Iowa Basketball: Preview, prediction in pivotal clash vs. Rutgers

The Iowa basketball team hosts Rutgers on Wednesday in a top 25 battle. Here’s a preview and prediction for the Hawkeyes’ matchup with the Scarlet Knights.

The No. 15 Iowa Hawkeyes (13-6) will look to get back on track against the No. 25 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-6) on Wednesday evening at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 pm CT on Big Ten Network.

The Hawkeyes have dropped three of their last four games overall, which includes a disappointing 67-65 loss at the hands of unranked Indiana this past Sunday. Because of their poor form, Iowa dropped out of the top 10 in the AP Top 25 for the first time this season.

Unlike Iowa, Rutgers is very much on an upward trend. The Scarlet Knights have won four in a row and are once again ranked in the top 25.

In their previous meeting on Jan. 2, the Hawkeyes topped Rutgers by a final score of 77-75 thanks to a breakout performance by Keegan Murray off the bench. The true freshman tallied 14 points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes of action.

The Hawkeyes will need a similar performance from Murray if they’re to win this time around. Starting guard C.J. Fredrick’s status (lower leg) is still up in the air, which is a bad sign. In games that Fredrick has been available this season, the Hawkeyes are 13-2. Without him, they’re 0-4.

That means someone will need to pick up the slack. Will it be Murray, who’s scored double-digit points just four times this season? Perhaps it could be Patrick McCaffery, who’s slowly building confidence over the last two weeks. Jack Nunge has been a big contributor recently, too.

In any case, Iowa needs someone to take the brunt of the work off Luka Garza’s shoulders. We’ve seen over the last few games what the Hawkeyes’ offense is like without Garza on the floor due to foul trouble. Iowa’s bench went 0-10 shooting in the first half against Indiana. That simply won’t cut it.

If the Hawkeyes want to win this game, they’ll need to play sound defense and create ample opportunities from beyond the arc, especially when Garza’s not on the floor. Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon are capable of making it rain from downtown. If they can get going, it will open up more shots underneath for players like Patrick McCaffery.

Of course, the player to watch for Rutgers is junior guard Ron Harper Jr., who leads the team in scoring (16.8 ppg) and minutes per game (33.1). The Scarlet Knights are also very sound defensively, averaging 8.4 steals and 5.1 blocks per game as a squad. Overall, Rutgers has four players who average double digits.

Iowa vs. Rutgers prediction

The Hawkeyes narrowly win again in what should be a very competitive matchup. Iowa is a 6-point favorite as of Tuesday evening, but based on recent performances from both teams it’s hard to see the Hawkeyes covering that spread. Final score: Iowa 77, Rutgers 74