Points in Transition: Iowa vs. Purdue rematch

Hawkeyes need a few things to go much differently if they want the upset at Carver-Hawkeye Arena

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As far as rematches go, one of this level of difficulty so early in the conference season is both a good and bad thing for the Iowa men’s basketball team. On one hand, it’s tough to have to play a team like Purdue in such quick succession, this time Thursday at 8 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. On the other, it gets a tough part of the schedule out of the way, and will likely provide more lessons in growing for these Hawkeyes.

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. 19 Purdue:

Key player

Iowa: Nicholas Baer, forward/guard — Baer is the bridge between guards and forwards that, when he’s playing with effectiveness, forces opposing coaches to change personnel. Teams are forced to put a guard on him, yet he can play inside the arc and use a little size advantage in those situations. He was the only real sliver of hope for Iowa in the first half last time out, and his role likely will be a big one again.

Purdue: Carsen Edwards, guard — Edwards hasn’t had the same kind of output he did in the Big Ten opener against Iowa, but that might not be a coincidence. The Hawkeyes have allowed guards to go off on several occasions, and Edwards’ hot start at Mackey Arena was just one example. How he’s guarded by some combination of Isaiah Moss, Brady Ellingson and at times Jok will help dictate the flow of the game.

Strengths

Iowa: It might seem like a small thing, but Iowa’s zone press has been a valuable go-to in several situations so far in Big Ten play. Purdue had trouble with it for a stretch last time out — though, obviously, it didn’t ultimately matter — and Michigan, Rutgers and Nebraska all were forced into turnovers when Peter Jok, Jordan Bohannon and Baer worked in sync.

It’s not something the Hawkeyes can run exclusively — unless they want Jok and Baer to be exhausted all the time — but if deployed with the right timing, it can frustrate opposing offenses and get them out of rhythm. Fran McCaffery has used it well so far, and it would be shocking not to see it multiple times on Thursday night.

That, coupled with an effective transition game give Iowa a few things that — while maybe not used the majority of possessions — could be key components to snagging an upset.

Purdue: Purdue has done to most teams what it did to Iowa the first time around: make the Hawkeyes work for every inch. The Boilermakers are talented enough outside as well as inside that even an offense with the ability of Iowa has tremendous difficulty finding open looks.

Last time around, Jok was stifled for basically the first half, and Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl found themselves in foul trouble. Purdue’s inside-outside game forces opponents into inefficiency. Wisconsin looked like the best team in the Big Ten before going to Mackey Arena and left humbled.

The Boilermakers’ rebounding and defensive efficiency remain a staple of what makes them so good. They’re top 10 in offensive rebound percentage and free throw rate — which once again poses major problems for Iowa, which will need to get to the line and rebound better this time around.

Weaknesses

Iowa: In the first game, Iowa looked lost in zone defense against a highly efficient and potent Purdue offense. McCaffery has said repeatedly when the Hawkeyes can anticipate instead of react, good things happen. The issue is their ability to anticipate defensively hasn’t increased greatly since the last time these two teams played.

It’s not just that, though. Iowa got out-rebounded by Rutgers and had 37 turnovers in two games last week. It might not be realistic to expect to outrebound a team that has Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, but controlling the ball will be a must.

Turnovers were highlighted in the last Points in Transition for Purdue, but it’s the first barrier the Hawkeyes can knock down to help their success.

Purdue: It’s only happened once or twice this season, but if there’s anything Purdue has struggled with, it’s been containing opposing point guards. Particularly in the loss to Minnesota, Purdue got burned by Gophers’ guard Nate Mason getting to the rim repeatedly.

Iowa had limited success in that in the Dec. 28 matchup, particularly from Jok, and it came several times on ball screen actions. That’s what Caleb Swanigan cited after the Minnesota loss, telling the Lafayette Journal-Courier that he and point guard PJ Thompson struggled with ball screens, and that he “let (P.J.) down on a few things, and he got behind on some things.”

Jordan Bohannon has shown the ability to get to the rim off and on so far this year, and will need to exploit what Minnesota did if the Hawkeyes can cash in on the upset.

Iowa wins if …

the Hawkeyes can get a more balanced effort offensively than the first matchup, and keep Cook and Pemsl out of foul trouble. Iowa will need to play much better than it did Sunday against Rutgers, control the ball much better and get off to a good start from the field — something that for sure didn’t happen in West Lafayette in December.

Purdue wins if …

the Boilermakers can once again lure the Hawkeyes into being a half-step behind everywhere. Purdue spreads the ball around decisively and with efficiency, and as long as it can keep Iowa guessing while throwing its weight around, there should be no trouble getting the regular season sweep of the Hawkeyes.

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

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