It’s time for Big Ten play! The first step towards a championship comes tonight in Mackey Arena against the same team that ruined last year’s Big Ten title hope. Iowa played Purdue twice last year and beat us twice. In fact, they were the only visiting team to win in Mackey Arena all season. This year they feature the Big Ten’s leading scorer in Peter Jok, but I have news for them: Purdue has already lost its allotment of games at home.
Today’s preview will be slightly different. Max Brekke, the man who runs the propaganda rag Black Heart Gold Pants of Our Most Hated Rival asked me some questions as a sort of détente in this always spicy rivalry. My answers are already up over at BHGP, but his will follow all of our important information.
From: Iowa City, IA
Date : Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Tip Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: West Lafayette, IN
Arena: Mackey Arena (14,804)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: Purdue by 12.5
2015-16 Record: 22-11, 12-6 Big Ten, lost to Villanova 87-68 in NCAA Tournament Second Round
2016-17 Record: 8-5
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 87-75
Last Iowa Win: 83-71 at Iowa on 1/24/2016
Last Purdue Win: 67-63 at Purdue on 1/24/2015
NCAA Tournament History: 25 Appearances, last in 2016. 1955, 1956, and 1980 Final Four
Last year it looked as if the Hawkeyes had the Big Ten won at the end of January. On February 7 They were 10-1 in conference play with two game sweeps of both Michigan State and Purdue. An 85-78 loss at Indiana shifted everything in the Big Ten race. The Hawkeyes stumbled out of their first conference title since 1979 by going 2-5 down the stretch. That included getting swept by eventual champ Indiana as well as a loss at Penn State. The bottom was a two-point loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. They beat Temple in the NCAA tournament, but after looking like a possible No. 1 seed in early February they were 3-9 in their last 12 games.
So far this season Iowa has been all over the place. Losses to Seton Hall, Virginia, Memphis, and Notre Dame are commendable. Beating rival Iowa State was nice. Losing at home to Nebraska would be bad enough, but they lost at home to Nebraska-Omaha. That question leads off our Q&A with Max:
T-Mill: Omaha? Really?
Max: Yeah that's a thing that really happened. It might actually be the best thing to happen to Iowa hoops this season, if we're being honest. Before that game, Iowa's defense was downright abysmal (more on that in a bit) and that game was a huge wake-up call for a really young team. Since then, Iowa hasn't lost and has played some good basketball. You kinda wish it didn't happen, but if that loss turns out to be a turning point in the season, all will be forgotten.
T-Mill: That said, It seems like Iowa is all over the map this year. You have your in-state supremacy and the other four losses aren't that bad. What was the main issue in the four game losing streak?
Max: DEFENSE (clap clap) DEFENSE (clap clap). This team just flat out didn't play it at all at the beginning of the season, giving up over 90 points in three of those losses (and 74 to a Virginia team that doesn't score a whole lot). They were in a couple of those games late (they had Notre Dame on the ropes for a bit before falling down the stretch), but when you're giving up as many points as the Hawkeyes were, you're going to struggle to stay in games, let alone win them.
As I mentioned, things have turned around since that awful loss to Nebraska-Omaha. This team has been able to score at will just about all season, but now that they're playing at least competent defense, they should be a lot more competitive heading into Big Ten play.
T-Mill: Peter Jok is leading the Big Ten in scoring, by quite a large margin! Is he just a one-man wrecking crew or the best guy on a team that is struggling to find other contributors?
Max: Jok is going to get his, and always was going to be this team's leading scorer this season with his silky smooth jump shot. He's actually struggled a bit from the field as of late, but has baited teams into fouling him and has been lethal from the free throw line at 93%. He drives to the hoop a bit more this season, and that added element has helped him get to the line a lot.
This team isn't short of other contributors by any stretch of the imagination. While Jok is clearly the go-to guy in any situation, Iowa has a couple guys in the post that can get work done, although Haas and Swanigan will be far and away their toughest test yet. Freshman Tyler Cook will be returning to action against Purdue to add a much needed boost for this Hawkeye team. The former 4-star recruit was averaging almost 14 ppg before he went down with an injury during that losing streak, but he's an athletic freak. The most important part of his game is that he's a good ball-handler and can drive to the hoop or pull up and shoot a jumper.
Another freshman who has made a huge impact for this team is forward Cordell Pemsl. He's been dominant in the paint this season, and while he hasn't been able to add an outside game yet, he hasn't needed to. He's shooting over 74% from the field this season, showing time and again that he knows what a good shot is and that he can get into position to take it. When he misses, he often does as a result of contact - he's been to the line the second most out of anyone on this Hawkeye team. His biggest advantage is that he's left-handed, and opposing players often seem to forget this, allowing for easy layups.
Lastly, freshmen Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss have been really good pieces at the guard position. Together, they only average 16 ppg, but they're most important in their ability to stretch the floor. They both have good outside games, while Moss has a downright sexy transition game.
T-Mill: Iowa used its press last season to sweep Purdue. In fact, they were the only visiting team to win in Mackey Arena. How formidable is it this year?
Max: This team hasn't used the press a whole ton this year unless Nicholas Baer is on the court. When they've used it, it's been moderately successful, but mostly in terms that it hasn't been exploited too badly by anyone. This year's team definitely doesn't have the pieces to run a formidable press this year in the absence of Anthony Clemmons, Jarrod Uthoff, and Adam Woodbury. I'm sure that Fran knows how successful it was last year, however, and likely has used the past week to ramp up their practices in preparation for this game.
T-Mill: Purdue looks to have a major advantage with Haas and Swanigan down low. How does Iowa defend them?
Max: It's going to be really difficult to defend these two because of their size, but you'll likely see a lot of Nicholas Baer and Ahmad Wagner guarding these two, as well as Cook and Pemsl. Iowa's best defenders do the majority of their work on the perimeter, so provided that Purdue is able to get the ball into the hands of Swanigan and Haas, those two should have a lot of success. The combination of Baer and Wagner should be able to slow them down, but those two will be conceding a lot of minutes to others if Iowa is unable to score efficiently enough with them on the floor. Iowa's best defense against these two will likely be to play solid perimeter defense and force bad passes, which is where they've found most of their success this season.
T-Mill: Do you think Iowa can come back to make the NCAA Tournament?
Max: This team definitely has the talent to make it to the tourney, but I don't know if they'll be able to put it all together just yet against Big Ten competition. When Jok isn't on the floor, the lineup is almost always comprised of freshmen and sophomores, and they make a lot of freshmen mistakes. Bohannon isn't a bonafide point guard yet and makes a lot of ill-fated passes, while the freshmen still tend to have enough defensive lapses that it has the potential to cost the team some games. This should definitely be an NIT bound team, and at best will be a bubble team in the NCAA Tournament. Who knows, though - with the skill this team has, they can be very dangerous once the Big Ten Tournament rolls around.
T-Mill: Finally, what is your prediction?
Max: I think Purdue is going to win this one by about ten points. Iowa has a lot of offensive firepower, but I don't know how they can possibly slow down both Swanigan and Haas to the point where they can pull this game out. If the Boilermakers struggle with their shooting and have to depend completely on those two, I think Iowa has a chance, but I haven't seen enough from these young Hawks yet to think they can beat a top-tier Big Ten team.