This afternoon Mackey Arena welcomes visitors from that haven of Nazi-sympathizers, Honey Boo Boo watchers, and Kenny G listeners--Iowa City. Here's what Fran McCaffery and his fascist thugs bring to the statistical table:
1 Their conference schedule has been brutal so far.
Sure, they're looking up at us in the standings, but so far they've played IU, MSU, and Wisconsin at home, along with Michigan, OSU, and Northwestern on the road. If you split the conference into two parts--the Big Boys (ie, all the ranked teams plus Wisconsin) and Everyone Else--Iowa is 1-4 against the Big Boys, 1-0 against Everyone Else. Moreover, they played IU and MSU extremely tough and could have won either of those. By contrast, we're 0-3 against the Big Boys, and 3-0 against Everyone Else--the ole Joe Tiller special.
What to watch for: Does Purdue take control of the game early? This Hawkeye team should be expecting to win this game. They have beaten a better team than us (in Wisconsin), and they've already picked up a game on the road in dominating fashion (at Northwestern). After the gauntlet they've just run, we will look eminently beatable to them. If Purdue hasn't established some breathing room by halftime, I doubt we'll shake them after that, and it'll probably go down to the wire.
2 They shoot poorly--and have regressed during the conference season.
Yes, my friends, after that brief and unpleasant detour through Michigan's den of shot-making, we're back on our meander through the worst shooting teams the Big Ten has to offer. Through six conference games, the Hawkeyes are shooting 26.8% from three and 46.3% from two. Both those numbers represent a drop of about three and a half percentage points from their season-long percentages. That drop is probably not a small sample size illusion either. While their conference schedule has been tough, their non-conference was laughably easy, and that likely padded their shooting numbers. I suspect the conference numbers are much closer to reality.
What to watch for: Are their threes falling? I don't think Iowa will be able to hit a bunch of twos against our defense, but we all know that three-point shooting is streaky. But if they hit a few, that would certainly build confidence and loosen things up for them in the paint.
3 Aaron White shoots a BUNCH of free throws.
His individual free throw rate is 84.4, good for 9th in the entire country. Or to put it another way, he draws 6.8 fouls for every 40 minutes he plays. On the whole, Iowa is not exceptional at getting to the foul line, but in tight games where points are at a premium, having at least one guy who reliably gets to the line can be invaluable. Against Wisconsin, he hit 13 of 15 free throws. Six of those attempts came on late-game desperation fouling by the Badgers, but getting even nine free throws against the low-fouling Badgers is impressive.
What to watch for: Are our bigs able to challenge shots in the paint without fouling? After seeing the Wolverines dominate Hammons, I'd expect Iowa to come right at him early to try to draw a foul or two. Other than that, watch out if one of our more foul-prone bigs ends up guarding White on a switch.
4 They play at a fairly high pace.
For the season, Iowa's been getting in about 70 possessions per game, highest in the Big Ten. After diving into the molasses of conference play, they've slowed down by a couple possessions but are still the fastest in the conference.
What to watch for: Who controls the tempo? I expect Painter will try to slow this game down. Iowa is the type of team that can play well without shooting well--they can get to the line (as they did against Wisconsin, IU, and OSU) or clean the offensive glass (as they did against Northwestern and OSU). A fast-paced game can tend towards sloppiness--ill-advised fouls, missed block-outs, Ronnie Johnson three-point attempts, and NBA Jammery of all sorts. To avoid giving Iowa those type of opportunities, I wouldn't be surprised to see an extra emphasis on deliberate play from Painter today.
Iowa's performance against their tough conference schedule so far suggests that they can give us a run for our money, but I don't see anything in the numbers to suggest that they can get over the top. Their conference shooting numbers (on both offense and defense) are bad. And at Mackey, I doubt they'll have the wherewithal to find another route to the win.
Purdue 67, Iowa 57