Unlikely as it may have seemed not many days ago, the bigger pregame story of Tuesday night’s Northwestern-Iowa men’s basketball game is the Wildcats, not the Hawkeyes.
Northwestern is the one of the two that is 3-0 and atop the Big Ten standings. It is the one that has two wins over Top 25 teams since last Sunday, triumphs over Michigan State and Ohio State at home that sandwiched a victory at Indiana.
It is the team that went 3-17 in the Big Ten last season and 8-23 overall. Monday, it moved into the rankings itself at No. 19, nine spots below the 7-2 Hawkeyes, who slipped to 1-1 in the conference after their 102-95 overtime loss at Minnesota last Friday.
Northwestern is riding high as it rides into Carver-Hawkeye Arena Tuesday for the 8:07 p.m. game (FS1). Suddenly, one of the few games on Iowa’s conference schedule that didn’t seem big seems, well, big.
“They have a lot of guys that are playing really well right now,” said Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp, “shooting the ball really well. You can just tell by watching film that they’re connected.
“You can just tell that the way they’re playing defensively, the way that they’re moving the ball on offense, they’re playing connected and they’re playing like they have something to prove.”
It’s a team that is averaging 42.2 percent from 3-point range while allowing just 27.5 percent, it’s a good free throw-shooting team, and like Iowa, it is among the Big Ten’s top four teams in fewest turnovers per game.
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The Hawkeyes’ mission seems simple enough. Namely, defend similarly to how they did in last Tuesday’s 70-55 home win over Purdue rather than in last Friday’s 102-95 overtime loss at Minnesota.
The Hawkeyes need, Coach Fran McCaffery said Monday, to be “I think consistently locked in like we were against Purdue. Purdue runs a lot of really good stuff offensively, they execute well.
“Our press was good. Half-court defense was good. Activity was good. Execution was good.
“Against Minnesota it was good at times, it was really bad at times. And we kind of relied on our offensive ability to go outscore them, and didn’t get the job done there. So I think the same type of effort we had against (North) Carolina and against Purdue is going to be necessary in this league.”
Sophomore Joe Toussaint played a lot of point guard down the stretch for Iowa in the Minnesota game. He played well, but that was negated by the sting of his two missed free throws with 14 seconds left in the second half and Iowa ahead 83-80.
The Gophers tied the game on a Marcus Carr 3-pointer, then rolled to victory in the overtime.
“He’s a great free-throw shooter,” said Iowa guard Connor McCaffery. “I don’t think anyone expected him to miss both in that scenario. He’s really upset with himself. I know that he’ll bounce back from it.
“I texted him after the game. We all were talking to him in the locker room. He was really upset. He just said yesterday when we were shooting free throws ‘That will never happen again.’ He was adamant about that.”
“I flushed the game already,” Toussaint said. “I’m just moving on to the next game.”
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