Golden Gophers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

3:00 pm (CST) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, Iowa)

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

TV: Big Ten Network

One year removed from questioning whether the Minnesota-Iowa rivalry, once one of the most intense in all of college basketball, was dead, I’ve decided to find out first hand. In a first but hopefully not last for me, I will be attending my very first Gopher road game from the friendly confines of a roughly 30% full Carver Hawkeye Arena. The cost can’t be beat, roughly $50 for a ticket and a share of a hotel room. All it cost us was a 5 hour drive across some of the most desolate countryside anywhere. Cormac McCarthy would even consider it bleak.

Luckily Iowa City isn’t that bad. The drunken undergrads are either home on break or playing in the Orange Bowl. There is a surprisingly diverse restaurant scene including something called chicken lips that I have been assured does not involve the lips of a chicken. Even the streets are easy to navigate and arranged in a numerical order that St. Paul should consider adopting. In short, Iowa City is too good for the Hawkeye basketball team.

The fact that I am even down here is a testament to how bad Iowa basketball has become, and how little interest their once loyal fans now have. When tickets went on sale, the Gophers were still a top 20 team, and are of course one of Iowa’s biggest rivals. Getting tickets couldn’t have been easier, and moving down into great empty seats won’t be a problem either. There isn’t much to get excited about when it comes to Iowa basketball, and those who have lost interest aren’t missing much.

The Hawkeyes come into Saturday afternoon’s game with a 5-8 record including home losses to UT-San Antonio and Duquesene and a neutral court loss to Wichita State. Iowa played better than expected against Purdue in the conference season opener, and even led at the half, but that seemed to have a lot more to do with Purdue’s inability to score.

Iowa may have caught the Gophers at an opportune time. Ralph Sampson III, the starting Gopher center, rolled his ankle in practice on Wednesday and is expected to play limited minutes if he can even play at all. This will force the Gophers to go small, but not as small as Iowa. The Hawkeyes play only two players taller than 6’7” for meaningful minutes, and only one, Jarryd Cole, is a post player. Paul Carter will likely play center when Colton Iverson is not in the game, but he’ll still have a height advantage.

In recent years, to compensate for their lack of talent, the Hawkeyes have been one of the slowest teams in college basketball. This trend continues this year in which they average 63 possessions per game, nearly ten fewer than the Gophers. Theoretically this limits their opponents opportunities to score. Counting on a slow offense to prevent the other team from scoring may be a better strategy that relying on their defense, which has been horrible. Iowa forces the 313th most turnovers in the country, and ranks 263rd and 268th in defending three point and two point shots respectively. The Hawkeyes also rank in the low 300s in steals and blocked shots. Iowa isn’t afraid to throw out a zone once in a while, and with Minnesota’s occasionally poor outside shooting, especially with the second team in the game, expect them to test the Gophers early with a zone.

Despite their lack of size, the Hawkeyes are one of the better rebounding teams in the Big Ten, especially on the defensive glass where they give up the second fewest offensive rebounds in the country. The Hawkeyes in fact have only been outrebounded offensively this season. However, a team that can’t stop its opponents from scoring can’t take too much solace in their defensive rebounding ability.

Other than being boring, Iowa isn’t a horrible offensive team. They commit turnovers far too often, on 21.8% of possessions, but they are semi-decent when they get a shot off. They make 52% of their two point shots and 34% of their three point shots. Their offense is especially reliant on outside shooting. Only four teams shoot more three pointers than the Hawkeyes, and with nearly half of their shots coming from the outside and 41% of their points coming on three pointers, the Gopher guards will need to both defend and rebound.

Keys for the Gophers

  • Get Colton Iverson involved early. This means getting the ball inside where he will have a size advantage, and do so with catchable passes. Iverson’s hands aren’t great, so soft and accurate passes are a must.
  • Defend the three point shot. Iowa can only win if they make a lot of three pointers.
  • Get the crowd into the game. There could be a few hundred to a few thousand Gopher fans at the game, and creating a road court advantage should help keep the team calm in only their second true road game of the year.

Keys for the Hawkeyes:

  • Get Colton Iverson in foul trouble. If they 6’11” center leave the game, the Hawkeyes will only have a one inch height disadvantage on the inside.
  • Slow the game down. Iowa doesn’t have the athletes to keep up with a running gunning Gopher attack.
  • Play inside-out. If Cole makes a few baskets early on, the Gophers will double team him, leaving open everyone else, and everyone else isn’t shy about shooting the ball.