|Who:||Iowa Hawkeyes (17-4, 8-1)|
|When:||Wednesday, 7:00 p.m. ET|
|Vegas Line:||Iowa -17|
|Enemy Blog:||Black Heart Gold Pants|
Nobody saw this coming from Fran McCaffery's bunch. Not after the Hawkeyes blew a huge lead at Iowa State, and especially not after they dropped their preseason exhibition to D-II Augustana. But here they are, in a pole position to win the Big Ten and possibly land a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Penn State has no business winning this game. The Nittany Lions are dealing with a litany of bumps and bruises, and a winter storm forced the squad to travel to Iowa City a day early. Not to mention that, y'know, they're having trouble with the actual basketball stuff of late.
Extra time on the road means study hall hours for all. #PSUMBB at Iowa, 7pm ET Wednesday on ESPNU. pic.twitter.com/mVezPrY6fF— Penn State Hoops (@PennStateMBB) February 2, 2016
Scouting The Opposition
Just as Iowa got little to no love in preseason predictions, nobody saw Hawkeye senior Jarrod Uthoff making a National Player of the Year push. Though that honor is likely Buddy Hield's to lose, Uthoff has solidified himself as the conference's clear frontrunner for POY. Averaging 18.6 ppg and shooting 46% from three, the Wisconsin transfer sets the tone for one of the nation's most explosive offenses.
Ranked sixth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, Iowa rarely makes the losing play. Mike Gesell has never gotten a ton of publicity for his play, but he's the main ball handler for a team that turns the ball over fewer than 348 other teams in college basketball. Combined with 40% team three-point shooting, there aren't many areas to exploit against McCaffrey's attack.
Second-leading scorer Peter Jok's incredible story was chronicled on BTN's The Journey this past week. I'll spare you the details but the junior from Sudan is finally becoming the player college coaches thought he could be. Jok's progression from a rather inefficient role player to a bonafide stud has been the biggest reason for Iowa's leap up the conference. He's also coming off of a 26-point performance against Northwestern.
What To Watch For
You may recall the last time these teams met. It was the highlight of Penn State's 2015 - a 67-58 win over the Hawkeyes in Chicago at the Big Ten Tournament. The Nittany Lions smothered Iowa on defense, holding them under 30% shooting for the entire game. Don't think for a second that PSU is capable of playing this well at Carver-Hawkeye, even though the home team returns most of the same personnel. Their best chance of producing a close game is probably to pack the paint to prevent easier baskets and hope that Iowa gets cold from three as they did against Maryland.
Even if everything goes that well for Penn State, and Iowa does miss an abnormal amount of threes, there's still the small matter of finding offense of their own. Shep Garner emerged from a slump in the second half at Madison Square Garden, though it's unclear as to whether or not his foot will still hinder him. Brandon Taylor has a tough matchup with 6'9" Dom Uhl looming large, and Payton Banks' back issue doesn't seem to be gone just yet.
Even when those three all showed up to varying degrees against Michigan, there still wasn't enough offense generated to pull off the upset. Iowa is talented, deep and very well-coached. Penn State is none of those three right now, but I think a backdoor cover might be on the cards here, especially if the Iowa walk-ons get some run. Iowa 80, Penn State 64.