Points in Transition: Iowa vs. Indiana preview

Hawkeyes try to end another 3-game losing streak as Hoosiers come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena

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As disappointing as another three-game losing streak might be for the Iowa men’s basketball team, it probably still doesn’t compare to the Big Ten season Indiana has had. The Hawkeyes knew there would be growing pains, but the Hoosiers had ideas about competing again for the conference crown after non-conference wins against No. 3 Kansas and No. 8 North Carolina. What a difference a few months and some key injuries make.

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 Indiana:

Key player

Iowa: Jordan Bohannon, guard — He said Monday his mom, of all people, was the first one to give him a hard time about missing those two free throws at the end of the Illinois game. Tough love, apparently. Either way, it’s a motivator for a young man who prides himself in that area. Having a motivator will be helpful given another tall task against Josh Newkirk and Indiana’s talented backcourt.

Indiana: James Blackmon, guard — He recently came back from injury, making him one among many the Hoosiers have had to live without for a period of time this season — but at least they got him back. He’s the team’s leading scorer and most things run through him. On a team that succeeds thanks in large part to its guards, he’s that engine for Indiana.

Strengths

Iowa: As Fran McCaffery said after the game on Saturday, there was a lot of good that happened. That can’t be overlooked completely, even in a loss — and the amount of good that happened in the first 30 or so minutes of Saturday’s loss to Illinois was good enough the loss became fairly inexplicable.

Iowa forced 17 Illinois turnovers. The Hawkeyes evened out the rebounding at 35-35 and had 10 offensive rebounds. They were feast or famine (but more feast) in the zone press. Iowa shot 50 percent from the field and 3-point range in the first half, when ball movement was better. They finished the game 17 of 22 at the line, a marked improvement.

All good things. All things that you normally look at on the box score and expect to see attached to a victory — if they do those things consistently, that is.

Indiana: The simplest way to put this is offense. For the full season, Indiana ranks 28th on KenPom.com in Adjusted offense at 1.166 points per possession. In Big Ten play only, the Hoosiers rank fourth in the conference at 1.071 ppp. They also sit 26th overall and fifth in the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage and 10th nationally in offensive rebound percentage.

The Hoosier backcourt is very talented, highlighted by the aforementioned Blackmon and Newkirk, but also Robert Johnson who floats around the perimeter.

It’s hard to ask a team to be consistent when losing one of your best players for the year and perhaps your best player for a stretch like they did with Blackmon, but the backcourt has been that for Indiana this season.

Weaknesses

Iowa: The most pervasive undercurrent — and often headline — to this season for the Hawkeyes has been the ebbs and flows of their consistency. During their win streaks, offense has flowed well, rebounding has at least hovered around even and they got stops when they needed. The issue has been, even when they’ve seen it happen against quality opponents, it hasn’t stuck.

There’s no simple answer why that’s the case. It’s not just one thing or another. If it was, it wouldn’t be so hard to nail down, nor would it be so hard to overcome. Every time games like what Iowa has experienced in the last three losses happen, there are things to take away. Talking about and understanding those lessons doesn’t necessarily mean the fix will be applied immediately.

If there’s a common thread for this team, it’s consistent inconsistency.

Indiana: As much as offense has carried Indiana throughout this season, the recent struggles have highlighted a larger problem throughout this season on defense.

The Hoosiers are last in the Big Ten (conference stats only) in Adjusted Defense at 1.098 ppp and last in the conference at sending teams to the free throw line with a 43.7 percent free throw rate in conference play. They sit 11th in opponent effective field goal percentage and 13th in turnover percentage at 21.1 percent in conference play — and 13th in opponent turnover percentage at 15.9.

The turnovers have been pervasive this season — both in their proclivity for turning the ball over and struggle to force them from other teams. Indiana ranks 320th overall this season in turnover percentage and 316th in opponent turnovers. Given Iowa runs that zone press with effectiveness, it could give Indiana fits.

Iowa wins if …

the Hawkeyes can stay on the turnover train defensively against a team that’s turnover-prone, and if they can stay consistent offensively from start to finish on Saturday. This game being at Carver gives Iowa an edge, sure, but it’s still basically a tossup. Lapses like against Illinois will be exploited.

Indiana wins if …

the Hoosiers’ guards can dictate the pace, deal with Iowa’s zone press to the point where they’re consistently getting easy baskets and if they limit their turnovers. Save four maybe the Michigan loss, Indiana has had a real chance to win its last four games, and if turnovers especially are limited, they’ll have a chance again Tuesday.

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

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