After a disappointing week that featured a collapse in Miami Purdue pulled a 180 last week. Against Ohio State and Notre Dame it once again opened double-digit second half leads and, although our opponents made a couple of late runs, this time Purdue held on for the win. In both games it got that key basket to stop the bleeding that was missing from the Miami game. In both games Purdue played with a lot more confidence and poise. It was a very encouraging week at a crucial time if Purdue wants to make whatever form the 2021 NCAA Tournament takes.
The Boilers now sit at 6-2 and it went through a sneaky-tough non-conference slate that featured three ACC teams, a solid low major in Liberty that could be an NCAA tournament team, and a couple of traditionally strong Missouri Valley teams. I think most of us would have taken 5-2 through those seven games before the season started. It is, therefore, a good place to be in where we can argue it should have been 6-1.
Now things get tougher. The Big Ten slate begins in earnest with what will be an absolute juggernaut. There is not going to be a single game we can take for granted, especially after Northwestern absolutely smoked a top 5 Michigan State last night. Three of the next four games are against teams currently in the top 20 of the rankings, starting tomorrow night with top 5 Iowa.
From: Iowa City, IA
Date: Tuesday, December 22, 2020
Tip Time: 9pm
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Arena: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Capacity: 15,500)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: No Line Yet
2019-20 Record: 20-11, 11-9 Big Ten
2019-20 Record: 6-2, 0-0 Big Ten
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 92-76
Last Iowa Win: 83-78 at Iowa on 1/12/2017
Last Purdue Win: 77-68 at Purdue on 3/3/2020
NCAA Tournament History: 26 appearances, last in 2019. 1956 NCAA Runner-up
Coach: Fran McCaffery (200-144 in 11th season at Iowa, 451-321 overall)
I am probably going to regret saying this, but of all the ranked teams in the Big Ten I fear Iowa the least. Yes, they are a very good team, but Matt Painter has always done really, really well against Fran McCaffery. Painter is 10-6 against McCaffery since he came to Iowa and he got an additional win against him in the 2010 NCAA Tournament in McCaffery’s final game at Siena.
Then there was last season. The Hawkeyes got most of last year’s team back, including National Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza. They were very good last year, but Purdue swept them. That gives me confidence because if there is one thing Iowa has proven it is that they are absolutely incapable of playing defense. They don’t really need to as good as they are on offense, but this is a team perfectly comfortable playing in the 80s or 90s.
During the current four game win streak over the Hawkeyes Purdue has absolutely shot the damn lights out of the gym. In the 2018 win we set the school record for most three-pointers in a game with 20. The Boilers came close to that last year in the 104-68 dismantling we handed out in Mackey Arena as Purdue went 19 of 34 from long range. In Iowa City later in the year, a 77-68 win that was our final victory of the season, Purdue was only 8 of 27 from three, but got to the line regularly.
The Hawkeyes begin and end with Garza, who has been fantastic. He leads the Big Ten and even all of the NCAA in scoring at an astounding 29.3 points per game. He also averages 9.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. At this rate he is basically a lock for Big Ten Player of the Year and has an excellent shot at being National Player of the Year. He is shooting 69.6% from the floor and 61.9% from three. In short, he is probably the best player we will see all season. Even last year he had 26 points in both games against Purdue.
Garza is going to get his. There is nothing we can really do to stop that. At 6’11”, 265 pounds he has the size to bang with Trevion Williams and Zach Edey inside and he has the shooting ability to pull them away from the basket. Unless he gets in foul trouble (which, good luck. He averages less than 3 fouls per game for his entire career), he is probably dropping a 30 and 10.
Where Purdue needs to concentrate defensively is guarding the perimeter, limiting the supporting cast, and daring Garza to score 50 and beat us by himself. Joe Weiskamp is averaging 15.9 points per game and shooting just under 50% from three. Jack Nunge has been an excellent player at the four spot, averaging 10.6 points and 6.8 rebounds, which loosens things up even more for Garza. CJ Fredrick, Patrick McCaffery and Jordan Bohannon give them a deep bench of experienced guards. Iowa plays 9-10 players deep and they have not been held under 88 points yet through seven games. They average 98.7 points per game, which is the best in the country.
It goes without saying that Iowa is very, very good, and Purdue’s defensive struggles will be compounded in this game. They are giving up 72.9 points per game, which rates 12th in the conference, but when you’re scoring 98 points per game who cares if you give up 88?
For Purdue to have a chance in this one it is going to have to limit Iowa’s production from its guards and remain as hot as it has been from three as it has been the last few years against the Hawkeyes. It also Helps that we’re coming off of our best offensive game of the season. Purdue’s versatile offense and two interior strong players to go against Garza can help. Purdue won both games last season by letting Garza get his and closing out on everyone else. Garza had 52 of their 136 points combined against the boilers and only Weiskamp in the game in Iowa City reached double figures with 10 points.
It’s going to be extremely difficult, but given recent history Purdue definitely has a shot.