IOWA (17-7, 8-5) VS. INDIANA (15-8, 5-7)
Welcome to the most important week of Iowa Basketball this season.
As we (and everyone else) have detailed, Big Ten road games have been absurdly difficult to win this season. For all of the hubbub surrounding the program at the moment, Iowa has just won one of them this year (at Northwestern). Now the Hawkeyes face seven games in 25 days, a four-week run to the Big Ten Tournament and the postseason that includes four road contests. On paper, all four of them are winnable. Winning one and holding serve at home would almost certainly be enough to get into the NCAA field of 68; winning more than that could portend something far more special than that.
And so the road trip begins tonight: Iowa goes to Bloomington to face a decidedly on-the-bubble Indiana squad. It's the only time this season that the Hawkeyes will face the Hoosiers, an unfortunate scheduling quirk for a season where Indiana Basketball is still struggling to be INDIANA BASKETBALL. The Hoosiers' Kenpom profile isn't much to look at. They don't take many threes, they don't make many threes; only Kentucky gets a lower percentage of its offense from behind the arc than the Hoosiers among Power Six teams. Combine some gaudy rebounding numbers on both sides of the ball -- Indiana hauls in a third of its own misses and allows offensive rebounds on less than a quarter of its opponents' -- and a high blocked shot percentage, and it looks like a team that has a lot of height and runs the offense through the interior.
Lo and behold, Indiana has a lot of height, at least by modern standards. The front line goes 6'11" (Joey Brunk), 6'9" (Trayce Jackson-Davis), and 6'7" (Justin Smith). Those three have started all 23 games for the Hoosiers this year, something you don't see often this late in a physical Big Ten campaign. They also have a 6'10" guy (De'Ron Davis) and a 6'7" freshman (Jerome Hunter) on the bench. Everything starts with Jackson-Davis, a homegrown McDonald's All-American who leads the program in scoring (13.8 ppg), rebounding (7.9 rpg), and blocks (1.9 bpg) as a freshman. He's shooting 60 percent from inside the arc (by way of comparison, Garza is 0.1% behind him in two-point shooting percentage). Jackson-Davis also draws nearly six fouls per game, gets to the foul line constantly (he has the highest individual free throw rate in the conference) and makes 71 percent at the free throw line.
That's not to say he can't be stopped: Jackson-Davis has struggled against true centers all season. In two games against Maryland's Jalen Smith, he's averaged 10 points and 6.5 boards. He got just 4 points and 6 rebounds in a loss at Rutgers. Kaleb Wesson has twice held him to single digits, with Jackson-Davis getting just 13 points and 10 rebounds combined in two contests against Ohio State. Joey Brunk (8.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) isn't exactly setting the world on fire to draw attention away from Jackson-Davis, so expect Iowa to use Garza on him whenever possible.
It's not all Jackson-Davis, unfortunately. Justin Smith (11.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) gives them a wing threat, and shooting guard Devonte Green (6'3", 185, 10.2 ppg, 2.2 apg) has been extremely effective from the bench (35% 3pt, team-high usage rate). Indiana gets distribution and a bit of perimeter shooting out of point guard Rob Phinisee (6'1", 190), who took over as a starter in mid-January. Phinisee is an ultimate CHAOSBALL point guard: He has an absurdly high 25.7% assist rate, and an equally absurdly high 25.7% turnover rate. He also shoots a team-high 38 percent from three, on about two attempts per game. Iowa will also see shooting guards Al Durham (6'4", 185, 9.7 ppg, 2.5 apg, 35% 3pt) and Armaan Franklin (6'4", 195, 4.3 ppg).
Iowa could tackle Indiana in one of two ways: Fran could go big with a lot of Ryan Kriener, put Garza on Jackson-Davis, Kriener on Brunk and Wieskamp on Smith, and probably have the better player at all three spots. Indiana isn't particularly adept at pressuring ballhandlers, so the loss of Iowa's usual three-guard setup would be limited, the size could nullify Indiana's usual rebounding edge, and the Hawks could just try to straight-up maul the Hoosiers to death.
The more likely scenario, though (and probably the more favorable one, given Jackson-Davis's ability to get to the free throw line) is to just go 2-3 zone all night, let Garza stay home in the lane to handle all the riffraff, and leave it to Indiana to shoot over the defense. Indiana doesn't take many threes to begin with, and three of their six most-frequent perimeter shooters are sub-30 percent from behind the arc. If they shoot the lights out, so be it. Better to take a chance and lose to a red-hot backcourt than to let Jackson-Davis open up the interior and make death a near certainty.
One other item of note: In a year of Big Ten road struggles, Indiana has lost their last two at home. Purdue beat them in Assembly Hall last weekend, and Maryland got them at the end of January. In both of those games, the opponents averaged more than 1.15 points per possession and fought to near-even footing on the boards. We've seen that, despite its high overall efficiency, Iowa's offense doesn't always travel well. If something like Purdue (1.00 ppp) or Maryland (1.03 ppp) happens again tonight, Iowa probably doesn't have enough on defense to make up for it. But if Iowa can approach its 1.19 points per possession season average, this game looks eminently winnable.