WHO: Penn State Nittany Lions (6-2) | KenPom #38
WHEN: 4:00 PM CT
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena (Iowa City, IA)
RADIO: Learfield Sports affiliates
ONLINE AUDIO: TuneIn
VEGAS: Penn State -3 (yes, Iowa is a 3-point underdog at home to Penn State)
Previously on Iowa basketball 2017... our Hawkeye heroes played pretty well for a half and then put forth worst halve of the entire Fran McCaffery Era at Iowa, making just 19% of their field goals and losing big to Virginia Tech, 79-55, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. There's no cupcake on the horizon to serve as an easy rebound opponent, though -- Iowa has to start Big Ten play with a game against a pretty darn good Penn State team (they're ranked higher in the KenPom rankings than Virginia Tech was when they flattened Iowa a few days ago). So that's fun!
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT PENN STATE
The Nittany Lions have been kind of stuck on the "Wait 'til next year!" developmental hamster wheel for a while under Pat Chambers, but this might finally be the year they break through a bit. For Chambers' sake, he'd better hope they do -- PSU has finished with a losing record in four of his six years in charge (and they finished .500 in one of the two non-losing seasons). Patience has got to be running a bit thin for Mr. Chambers in State College.
The main reason this could be a breakout year for Penn State is the presence of sophomore Tony Carr and sophomore Lamar Stevens; they were both 4* recruits and the stars of Penn State's 2016 recruiting class and they appear to have matured into a formidable 1-2 punch. They were pretty solid as freshmen last year (Carr averaged 13.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, and 4.2 apg on 38% shooting, while Stevens averaged 12.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 1.7 apg on 43% shooting), but they've definitely taken a step forward as sophomores (albeit in just 7-8 games so far), especially Carr. He's averaging 21.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, and 1.4 spg while shooting 49.5% from the field and 57.7% (!) from 3-point range. Stevens is averaging 14.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg (nice), 2.1 apg, and 1.4 bpg while shooting 43% from the floor. Carr has size (6-5, 204) and quickness, which is going to make him an enormous potential mismatch for Iowa's defense; you'd have to assume that Iowa will switch Moss onto Carr -- he would destroy Bohannon.
Bohannon is more likely to draw an assignment on Shep Garner, who seems like he's been in State College forever, but is still starting and getting buckets: he's averaging 10.1 ppg on 39.7% shooting. Penn State has two other players averaging double figures in scoring, Josh Reaves (11.4 ppg) and Mike Watkins (10.0 ppg). Reaves is a 6-4 wing who's shooting 55.8% from the floor and chipping in 4.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, and a team-high 2.7 spg. Watkins is a 6-9 big who's shooting 67% from the floor and hauling in a team-high 7.6 rpg and blocking 3.3 shots per game.
Speaking of blocks, let's talk about that for a moment. Penn State is getting blocks on 15.5% of their defensive possessions this year, which is good for 25th in the country. Iowa has been pretty good about avoiding blocks (just 8.3% of their shots have been blocked this year, 131st in the country), but PSU could provide a stiff test there. The bigger issue with Penn State's defense is their ability to force turnovers: they're getting turnovers on almost a quarter of their opponent's possessions (24.6%), which is 16th best in the country. Most of those turnovers are coming via steals; they're getting steals on 14.3% of opponent possessions, fourth best in the country. This Iowa team has had the ball stolen on 10.4% of their offensive possessions, "good" for 289th in the country. So you have a team of expert pickpockets taking on a team that likes to make errant passes and give the ball away -- not good!
Penn State is holding opponents to 47.4% eFG so far this year (80th in the nation), but most of that is down to their proficiency in defending 2-point attempts -- teams are making just 42.1% of their twos against PSU this year. The silver lining for Iowa is that teams have had a lot of luck making 3s on this PSU team -- they're allowing opponents to make 39% of their 3s this year, 288th in the country. Overall Iowa has been good at making 3s this year (40.3% 3FG, 39th in the country), but a lot of that success came in their cupcake games at the start of the season. Still, they have the ability to get hot from three and make a lot of shots; they may need to in this one.
One other area of concern: offensive rebounding. Iowa is allowing teams to haul in 31% of their misses this year, which is bad (227th in the country). Penn State has been very good at grabbing their misses too -- 35.4%, 39th in the country. Iowa is going to need to work to keep Penn State off the glass and extending possessions or getting second-chance points.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
More than anything, I'm curious to see how Iowa's offense responds after that epic disaster in the second half against Virginia Tech. The Hokies laid out a pretty effective blueprint for slowing (if not outright stopping) Iowa's offense in that game: harass Bohannon out of the game and watch the Iowa offense completely implode. Teams would be bonkers if they didn't try to do the same, at least until Iowa can make them pay for doing so. Iowa probably won't shoot as horrifically as they did against the Hokies, but the offense could still have big problems if Penn State can harry Bohannon all game.
Iowa really needs Isaiah Moss to bounce back in a big way and they need more production out of Garza, Nunge, Pemsl, and Baer. Iowa once again figures to have a size advantage in the frontcourt (this is going to be a theme for the entire season; Iowa has the fifth tallest average height in college basketball), but whether they can actually exploit that advantage is another matter. Their ability to do so may depend on whether they can avoid foul trouble and actually make shots, two things which have been tricky of late.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: Jordan Bohannon
SG: Isaiah Moss
SF: Ahmad Wagner
PF: Tyler Cook
C: Luka Garza
Wagner suffered an injury in the Virginia Tech game, but he seems to be available for this one. Nicholas Baer, who made his season debut against the Hokies, could also start here; it would hardly be a surprise if Fran decided to tweak the starting lineup a bit after Iowa's miserable second half the last time out.
Despite being at home, KenPom is predicting a 77-75 Penn State win in this one, with Iowa given a 45% chance of prevailing. Those aren't bad odds and certainly if we see "good Iowa," there's every reason to think Iowa can get Big Ten play started with a win. The problem is that we've seen "good Iowa" very infrequently over the last few weeks and it's hard to have a great deal of confidence in them showing up later today. It is Star Wars night in CHA -- may the Force be with us.