The Opening Tip: Hawkeyes, Penn State Face Off at Palestra

January 3, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Luka Garza enjoyed the last three weeks, when his body could heal. His Iowa team played only two games during that stretch.

Not surprisingly, the physical center is ready to get back to banging bodies. He’ll have that chance Saturday when the No. 23 Hawkeyes take on 21st-ranked Penn State at The Palestra in Philadelphia.

“I want to play,” Garza said Thursday.

Here’s a closer look at the upcoming contest in The Opening Tip:

TIME, TV: 1 p.m. CT on BTN with Dave Revsine, Stephen Bardo, and Olivia Dekker on the call.

RECORDS, RANKINGS: Iowa comes in at 10-3 and ranked No. 23 in the AP Poll, while Penn State stands at 11-2 and rated 21st.

THE COMPUTERS: Iowa sits at No. 23 in NET, 17 in Sagarin and 18 in Ken Pom. Penn State comes in at 15, 20 and 23 as of Thursday.

POINT SPREAD: Penn State was listed as a 2.5-point favorite as of Saturday morning.

HISTORY LESSON: Iowa holds a 30-17 advantage in the series versus Penn State. The Hawkeyes have won 10 of the last 16 meetings. Iowa won last season’s only meeting, 89-82, on Jan. 16, 2019, in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Iowa holds a 3-1 advantage over Penn State in games contestes on neutral floors. The Hawkeyes won the first three in 1955 (82-53 in Evanston), 1961 (67-48) in Philadelphia, and 2001 (94-74 in Chicago). The Nittany Lions beat Iowa in 2015 (67-58) in Chicago.

NEXT: Iowa heads to Nebraska Tuesday for an 8 p.m. tip against the Huskers.

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SCOUTING THE NITTANY LIONS: PSU is trying to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since ’11 and for just the 10th time in program history. It’s positioned to realize that goal if it doesn’t fall apart in Big Ten play.

It’s riding a pair of faces very familiar to Iowa. Senior forward Lamar Stevens, a first-team all-conference pick last year, is averaging a team-best 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds. Classmate Mike Watkins, a 6-foot-9 center, leads the squad with 9.4 boards and 11.2 points.

Sophomore guard Myreon Jones (6-3, 175) is one of the league’s most improved players. After averaging 4.6 points last season, he’s netting 14.5 a contest in ’19-20.

Myles Dread and Jamari Wheeler round out the Nittany Lions’ starting five. They chip in with 8.5 and 4.1 points, respectively. Izaiah Brockington (9.8 PPG), a transfer from St. Bonaventure, and Curtis Jones Jr. (7.2 PPG), who came from Oklahoma State, are the top players off the bench.

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When it’s played well against the Hawkeyes, Penn State has succeeded with physical play that disrupts their offensive flow. That’s often been dictated by how the game is officiated.

The Nittany Lions rank 29th nationally in Ken Pom’s adjusted defense. They’re holding opponents to 38.6 shooting from the field, which ranks 36th nationally. They block 6.4 shots a contest, which is eighth in the country.

Penn State’s two losses came by two points against Ole Miss in the NIT Tip-Off event and by 32 at No. 5 Ohio State. It owns a victory against 15th-ranked Maryland, beat Wake Forest by 22, and knocked off fellow high majors Georgetown, Syracuse and Alabama.

KEYS FOR HAWKEYES: How this game is called by the referees could go a long way in determining the outcome. If they let them play, Iowa must keep its cool and be smart. Foul trouble could cripple a team with a short bench.

I think the Hawkeyes can stay with its four-guard lineup, assigning Joe Wieskamp to guard Stevens. They may also create some mismatches if they go big with Ryan Kriener.

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Iowa is well tested on the road and in neutral sites this season. It’s prepared for what should be an electric environment.

TIP-INS

-Iowa last played at The Palestra in 1961.

-Saturday marks the second time Iowa and Penn State will play with both teams ranked in the AP Poll (#10 Penn State beat #16 Iowa, 95-87, on Feb. 3, 1997 in Iowa City).

-Iowa played seven straight games against teams ranked in the top 90 of the NCAA NET Rankings between Nov. 28 – Dec. 21. Iowa posted a 5-2 record during that stretch, recording wins over Texas Tech, Syracuse, Minnesota, Iowa State, and Cincinnati. The two setbacks came to No. 12 San Diego State and No. 4 Michigan.

-Iowa ranks fourth in the country in assists (18.1) and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.54).

-Iowa’s three defeats have come to teams with a combined 35-5 record (DePaul, San Diego State, Michigan).

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