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Post of the week, Baby!

We have passed yet another milestone this week at Off the Tracks, as Gopher Nation, the esteemible blog that compiles the Big Ten Power Poll for basketball, bestowed the award of "Post of the Week" upon this humble blog for my efforts in this week's poll. As a token of my appreciation I have hyped up and linked his story here through Ballhype, and he will be receiving the Nobel Prize for blog-writing as a further token of my esteem. Tom will also be featured prominently in the new What people are saying about Off the Tracks section of the site until someone says something better.

On to more serious matters now, and that means it is time to take a look at tonight's opponent. Purdue has played three road games to date, and despite solid efforts in each game we are 0-3 on the road. Tonight is a road game we can hardly afford to drop if we have any plans of making the NCAA's. Those hopes were renewed on Saturday with the victory over Ohio State, and they must be sustained with a solid win tonight. Even last year, with a better team, we struggled our way to just two wins in true road games. Those wins came over Penn State and Northwestern. This same Iowa team crushed us in Iowa City and nearly derailed our hopes of getting into the dance.

Iowa so far:

They really aren't the same Hawkeyes of a year ago as Steve Alford has departed to New Mexico and Todd Lickliter was hijacked from Butler's sweet 16 run to take over. When Alford left a few former players left with him, but Lickliter has begun to shape this team into what he wants it to be. You've got to figure that since Butler was one of the most well-coached and fundamentally sound teams in the country last year they will soon reach that level. Naturally, the Hawkeyes have been up and down in what amounts to a transition year.

After seeing the win over Michigan State and near miss against Indiana I'd like to say that they defend their home court well. Losses to Louisiana-Monroe and Drake suggest otherwise though. Drake is a quality team that currently sits atop the Missouri Valley Conference and is 14-1 overall, so that loss is not as bad as it looks. So far they have played the toughest schedule of anyone in the conference, opening with Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State before hosting us as arguably the fifth best team.

In games against common opponents the Hawkeyes have lost to Iowa State and Ohio State, but have beaten Michigan State. Two suspicious losses came in the South Padre Invitational, as the Hawkeyes lost two games by double figures to Utah State and Bradley.

Who is dangerous from Iowa:

Junior guard Tony Freeman and Senior guard Justin Johnson are both averaging more than 14 points per game. Outside of those two the scoring drops of significantly, as the Hawkeyes are not nearly as balanced in scoring as us. The next high man is freshman forward Jarryd Cole at 6.6 points per game. Because of this scoring dropoff it is no surprise that Iowa ranks dead last in the conference scoring-wise at almost 57 points per game. That is eight points behind 10th place Illinois. They are also not a very strong rebounding team, staying ahead of only Northwestern in terms of cleaning the offensive glass.

Iowa's deficiencies on the offensive end of the floor are made up for on the defensive end, as the Hawkeyes are the second best defensive team in the conference behind Wisconsin. They give up a little over 57 points per game, and are perfectly happy in a low scoring, old-school Big Ten slugfest. Because Lickliter is trying to figure out who he needs to work with the Hawkeyes are surprisingly deep with players that have played significant minutes. Ironically Freeman, the team's leading scorer, has played in the fewest games (just 7), but had his best outing at 22 points against the Spartans. Amazingly ten players average at least 14 minutes a game, playing to the theory that it is critical to keep fresh guys on the floor for a defensive-minded team.

What not to fear from Iowa:

As mentioned above, they are not going to get in a 95-93 shootout with us. Iowa barely shoots more than 41% from the field and little more than 61% from the free throw line. Those are simply abysmal numbers and it means we should have little trouble in simply outscoring this team if we can break their defense. Iowa scored 73 points and made a furious comeback against Indiana, but in its other three conference games they have scored 51, 48, and 43 points. The 43 points against Michigan State was enough for a win since the Spartans scored just 36 in that game, which probably set the game of basketball back about 40 years.

As Black Heart Gold Pants mentioned in their wrap of the Michigan State game, the Hawkeyes are an incredibly hard working team. Unfortunately, they just aren't that talented. The close loss to Indiana probably has more to do with a lapse by the Hoosiers, but I'll give credit to Iowa for fighting until the end. Michigan State simply crapped the bed against a bad team on the road. Still, of the four bottom teams in the Big Ten right now, (Illinois, Michigan, and Northwestern are in this group) I think the Hawkeyes are the best simply because they will not quit against you. This makes them dangerous as Michigan State found out.

General Outlook:

With the news that Penn State's Geary Claxton is done for the year the bottom four could quickly become the bottom five. Of those five Iowa is the best team. They have already proven they can play the conference's best teams well at home, and since we're not on the level of Michigan State and Indiana (yet) we must naturally be wary. The Butler style of offense demands that teams be able to shoot the ball better than the opposition, and that is simply something Iowa does not do yet.

The mission for this game is simple: go in there and make our shots to simply outscore them. We have too many weapons and our scoring is way too balanced for us to struggle in this one. Michigan State does not have our balance but their leaders struggled, so that made them struggle. Defensively our task is to do the same to them. If we're able to shut Freeman or Johnson, just one of them, we should have little trouble pulling off the win.

That being said we were supposed to have little trouble beating Minnesota in Minneapolis last year, and look how well that turned out. Recently we have not played well at all in Iowa City (Neither has the football team. It must be the pink locker room), having lost our last three games there by at least 10 points. That alone makes me leery of facing this team. It should be a good chance to find out if we can finally close out an opponent on the road.