Friday, February 8, 2008

Surprisingly Decent Hawkeyes In Town Saturday

When the 2007-08 college basketball season began, and talk turned to potential Big Ten laughingstocks, the Iowa Hawkeyes were sure to come up.

Steve Alford's greasy split ends were gone. Three of Iowa's four leading scorers had also moved on. That left journeymen coach Todd Lickliter with a relatively unproven group of Hawkeyes. It appeared as if Iowa was entering one of those let's-just-get-it-over-with seasons. So, as a that's why I was slightly upset when the Big Ten schedule came out and it only had Minnesota and Iowa playing once. I figured the Hawkeyes would prove to be two easy wins.

Well, I was wrong.

Iowa isn't going dancing this season. And they've had some sad moments. But they've also won games that Minnesota couldn't--Ohio State and Michigan State--and they've done so by forcing opponents to slow down and play a half court game. For all of the praise heaped upon Tubby Smith, Lickliter, formerly a coach at Butler, deserves quite a bit of credit for how he's gotten his group to surpass expectations.

Coming into Williams Arena Saturday at 1 p.m., the Hawekeyes are 4-7 in conference play having won only one game on the road (at hapless Michigan). They are led by guard Tony Freeman, who has taken a giant step forward in his junior season. Senior Justin Johnson joins Freeman to give the Hawkeyes a one-two scoring punch in the backcourt.

The key for the Gophers on Saturday will be to create turnoveres and push tempo. When the Hawkeyes beat MSU and OSU, they did so by playing an excruciating slow style. The Hawkeyes like to play in the 40s to 50s. And the Hawkeyes rank just behind Wisconin in scoring defense, allowing just 57 points per game. Meanwhile, the Gophers are playing in the 70s on most nights. So, if the pace is slow early on in The Barn, trouble is around the corner.

The Gophers are coming off a 92 point outburst against Northwestern. That game started with a surprise: A new starting lineup. Lawrence McKenzie was on the bench to start the game because he reportedly missed a study session. Blake Hoffarber and Jamal Abu-Shamala played the two and three sports and Lawrence Westbrook got the start at point.

I'd be surprised if McKenzie wasn't back in the lineup, but I actually liked what transpired with him coming off the bench. Westbrook took on a distrubtion role with the first group, setting up Abu-Shamala and Hoffarber. Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson also got their touches. With McKenzie starting this season at point guard, he's often ignored his offense and concntrated on being that floor leader. But when he came off the bench Wednesday, he was with the second team, and was looked to as the scoring option on the floor. Who knows how McKenzie would react to coming off the bench, but it might be something to try moving forward.

Four Keys For Minny:

** Run, Run, Run. Easy baskets are key.

** Play defense for 35 seconds. Iowa will milk the clock. We can't let them get an open shot after 30 seconds of good defense. It's demoralizing.

** Shoot well from the outside. When Hoffarber, McKenzie, Westbrook and Abu-Shamala can hit from the outside, life for Coleman and Tollackson is so much easier.

** Come out fast. In losses against OSU and Wisconsin, the Gophers have dug far too deep of a hole to climb out. A lackadasical start will only give Iowa confidence.

Prediction: If this game were in Iowa, I'd pick differently. But it's in Minneapolis and the Hawkeyes simply haven't played well on the road this year. The Hawkeyes will slow the pace down some, but not enough. Minnesota 64, Iowa 52.


Brad said...

Good preview as usual PJS. Iowa "surpassing expectations" is something that hasn't been said in a while. Lickliter can definately coach. I think this could be a close one for the Gophers. Iowa's improving with every game and they played Purdue pretty damn tough on the road.

PJS said...

Thanks, Brad. That Purdue final does worry me.

Friend Of Tubby said...

Gophers should W but single digit margin (5, 6, 7 points).

snyde043 said...

Wow. PJS came pretty close on predicting the final score. It was good to see the Gophers grind this out even at Iowa's pace.

PJS said...

Would have been nice to have the GOphers put Iowa away earlier, after the fast start. ... but we'll take the W.

Anonymous said...