After a pretty decent non-conference slate, Iowa had a tough start to Big Ten play. They lost their first three games, to Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State, arguable the three best teams in the Big Ten. What made it even tougher was the fact that they were very close to beating Indiana and Michigan State- losing by 4 and 3 points respectively. Next, the Hawkeyes went and beat Northwestern and Wisconsin, before losing on the road at Ohio State.
Now, Iowa sits at 2-4 in the Big Ten, but they have proved they can play with any team in the country, especially at home. Iowa has a fantastic opportunity to jump back in to the Big Ten fray, and get back to .500, in conference. Their next two games are at Purdue on Sunday and at home against Penn State on Thursday.
Purdue, like Iowa, plays much better at home. They look like a different team, playing more aggressively and bolder inside the paint at Mackey Arena. They are not easy to beat, but Iowa is still the more talented team. One of the keys to this game will be if Iowa can win the rebounding battle. Purdue rebounds very well at home, but Iowa is still a better overall rebounding team, 37th in the country, while Purdue is 50th. If Iowa doesn’t get out-rebounded badly, or turn the ball over a lot, they should escape with a win.
If they win, they return home for a date with lowly Penn State with a chance to get to 4-4. The Nittany Lions are absolutely horrific, having no conference wins. They are actually in danger of winning fewer than 10 total games this year. The last Big Ten team to do that was Indiana in 2008-09, when they went just 6-25. Penn State has broken 60 points just twice, in 8 Big Ten games.
If Iowa can’t beat Penn State at home, they have much bigger issues than I thought. But if they do win both of these games, Iowa will be back at 4-4 in conference, and be on the NCAA Tournament bubble. It helps that in their final 12 games, Iowa plays Penn State twice, Nebraska twice, and Purdue twice. Half of their games come against the three worst teams in the Big Ten. After a tough start to Big Ten play, Iowa has a golden chance to fix their season.