Points in Transition: Iowa vs. Illinois rematch

Hawkeyes have a chance to keep rematch record perfect as Illini come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena

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Last time Iowa played Illinois, the Hawkeyes were coming off six days rest. This time, it’ll be seven. Will the result be any different? That’s been the trend for the Hawkeyes in rematches, anyway. Iowa has played three rematch games this season — against Rutgers, Purdue and Nebraska — and has won all three, with the latter pair following losses.

For each Big Ten game this season, we’ll look at key players, strengths and weaknesses for both teams and the key to winning for both sides. Here’s a breakdown of the matchup between Iowa and No. 25 Maryland:

Key player

Iowa: Tyler Cook, forward — Last time out, Cook had just five points on 2 of 6 shooting. He only played 17 minutes thanks in large part to four turnovers that forced him to the bench for Nicholas Baer and Dom Uhl. That said, his frustration in that game came from early opportunities not falling — including multiple right at the rim that wouldn’t go. If he can get off to a better start, his impact should be much greater.

Illinois: Michael Finke, forward — The 6-foot-10 forward made Iowa pay last time out — but not in the post, as his size might suggest. Finke is a high-quality shooter, and led Illinois with 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting overall and 3 of 5 shooting from 3-point range. He’s a matchup issue out on the perimeter, so he’ll be a vital piece off the bench for the Illini.

Strengths

Iowa: It’s a bit eerie looking at the situations going into both Iowa-Illinois matchups, given the Hawkeyes’ days of rest going in, but also that both times Iowa enters the game having lost back-to-back games and were frustrated (albeit for different reasons) by both.

The difference this time? The Hawkeyes will have a healthy Peter Jok and Jordan Bohannon — the former having dealt with a back injury going into that game and the latter a flu bug that made him a shell of himself that night.

Iowa also is just playing better basketball overall than the last time around. The shooting percentage numbers might not suggest that, but the biggest change was against Minnesota and Michigan State — as opposed to Northwestern and Maryland — the Hawkeyes found good looks and played much better defense in the most recent two-game skid. Ball movement has been good and the zone press effective.

Illinois: Despite some other conference stats falling (hold that thought), Illinois has done a decent job taking care of the ball and hasn't fallen victim to opponent steals at a very high rate.

The Illini sit fifth in the Big Ten in offensive turnover rate at 17.2 percent and third in offensive steal percentage at 7.4 percent. Those stats (conference only) have kept them in games and given them at least a chance — even if they haven’t been enough to result in wins.

The Hawkeyes have forced a lot of turnovers in their last few games with the zone press, so if Illinois can avoid falling victim to that, it’ll likely be another close game.

Beyond that, Illinois doesn’t have a ton right going for it right now.

Weaknesses

Iowa: The fact that Iowa players focused so heavily on rebounding and defense in their answers to, “What did you work on?” questions should make this section pretty clear. Iowa has been out-rebounded in eight of the 13 conference games and in three of its six wins. As covered after Iowa’s media availability on Thursday, that’s what the Hawkeyes focused on most in their time off.

More than just needing it to improve overall, it’s a specific need against Illinois. In the first game, the Hawkeyes saw what a solid rebounding showing could do. Iowa was only out-rebounded by two (38-36), but had 16 offensive rebounds and a 13-6 advantage in second-chance points. On a night where they didn’t shoot well, keeping the rebounding margin that close kept them in the game.

Illinois: Since the win against Iowa at State Farm Center, the Illini have lost four of five games — a win at Northwestern the exception — and two of those were to Penn State. The Illini have lost seven of their last nine overall, and their numbers haven’t exactly improved over that span.

Based on conference stats only, Illinois sits 12th in the Big Ten in both Adjusted Offense and Defense at 0.997 and 1.088 respectively, according to KenPom.com. The Illini are 10th in effective field goal percentage at 47.8 percent in conference play, 10th in offensive rebound percentage — a strength of theirs in non-conference — at 29.8 percent and 13th in free throw rate.

They haven’t scored well, haven’t rebounded nearly as well and haven’t gotten to the line — and their record reflects as much because of it.

Iowa wins if …

the Hawkeyes’ shooting woes recover and the rebounding margin is at least within striking distance. Iowa hasn’t needed to win the rebounding battle to win games, but it has needed to shoot at least fairly well. Illinois’ defense hasn’t been outstanding, so if Iowa can shoot out of its slump, another rematch win is a solid bet.

Illinois wins if …

most of what’s gone wrong for the Illini in the last month gets corrected. If Illinois is more efficient on both ends and controls the paint — both with forwards and in dribble penetration — it can control the pace and flow, and in turn keep Iowa from getting what it wants. That might be a tall ask given how the last several games have played out, but it’s the way they win.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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