Well, that Big Ten winning streak was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? As disappointing as it was that the Nittany Lions were unable to hang on at Michigan State, the good news it that they have a chance to start a new B1G winning streak tonight at the BJC when they face a rematch against an Iowa team whom they seek to complete a sweep against. The Hawkeyes as you may recall, were Penn State’s first win in conference play back in early December.
Scouting the opposition
We knew that Iowa would miss Peter Jok this year, but still, this was supposed to be a team that competed for the NCAA Tournament due to the volume of talent returning from the 2016-17 team that went 10-8 in Big Ten play. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out like that for head coach Fran McCaffery, but the problem hasn’t been about replacing Jok’s production on offense. The dominance in the paint by Tyler Cook (15 points and seven rebounds per game) and the continued growth of Jordan Bohannon (14 points and five assists per game) as one of the conference’s top point guards have ensured that the Hawkeyes are even more efficient on offense than last year.
The big issue has been how easily Iowa allows the opponent to score. KenPom ranks the squad as the worst defense in the Big Ten this year, as it’s allowing the other team to shoot 43 percent from beyond the arc. The Hawkeyes aren’t great at protecting the rim either, and that’s a big reason whey they’ve allowed 90 points or more in four Big Ten games already.
One of Iowa’s biggest strengths on offense is rebounding, but Penn State is coming off a great defensive rebounding performance against Michigan State. If the Lions can keep that going and take advantage of their transition opportunities, they should emerge victorious.
What to watch for
Will Penn State use the double team again? The Lions did a great job making Michigan State center Nick Ward uncomfortable on Wednesday night by double-teaming him nearly every time he touched the ball. The result was six points, four turnovers, and zero offensive rebounds for the big man. It will be interesting to see if Chambers deploys the strategy against Iowa, since both Cook and Luke Garza are a lot to handle.
Can Mike Watkins play 30 minutes? During every game last month in which Watkins played at least 30 minutes, he recorded a double-double. That didn’t happen in East Lansing, as Watkins battled foul trouble for 20 minutes and scored just eight points with five rebounds. It will be important to have him on the floor on Saturday, because he’s usually good for a couple of dunks while rolling off of screens, and Iowa games tend to turn into track meets.
Penn State fans have grown accustomed to the basketball team letting them down, but this particular group has done a good job of defending home court. If the Lions can win the rebounding and turnover battles like they did in their last outing, they ought to shoot well enough to earn the win. Penn State 86, Iowa 79.