The first time the Iowa basketball team took on the Spartans, it was an ugly outcome. Round two, however, should be much different. Here’s the preview.
The last time the Iowa basketball team took on Tom Izzo’s Michigan State squad, the result was absolutely embarrassing. While the Hawks were able to slow down National Player of the Year candidate Cassius Winston’s scoring, holding him to eight points of 2 of 9 shooting, he burned the Iowa basketball defense by dishing out 12 assists. What’s worse is that those assists weren’t even going to Michigan State’s number two leading scorer (at the time) Joshua Langford who also had a poor shooting performance connecting on just 5 of his 13 attempts.
Instead, it was Michigan State’s trio of forwards who burned the Iowa basketball team. Junior Nick ward, senior Kenny Goins, and sophomore Xavier Tillman combined for 47 points, 31 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Those three guys, alone, accounted for 52% of Michigan State’s offense, 70% of their total rebounds, and 67% of the blocks.
What’s more impressive is how they managed to accumulate those points. Nick Ward was a perfect 10 for 10 from the field, Kenny Goins hit 6 of his 11 shots, and Xavier Tillman hit 5 of his 6 attempts.
On the defensive side of the ball, those three held Iowa’s top three front court players (Tyler Cook, Luka Garza, and Nicholas Baer) to a combined 9 for 27 (with Luka Garza going an abysmal 1 for 10).
Since that time, however, a lot has changed for the Iowa basketball team. Coming off some early season success, the Hawks were dropped a few rungs after opening Big Ten play with three losses and struggling through some non-conference games late in December due to injuries and a limited bench. Things began to change though after Iowa’s blowout loss to Purdue. The Hawks have reeled off five straight wins including wins over a solid Nebraska and Ohio State team.
They also seemed to have found some of their swagger back offensively and are beginning to really mesh defensively. Luka Garza is becoming a force to reckon with night in and night out and Iowa’s starting trio of back court players (Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, and Joe Wieskamp) have been shooting lights out as of late. Add in the fact that Tyler Cook is healthy again, and this team is a lot different from the one who got whooped in East Lansing in December.
Defensively, Iowa has been much better about bringing energy to that side of the ball and communicating throughout the opponents possession. It showed against Illinois, where outside of a five-minute lapse, the Hawks were suffocating the Fighting Illini’s offense. Even with a five-minute surge in offense, the Illini were held to just 39% shooting from the field.
Moreover, they held two Big Ten teams (Northwestern and Ohio State) to 63 and 62 points. Those are the least points allowed in Big Ten conference play by the Hawks since March of 2017 against Wisconsin. General statistics would back the eye test of Iowa’s defensive revival. After finishing the year ranked as one of the worst teams in the NCAA (317th out of 351 teams) in terms of points allowed, Iowa is now ranked 201st out of 351 teams and are allowing 6.5 points less per game.
Advanced analytics are even kinder to the Iowa basketball team. After ranking 242nd in the nation in defensive adjusted efficiency, the Hawks are now ranked 96th according to KenPom. Will this renewed focus on defense be enough to overcome the visiting Spartans tomorrow night?
Neither ESPN or KenPom think so. ESPN is giving the Iowa basketball team a 32% chance to win while KenPom is giving Iowa a 30% chance to win tomorrow’s matchup. If December’s matchup has taught us anything, it’s that this will be a battle of the big men down low. Luka Garza, Tyler Cook, and Nicholas Baer will need to step up their game for the Hawks to come away victorious in this one.
Tipoff is 6 PM tomorrow night in Carver Hawkeye Arena and the game will be aired on FS1.