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Penn State vs No. 23 Iowa Basketball Preview: No Rest for the Weary

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The gauntlet continues as the resurgent Hawkeyes visit State College

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Currently on a four game slide to start the new year, Penn State’s upperclassmen may feel some relief seeing Iowa on the schedule tonight. The team has fared well against the Hawkeyes of late, with their most recent result an 82-58 thrashing in the Bryce Jordan Center in February of 2018. Fran McCaffery’s squad has bounced back impressively after a down year, and they’ll be looking to win their fourth straight in conference play. With star player Tyler Cook questionable to play tonight the Hawkeyes’ supporting cast will be tested.

Last time Iowa came to town this happened:

Scouting the opposition

Tyler Cook leads the way for Iowa boasting an impressive stat line of 17.1 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. The junior may not play this evening, but if he does he presents a difficult match-up for Lamar Stevens. He is the driving force behind an efficient offense that has the ability to score at a rate that will put the game out of reach for the offensively-challenged Nittany Lions.

Luka Garza and the Hawkeyes interior defense were abused by Mike Watkins the last time these teams met. Mike went off for 19 points and 10 rebounds, controlling the flow of the game at both ends. If Watkins gets rolling and stays out of foul trouble, Iowa doesn’t have many answers.

Iowa’s primary strength this season has been at the foul line where they shooting 75.8% as a team. They are getting to the line at the highest rate in the country and will be unafraid to draw contact and score their points at the charity stripe. Penn State will need to play smart to avoid playing into the Hawkeyes strengths.

What to watch for

Early control - Penn State has perpetually played from behind in Big Ten play which does not work out well for a team that struggles to score 70+. If they can jump out to an early lead it will allow them to focus on defense and hopefully play a bit looser. If Iowa jumps ahead early, they may never relinquish the lead.

Big Mike - A repeat of last year’s performance by Watkins would go a long way towards snagging the first Big Ten win of this season. Mike will have his opportunities tonight, he just needs to avoid early fouls.

Energy - The schedule has been brutal so far for Penn State, currently the 4th hardest in the country based on KenPom’s ratings. Will the team show up with enough energy to pull-off the upset? They can’t afford to start flat-footed, and it’s unlikely the home crowd will provide a spark.

Prediction

This feels like a game Penn State comes away with given the current mood around the program. Chambers has never had an issue motivating his players, and their defense will keep them alive until the shots start falling. The freshman trio of Dread, Bolton, and Jones make just enough threes to give the Nittany Lions their first win of 2019. Penn State 73, Iowa 71