IOWA (20-9, 11-7) VS. PURDUE (15-14, 8-10)
And so, with two games to go, Iowa's schedule gets particularly tricky. A Big Ten double-bye is still in play, and could be decided in the regular season finale at Illinois. Before the Hawkeyes can travel to Champaign, though, it's Senior Night at Carver Hawkeye, with the hated Purdue Boilermakers in town.
Obviously, Iowa's first game at Purdue did not go according to plan. Three Boilermakers produced offensive ratings over 200 in that one, with Purdue making 56 percent from three and 65 percent overall in a blowout win. Because some days, a team just has everything clicking. The Boilers are simply a different team at home: They beat Virginia, Michigan State and Iowa by a combined 94 points at Mackey Arena. That's completely insane.
Flush that for tonight and remember this: Purdue is the only other Big Ten team to lose at Nebraska this year. They lost road games to Marquette, Illinois, Michigan, Rutgers, Maryland, Ohio State and Wisconsin, too. In fact, Purdue has not beaten a Kenpom top 60 team outside the state of Indiana all year. As impressive as their home record is, the road resume is truly lacking.
Purdue is an especially bad shooting team on the road. Wisconsin held them to a 45 percent effective rate in a win at the Kohl Center on February 18, the last time Purdue went on the road. OSU checked Purdue down to a 39 percent effective rate in the game before that, a 16-point runaway in which the Boilers went just 4/20 from three and watched their chances go up in smoke. Purdue scored just 0.91 points per possession on 46 percent effective shooting in a loss at Rutgers, 0.89 points per possession on 38 percent (and 3/17 from three) in a loss at Maryland, and a truly atrocious 0.60 points per possession on 28 percent shooting in a 63-37 loss at Illinois. Even the Boilers' road wins, at Indiana and Northwestern, came with fairly pedestrian shooting figures. They're just a different team at Mackey. It happens.
In the first meeting, Iowa played zone and dared Purdue to shoot them out of it. Purdue obliged. Iowa did the same thing against a perimeter-challenged Indiana the following week and got killed by bombs raining down from above. Those two games, more than any others, highlighted a paradox about Iowa's defense this season. Iowa has played primarily man-to-man defense, or a mix of man and zone, against teams that can shoot from three. It's largely worked: Opponents are making just 32.2 percent of three-point attempts against the Hawkeyes, and a respectable-if-not-great 33.2 percent in conference games. When an opponent has presented a perimeter threat, Iowa has risen to the occasion, at least on a higher level than it had in the previous two years.
Conventional wisdom would say that a team of poor perimeter shooters should be guarded with a pack-the-middle zone, much like the 2-3 zone that Iowa frequently uses. Take away the lane, force the perimeter jumper, and get the rebound with the bodies around the basket. The problem is that most players on a Big Ten team in 2020 can hit an open three at a fairly high rate. Even the teams that struggle from the perimeter can light it up if given open looks. Iowa's zone has a tendency to keep guards back from the arc, and close-outs aren't so reckless as to make up the ground and seriously throw off a shooter. So while Iowa is doing what it, on paper, should do -- force the Purdues and Indianas of the world to win from deep -- they're also making it relatively easy for those teams to do just that.
Iowa needs to treat Purdue not like the team shooting 33 percent from three, but the team that shot 56 percent from three the last time they played. Guard them straight up, contest shots as if they're coming from Ohio State or Michigan State, and make life hard on the Boilers at the offensive end. If Iowa successfully does that, Purdue shouldn't rocket into the stratosphere like the last meeting, and Iowa's offense can generate enough to win.