, Northwestern struggled to score. The Wildcats shot 9-for-29 from the field, 2-of-9 from three-point range and scored roughly 0.80 points per possession. Offense hasn’t come easy to Northwestern throughout Big Ten play, and the first half was no different. One player who stood out for the Wildcats was forward Drew Crawford, who had 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

Oh, Olaseni did this.

- There is only so much good defense can do. The Wildcats opened the second half playing guarding well, but the Hawkeyes – who rank third in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency during conference play – are too good to hold down for 40 minutes. Iowa began to break down Northwestern’s defense and the Wildcats couldn’t produce the offense necessary to keep up.

- Great defense paired with woeful offense will allow you to beat mediocre teams like Indiana, Illinois and Purdue. Iowa’s on a different level, and it showed Saturday. After scoring just 30 points in the first half, Iowa had 46 after the break. The Hawkeyes looked more like the offensive juggernaut they have been throughout most of the conference season. They cracked open Northwestern’s tough defense and, with the Wildcats unable to score on the other end, there was no way they were going to keep this game competitive. Northwestern scored roughly 0.82 points per possession, below its average (0.845) in conference games coming into Saturday. Iowa finished at roughly 1.20 PPP.

- This loss will halt the momentum Northwestern had built up over the past four games, but it doesn’t mean the Wildcats will revert to the poor form they displayed over the first three games of the conference season. Iowa is probably one of the best three teams in this league. None of the three teams (Illinois, Indiana, Purdue) Northwestern beat recently is likely to make the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern has the ability to beat lower-tier Big Ten teams; it can’t beat the league’s best.

- The Wildcats will have a hard time finding wins over the next two weeks. Their schedule is brutal: at Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Nebraska, at Michigan State. Besides the Nebraska game, none of those matchups looks favorable for a Northwestern team that just can’t score.