Saturday’s game between the Northwestern Wildcats and Iowa Hawkeyes will tell us a heck of a lot about both teams. I’ve been on record saying the Hawkeyes are a year away from real contention but damn they’ve lost a lot of close games. If they finished just a few of them they might be one of the elite teams in the Big Ten. For real.
Nevertheless, this will be a quite a challenge for the Wildcats but they showed last year they can go into Carver-Hawkeye in a “must win” and get it done. That Iowa team wasn’t a slouch either. They had a quite a run during the conference season.
This year’s squad is coming off a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in a game they nearly stole on the road. Missed free throws were probably the difference. I bet that sounds familiar to Northwestern fans, no? Let’s get to the breakdown…
Controlling the tempo is the main priority in this one. The ‘Cats can’t be baited into running with Iowa. The Hawkeyes are nine deep and have some really good athletes. I was a bit surprised that Northwestern pushed the tempo against the Purdue Boilermakers but it certainly helped them get off to a fast start. However, you can’t get fooled into thinking that’s a recipe for success long term.
Work the ball inside to Alex Olah. He’s been hungry the last two games and we all know big men like to eat. If the Hawkeyes double team him to try and force a turnover, you should be able to get an open look from three. Iowa’s not exactly know for their lock down half court defense.
Defensively, I’d throw the 1-3-1 zone out there quite a bit. Iowa can’t really shoot and doesn’t have any great ball handlers. Don’t let the length of Aaron White and Adam Woodbury have their way against your smaller lineup. A couple quick turnovers off the bat can take the crowd out of the game. You don’t need to always start man and then use the 1-3-1 as a change up. Mix it up for once!
Roy Devyn Marble has got to get on track sometime. This looks like a great opportunity. Northwestern has no one that can stay with him off the dribble. See if he can get the ball inside and breakdown the defense to get open looks for Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby from three point land. They are both better shooters than the numbers indicate.
Play big. Ever since Fran McCaffery ditched the small lineup you’ve started to see some identity from Iowa that was missing during the non-conference season. Northwestern has little size outside of Olah. Get him in foul trouble and Bill Carmody will have few options to counter White, Woodbury and Melsahn Basabe.
Defensively you need to get physical with Northwestern. The Michigan Wolverines game was a great blueprint. They grabbed, held and basically undressed the Wildcats cutters. You know the refs can’t call a foul every time, especially when you are at home. If you get under their skin they won’t even try to take the ball inside and will spend 40 minutes shooting threes.
You can argue which team needs this game more but I’d say the pendulum swings slightly to Iowa. It’s so hard to win on the road this year, you’ve got to defend your home court. However, if Northwestern can pull this one out they’ll be at 5-6 in conference with seven games to make history. A 4-3 record from there would probably get it done. Heck, a 3-4 record might. First things first though.
I think Iowa’s athleticism will wear down the Wildcats but it will be a close one. Iowa 63 – Northwestern 59.
Like my article? Hate it? Let me know on Twitter (@tmichaelcronin). I look forward to your thoughts.