Hawkeyes Basketball Preview: Iowa faces a must-win matchup on the road against Northwestern

The Iowa Hawkeyes control their destiny as the regular season comes to a close, with a tough but winnable game on the road against Northwestern.
Penn State v Iowa
Penn State v Iowa / Grace Smith/GettyImages

Fresh off of the program's first-ever triple-double courtesy of Payton Sandfort, the Iowa Hawkeyes are in loose control of their own destiny as the NCAA Tournament looms ahead.

A few external things will need to fall in Iowa's favor, but a strong finish could set the Hawkeyes up with a chance to make the dance. While conference tournament outcomes could play a critical role, handling business against teams that are relative to Iowa's level is crucial for the program to extend its season.

Saturday evening, the Hawkeyes travel to Northwestern to take on the Wildcats in what has to be viewed as a must-win with only 13th-ranked Illinois, which beat the Hawkeyes 95-85 a week ago, left on the regular season docket. The meeting with the Wildcats, third in the Big Ten standings, is the first of the season.

Though the odds appear to be in the Wildcats' favor, as ESPN's matchup predictor gives Northwestern a 68% chance of victory, a few factors may swing in Iowa's factor to give them the edge.

All eyes will be on Payton Sandfort after his historic performance against Penn State. He shot 18-19 from the free-throw line in that game, by far the most times he's reached the charity stripe all year. Northwestern plays small, so drawing fouls could lead to some much-needed cheap points if he can replicate his success from the previous outing.

Both teams are relatively even across the board in most team statistics, though the one notable advantage could be Iowa's work under the glass, averaging 36 rebounds to Northwestern's 31. Sandfort leads the Hawkeyes in rebounding, so his performance here will also be vital to the outcome.

Of course, the Wildcats will lean on Boo Buie and Brooks Barnhizer as they have all season. Both are the team's leading scorers and have played consistent basketball during the Wildcats' three-game winning streak. The health of three-point sharpshooter Ryan Langborg will be a story to watch, as he missed Northwestern's most recent win over Maryland with a leg injury.

Northwestern now sits at 20 wins for just the 6th time in program history, riding some serious momentum after a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament in 2023.

Tip off is set for Saturday evening at 4:30 CST at Welsh-Ryan Arena on the Big Ten Network.

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