#19 Golden Gophers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes
6:00 pm (CST) at Carver Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, Iowa)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
Liveblog: Yes. I’ll be typing away, just like the CSU game.
There was a time not too long ago in fact, when a basketball game between Minnesota and Iowa meant something. It was a game to look forward to, get excited about, curse our southern neighbors, and of course make hog jokes. Iowa games still mean more than say, a match-up against Penn State, but not as much as they should.
From the 1970’s through the mid-1990’s, the Hawkeyes just might have been Minnesota’s main rival. Wisconsin was down right horrible, winning more than half their games in only two seasons between 1981 and 1995. The Gophers had their off years during this period, but not more than a decade of futility, and were generally able to overpower the Badgers. During this same period, Iowa emerged as something of a national power, with a #1 ranking during the 1986-1987 season and going to nine NCAA tournaments with Dr. Tom Davis and his fast pace, rapidly substituting, air-ball passing philosophy. During the 2000’s Iowa has had modest success, certainly more than the Gophers, but not enough to match Wisconsin, which has become a true national power. The attention and ire of Gopher fans has shifted east, and what once was a great rivalry has become something of an after thought.
When the Hawkeyes came to Williams Arena during the Clem Haskins years the hate was palpable. The Hawkeyes had some truly hate-worthy players, whether they were already hated and happened to transfer to Iowa (Sam Okeye and Luke Recker), were on the team so long that any positive characteristics were forgotten after six years (Jess Settles), or were cocky McDonald’s All-Americans that always failed at just the right time (Chris Kingsbury). I learned words at Williams Arena that I still won’t say in front of my parents from attending games against Iowa, now I have to ask whether they are still even a rival (in basketball at least).
Iowa comes in Thursday’s game an 11-4 record. Their best win was a two point squeaker over Kansas State. Their worst loss was a 17 point embarrassing defeat against in state rival Drake. So far in the Big Ten they barely lost to Ohio State after making 14-28 three pointers, and promptly barely beat Indiana in their last game making only 5-14 from behind the three point line. The Hawkeyes are better than last year, but still have a long way to go.
It doesn’t help that the Hawkeyes are dreadfully boring. They rank dead last in the entire country in possessions per 40 minutes, with only 57.2. Despite their slow pace, the Hawkeyes can put the ball in the basket, especially behind the three point line where they rank #6 at 40.9%. Their two point shooting, offensive turnovers, and free throw shooting is all comparable to the Gophers. Defensively, Minnesota should have an advantage, as they lead in every defensive category. Their biggest advantages are in blocked shots and steals, where Iowa is average and the Gophers are among the best in the nation.
Rebounding, which has been the Gophers’ Achilles heel most of the season, shouldn’t be an issue tomorrow. The Hawkeyes are a perimeter oriented team without much size. Cyrus Tate a 6’8” forward is a legitimate inside force, but besides him it is nothing but guards. As one would expect from such a small team, the Hawkeyes rank #289 in offensive rebounding. The Gophers rank #294 in giving up offensive rebounds, but as was evident when the Gophers out-rebounded Ohio State on both ends, these things have a way of cancelling each other out with the taller team having an advantage.
The Gophers will be playing their first Big Ten road game and first road game of any kind since their own near disaster at Colorado State in their 4th game of the season. Since then, the Gophers have emerged as the surprise team of the Big Ten, though just how good they are is still up in the air. They beat Louisville, who has since struggled, and they easily handled Ohio State who has since gone into free fall mode. If this game was at Williams Arena it would probably be an easy win for the Gophers. However, it will be the first trip to a truely hostile environment for five Gophers against a (nominal rival). There are no easy Big Ten road games, and the Gophers will need to play one of their better games of the season to escape Carver Hawkeye Arena with a win.
Keys for the Gophers
- Play excellent perimeter defense. A team as talented from the outside as the Hawkeyes can overcome a lot of mistakes thanks to their shooting. If the Gophers can hold Iowa to even average outside shooting, the Gophers should be able to outplay them enough in other areas to win.
- Rebound on the defensive end. South Dakota State, another small team that loves to shoot three pointers, grabbed 43% of potential offensive rebounds. If that happens again the Gophers could be in trouble.
- Control the tempo. The slower the game is the better it is for the Hawkeyes. If the Gophers make their shots and can set up the press, we may see a Cornell repeat.
Keys for the Hawkeyes
- Find mismatches. Even if the Gophers don’t play Sampson III and Iverson together, there should still be a Gopher forward matched up against a quicker and speedier guard. If whomever this mystery Hawkeye is can move without the ball, their should plenty of open outside shots.
- Dump the ball inside. Even if the Hawkeyes don’t plan to score any points in the paint, they’ll have to keep the Gophers honest and force them to defend the interior to open up the perimeter
- Make three pointers. It is their entire offense after all.
Key Players for the Gophers
- Paul Carter was a huge energizing spark for the Gophers in their win over Ohio State. He should continue to get more playing time, and it will be needed against the Hawkeyes. Carter should be able to keep up with much smaller players on the defensive end while enjoying a considerable height advantage on offense.
- Al Nolen will need to be a leader on both ends of the floor. Young teams tend to make ugly mistakes during their first Big Ten road games.
- Ralph Sampson III has started to enter a freshman slump. His considerable size advantage could lead to a big game, and more importantly a boost in confidence.
Key Players for the Hawkeyes
- Cyrus Tate is Iowa’s only real interior player. He won’t need to score a lot, but will need to be a rebounding machine. He leads his team with 6.7 rebounds per game to go along with 7.7 points per game.
- Matt Gatens is one of the best three point shooter in the country, making a staggering 54.1% of his outside shots and leading the Hawkeyes in scoring. He has been a huge boost filling in for the out of shape, or sick, or drunk Anthony Tucker.
- Jeff Peterson leads the team in assists and is second in scoring with 10.1 points per game.
Prediction: If Indiana can come within five points of beating the Hawkeyes, the Gophers should win by at least five. Minnesota 61 Iowa 54.
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