Northwestern Returns Home for Matchup With Iowa

Alan RubensteinAnalyst IIIFebruary 17, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 20:  John Shurna #24 of the Northwestern Wildcats looks on against the St. Francis Terriers during the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden on December 20, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

After two disappointing road losses at Michigan and Penn State, Northwestern returns home to host Iowa Thursday night. The Wildcats rallied before losing by nine at Michigan last Wednesday and then were demolished 65-41 at Penn State on Sunday. The loss in what was not-so Happy Valley was the Wildcats' sixth loss by double digits this season.

This is the teams' second meeting this season. Northwestern won 90-71 at Iowa on January 12th.

Northwestern has lost five of its last six and any shot they have at the school’s elusive first NCAA Tournament berth is fading quickly. At the Big Ten Tip-Off Luncheon last fall, NU Head Coach Bill Carmody’s main concerns were defense and rebounding.

Those concerns continue to plague the Wildcats. They have allowed at least 49 percent shooting against in their last six games. They are getting out rebounded by almost eight in Big Ten Games. They allow conference opponents to shoot 50 percent from the floor and 39.5 percent on three-point attempts. Their 68.2 PPG against ranks last in the Big Ten.

The Wildcats big three of Michael Thompson, John Shurna and Drew Crawford haven’t been able to keep up their high level in games against Big Ten Opponents. They average 44.2 PPG for the season, but just 37.0 PPG in conference games.

Shurna has struggled with injuries since the commencement of conference play. He injured his ankle against Mount St. Mary's in the Wildcats' last game before conference play began. He then suffered a concussion in NU’s loss at Minnesota on January 26. That has hampered Northwestern tremendously since that game. Shurna missed Northwestern’s near upset of then No. 1 Ohio State. He has scored just 19 points in the Wildcats last three games.

Northwestern’s three-point shooting has slipped lately. Penn State is 10th in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (only NU is worse) and last in three-point defense.  The Wildcats shot just 34.6 percent overall and made only two of 21 shots from three-point range.

They will have to shoot well to beat Iowa.  Defense has been a key to Iowa success this season. The Hawkeyes allow 53.1 PPG, and opponents have shot 35 percent from the floor and 24 percent on three-point attempts in the Hawkeyes victories this season.

Iowa travels to Evanston playing better than they did earlier in the season. They began the Big Ten season with six straight losses and eight of their first nine. After a two-game winning streak, the Hawkeyes have lost their two games to No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 25 Minnesota.

Iowa is 10-15, 3-10. They sit just one game behind NU in the conference standings. The Hawkeyes' own big three of Matt Gatens, Bryce Cartright and Melsahn Basabe aren’t as explosive as the triumvirate at Northwestern.

Basabe averages 10.5 PPG and his seven rebounds per game rank sixth in the conference. He is also fifth in the Big Ten in field goal percentage. Cartright ranks third in the Big Ten is assists and averages 11.0 PPG. Gatens leads the conference making over 90 percent of his free throw attempts. At 12.5 PPG, he is the Hawkeyes leading scorer.

In the first meeting, Northwestern used its formula for success to perfection. After trailing 4-0, they went on a 24-4 run. Their first seven baskets were from beyond the arc. Thompson, Shurna and Crawford combined for 52 points. The Wildcats finished the game, making 14-of-28 on three-point attempts. Gatens and Cartright combined for 45 of the Hawkeyes' 71 points in defeat.