For the first time in a while, Northwestern men’s basketball is coming off of a win. The Wildcats took care of business against Nebraska over the weekend, picking up their first conference victory of the season and putting a much-needed end to a dreadful losing streak.
It’s a quick turnaround for Chris Collins’ team, who heads back to the hardwood Tuesday night for a home showdown against Fran McCaffery and the Iowa Hawkeyes. Here are three things to know ahead of tonight’s matchup:
Luka Garza is the real deal
Northwestern is going to have its hands full with the 6’11” junior center. Garza sits atop the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game, and he’s second in the conference with 10.8 rebounds per contest as well. He’s scored in double figures in all but one of Iowa’s games this year, and it’s no secret that this Hawkeye team revolves around his production.
There a few players in the conference, if any, that can guard Garza, and Northwestern does not have any of those players. The Wildcats will likely sit back, using the lengthy back line of a 2-3 zone to best contain Garza, but that’ll leave NU susceptible on the glass, as was the case in the Minnesota game, where big man Daniel Oturu snagged six offensive boards.
The last time he traveled to take on the ‘Cats, Garza had his coming out party, putting up 16 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench and willing Iowa to victory down the stretch. If recent history is any indication, the DC native should be in for an even bigger night in Evanston this time around.
The Hawkeyes are coming off of their biggest win of the season
After back-to-back close losses to Nebraska and Penn State, Fran McCaffrey’s team walked away from the weekend with one of the most impressive wins of conference play thus far, dominating Maryland 67-49 in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are still under .500 in Big Ten action at 2-3, but performing like that in any game shows that this team has the potential to be an absolute force when its firing on all cylinders.
That being said, the Hawkeyes, like any Big Ten team on the road, are vulnerable. They were blown out by DePaul at home earlier in the season, and are also 0-3 in Big Ten road games thus far.
This is the start of a tough five-game stretch for NU
I get that the entirety of Big Ten is a slog this year, but things are about to get particularly difficult for this young Northwestern team. Following this matchup, the Wildcats have four consecutive matchups against the four B1G squads currently ranked in the AP Top 25 (Iowa finished 26th in voting this past week), bookended by trips to Champaign and East Lansing.
No game is easy, especially for an NU team plagued by injuries and inexperience, and this stretch feels like it’s about as tough as things can possibly get. A challenging matchup against a talented Iowa team that just blew out one of the conference’s best squads is probably Northwestern’s most winnable game over the course of the next two weeks. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the current state of Big Ten basketball.