The men’s Iowa basketball team is back in action tomorrow afternoon against the Illinois Fighting Illini. Here’s the full preview of the matchup.
The Iowa basketball team is on a four-game winning streak and look to continue building that streak as they take on the Illinois Fighting Illini in Carver Hawkeye Arena tomorrow at noon.
If looking at just the records, this appears to be an opportunity for the Iowa basketball team to coast to an easy Big Ten win and put them one game closer to locking in that spot for the NCAA Tournament. Upon further review, however, this is a game that the Hawks will need to be ready for, especially if they want to build any sort of momentum heading into a tough rematch against Michigan State. For those of you that were able to retire that game from your memories, the Hawks got smoked in East Lansing by the Spartans.
Coming into this game the Fighting Illini are 5-12 with a 1-5 conference record. In fact, the Illini secured their first conference win this past Wednesday evening when they beat the 13-4 Minnesota Gophers 95-68.
That win isn’t quite the anomaly it appears to be though. Despite having twelve losses this year, Illinois has shown they can hang with just about any team at any team. Their issue has been closing out the contest. Nine of their twelve losses have been by less than 10 points and that includes a 84-78 loss to #5 Gonzaga, a 73-65 loss to #25 Indiana, and a 79-69 loss to #2 Michigan.
This is certainly something that Iowa basketball head coach Fran McCaffery is aware of as well. When asked about Illinois at his last media conference, here is what he had to say.
"There’s a lot of things in play there. I think a lot of times you can look at a team’s record and make a determination on who they are. Maybe you can do that at the end of the year, but not at the beginning of the year. You know, they have a lot of new players. They have a lot of freshmen, they’ve got some new guys. But if you watch them play, they battle, and they were in some really close games. They could easily have won — how many games? Indiana, Northwestern and Maui. They play a certain style."
That style is an aggressive man-to-man defense in addition to an attacking offense. This aggressive defense results in a higher amount of turnovers (the Illini rank 12th in the nation in turnover percentage according to KenPom), but it also results in a significant amount of personal fouls. In fact, Illinois is the worst team the Iowa basketball team has faced this year in terms of how many fouls they commit per game. The Illini are averaging 21.7 fouls per game which is 339th in the nation (out of 353 teams).
This appears to be a matchup made in heaven for Iowa’s aggressive offense that puts pressure on opposing team’s defenses. What’s more encouraging in that Illini head coach Brad Underwood is not a fan of playing kids in foul trouble. The Illini’s 7.1% 2-foul participation rate is 307th in the nation (the average is 21.5%). For context, 2-foul participation rate is the percentage of the time a starter with two fouls in the first half has been allowed to play.
Offensively, the Illini are led by a pair of top-100 prospects, former four-star sophomore guard Trent Frazier and former five-star freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu. Frazier is currently averaging 14.8 points per game on 42% shooting while also dishing out 2.9 assists per game while Dosunmu is averaging 14.2 points per game on 46% shooting and also handing out 2.8 assists per game.
These guards will have Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery, Isaiah Moss, and Maise Dailey’s hands full. In the front court, however, the Illinois are smaller than most teams the Hawks have faced featuring just one starter over 6’6” and that’s three-star freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who is averaging 11 points per game and leading the team with 4.9 rebounds per game. With star forward Tyler Cook dealing with an ankle sprain, this is an opportune matchup for the Hawkeyes front court not having to worry about the size or strength of the Illini down low.
As it stands today, KenPom gives the Hawks an 82% chance to win the game while ESPN’s matchup predictor is giving the Hawks an 86% chance to win the game. As long as the Hawks can bring the defensive intensity they have as of recent, they should have no problem outscoring the young Fighting Illini in tomorrow’s matchup.