Iowa and Illinois are ranked #18 and #19 respectively in the AP top 25. This contest features two of the Big Ten’s most dominant big-men. Don’t miss this one!
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA
When: Sunday, February, 2 @ 12 pm. Central / 1 pm. EST Television: FS1
Iowa and Illinois are two programs that are mirror opposites of each other. Fran McCaffery’s philosophy is to outscore the opponent and “defense” is likely a dirty word. His squad stands at or near the top of every statistical conference offensive category; first in scoring offense (77.6 ppg), free-throw percentage (77.6%), and assists per game (17.2), second in offensive rebounds per game (12.6), third in assist-turnover ratio (1.5), fourth in both field goal percentage (43.5 %) and three-point field goal percentage (33.8%).
Individually, a couple of Hawkeye players are at or near the top of key offensive statistics. Luka Garza leads the Big Ten in scoring (26.6 ppg), and he’s in second place in rebounding averaging 10.6 per game. Joe Weiskamp is tied for first in three-point field goals made and he’s second in free-throw percentage with an 88.6 percent conversion rate.
Illinois leads or is near the top of several conference defensive categories; first in scoring defense (60.1 ppg.), second in defensive rebounds per game (28.6), three-point field goal percentage defense (27.0%), and field goal percentage defense (37.8). Sunday’s clash at Carver-Hawkeye Arena will be a test of two opposing basketball philosophies. Can your team outscore the other team if you play meh defense? Can your lock-down defense disrupt the other team’s juggernaut offense while you score just enough to win?
How are these two teams playing of late? Brad Underwood’s squad is riding a Big Ten best seven-game winning streak into Iowa City. That winning streak has his team tied for first place in the Big Ten Conference (8-2), with Michigan State. The Illini has a winning conference road record (3-2) and he is looking to add to it. He has won at Mackey Arena, one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten, so his team likely won’t fold under pressure.
Coach Underwood’s 7-foot, 290-pound freshman center Kofi Cockburn will defend the rim against 6-foot-11, 260-pound senior Luka Garza in what will be the match-up of the afternoon. Cockburn has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on several different occasions. He has performed beyond his years and fouled out of a conference game only once, at Michigan, while surviving at Maryland, Wisconsin, and Minnesota with four fouls.
Iowa is looking to rebound from a hard-fought 72-82 loss at Maryland. The Hawkeyes are sitting alone in third place with a 6-4 conference record and the team is 10-1 at home, this season. It will be really interesting to see how this game plays out. Can Iowa’s guards handle the Illini perimeter defense? Can Luka Garza use his experience to get into the head of Kofi Cockburn and saddle the freshman with foul trouble? Will Illinois keep pace with Michigan State and stay at the top of the Big Ten Conference standings?
As far as my pick is concerned, I’m going with Illinois. I am a fan of hard-nosed defense. I think that Illinois has been tested throughout the Big Ten schedule and they have succeeded where other teams have not. The only concern that I have is if it comes down to a tight game, free-throw percentage will come into play. Iowa has a better team free-throw percentage than the Illini (77.7% vs 74.2%). Other than that, I believe that defense will once again rule the day. But I won’t bet the farm on it.