Preview: Hawkeyes Look to Straighten Out Road Woes at Northwestern
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa heads into play at Northwestern Wednesday night with something to prove. These veteran Hawkeyes must show they can perform on the road.
They’ve dropped their last eight Big Ten road games and 12 of their last 13 true road contests overall dating back to the beginning of last season, including their first two in ’19-20. Their lone win came at Illinois almost a year ago.
Iowa (12-3 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) has collapsed when in enemy territory. It’s trailed by at least 17 points in its last 11 road games. It’s usually been a big run by the opponent that has blown open those contests.
Asked Tuesday on his teleconference how the Hawkeyes might be able to prevent those spurts from happening, coach Fran McCaffery was brief.
“You just have to be more patient offensively, I think, and not try to get it all back at once,” he said.
Understanding time and score will be important in Evanston. Attempting quick, contested shots feeds the droughts. Ultimately, it comes down to playing defense, however.
They yielded 52 first-half points in losing 86-70 at Purdue last week. Michigan State thumped them 90-68 on Dec. 3 in East Lansing. The Spartans shot 51.7 percent from the floor, including 55.6 in the decisive second half. The Boilermakers shot 53.2 percent for the game and 63.3 percent in building a 17-point halftime lead.
Iowa should benefit from having center Luka Garza available for Wednesday’s matchup at Northwestern (8 p.m. CT, BTN). After missing three games with an ankle injury, the sophomore logged 10 minutes in Sunday’s 93-84 win against Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He scored eight points and, along with Ryan Kriener, provided a defensive presence in the middle of Iowa’s zone.
“I’d say he’s a little bit better. Every day he’s a little bit better. That’s the only thing that’s going on. The good news is he didn’t take a step back. So, he’s getting closer to a 100 percent and he was great in that game. He gave us a big boost, a big part of the reason we won. Moving forward, he’s going to be an integral part of everything we do,” McCaffery said.
Jordan Bohannon found his shooting stroke against Nebraska, connecting on 5 of 8 shots from three-point range en route to a season-high 25 points. A career 37.6 percent shooter from behind the arc, the junior guard came into that contest shooting 35.3, and not looking as comfortable and confident out there as he had in previous seasons.
“His numbers were a little bit off but we just kept encouraging him to shoot the ball, do what you do, be aggressive,” McCaffery said.
Iowa presents much more of a challenge for opponents when Bohannon pressures their defenses. His ability to shoot from deep opens up the floor for his teammates.
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“I passed up probably more shots than I should have, especially against Purdue and in some other games earlier in the season. I know this team runs a little better when I’m a little more aggressive,” Bohannon said after Sunday’s win.
The Hawkeyes have won three of the last four meetings with Northwestern (10-5, 1-3). The victories happened at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the loss at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Their 35-point defeat there two years ago was their most lopsided setback in the series.
While Iowa returned four starters from last year’s team, the Wildcats look much different. Their backcourt of Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey is gone after starting a combined 203 games through last season. The hustling Gavin Skelly also exhausted his eligibility.
Northwestern still brings firepower. Fifth-year senior Vic Law, who has 112 career starts, leads the way with 17.6 points per game. He ranks second on the team with 6.3 rebounds.
“He’s been a very good player in our league ever since he was a freshman,” McCaffery said. “Now that he’s a fifth-year senior, he’s playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and freedom.”
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Center Dererk Pardon paces the Wildcats with 8.3 rebounds per game and ranks second to Law with 13.9 points. He’s also a known commodity.
A pair of transfers will be playing their first game against Iowa. Ryan Taylor is averaging 12.5 points after coming over as a graduate transfer from Evansville. A.J. Turner (9.5 PPG) leads the team in assists after sitting out last season following a move from Boston College.
“They’re dramatically different,” McCaffery said of the Wildcats. “Those two guys (Taylor and Turner) are really good players, and you’ve got Law and Pardon, two of the better players in our league already.”
In addition to playing better defense on a team with multiple guys that can hurt you, the Hawkeyes would benefit from taking better care of the basketball. They rank last among conference teams in turnover margin (-4.3) in league games.
They allowed Nebraska to stay in the game Sunday by being careless. Thirteen turnovers led to the Huskers enjoying a 19-7 advantage in points off of turnovers.
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In four conference games, the Hawkeyes are being outscored 68-29 in points off turnovers. It’s been 42-11 in the last two contests.
“We just have to make better decisions at times. We were trying to force it a little bit (against Nebraska). We missed some passes. We tried to jam it sometimes. I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for our team,” McCaffery said.
-Northwestern has hung its hat on the defensive end this season. The Wildcats are holding teams to just 63.2 points per game, which ranks 27th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten. Northwestern has held its last nine opponents below their season scoring average in regulation.
-The Wildcats have surrendered 68 triples in 15 games, the fourth fewest in the country.Teams are shooting just 27.6 percent from behind the arc, which places NU ninth in the country in defending the 3-point line. Northwestern did not allow a 3-pointer (0-for-11) against Illinois (Jan. 6). It was only seventh time this season in the NCAA that any team has held the opposition without a three.
-The Wildcats are forcing an average of 14.2 turnovers per game, which places the squad fourth in the Big Ten. The Wildcats have forced 10 or more turnovers 12 times this season and 15 or more on six occasions. NU is unbeaten when the opposition turns it over 16 or more times.
-This season marks the first time since 2014-15 that Iowa and Northwestern will play twice during the regular season.
-The Hawkeyes rank first in the country in free throw makes per game (22.1) and are second in attempts (29.1). Iowa has made 19 or more free throws in 11 of 15 contests.
-Iowa forward Tyler Cook is the first Hawkeye in 25 years to total 15+ points and 5+ rebounds in nine straight games. James Winters accomplished the feat the first ten games of the 1993-94 season.