IOWA (21-7, 10-7) VS. RUTGERS (13-14, 6-11)
There's a lot on the line Saturday afternoon when Iowa faces Rutgers. A win guarantees Iowa its first winning record in the Big Ten in two years. It would also guarantee Iowa's first regular season without a three-game losing streak in 13 years. And who knows: If Iowa manages to win, we might see peace sweep across the land.
Not much has changed at Rutgers since the last time we saw them, at least from a macro level. They still have a bunch of bodies to throw at Iowa's front line. They are still a hideous shooting team. They still play great interior defense and rebound well. They still haven't won a game when the opponent has scored 70 points.
But if you dig past the basic numbers and look at trends, Rutgers starts looking dangerous. Over the last five games, the Scarlet Knights have posted a higher overall adjusted efficiency than Iowa. That's in large part because Rutgers has improved its shooting; their effective field goal rate has jumped by about three points, from 46% to 50%. It's still not good, mind you: That's Kansas State-level shooting, and Kansas State isn't a good shooting team. But Kansas State does all the same things Rutgers does well, and they might win the Big 12 with crappy shooting by doing what Rutgers does well.
That all poses a problem, because (a) Iowa isn't playing well on offense at the moment, and hasn't played particularly well since the Northwestern game almost a month ago, and (b) Iowa's offensive efficiency is built on the very things that Rutgers shuts down. There is also Iowa's ongoing issue with playing defense, particularly recently; the Ohio State and Northwestern games were Iowa's second- and third-worst defensive performances of the year, and the late-game histrionics have covered over some relatively poor performances at both ends of the court through February.
The calendar has now turned to March, and perhaps Iowa will turn back to efficient basketball with it. If it doesn't start Saturday, Rutgers poses a serious threat.