Blazing through B1G Tourney, high-scoring Hawkeyes look of another era
INDIANAPOLIS — Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes don’t look a whole lot like Jerry Tarkanian’s powerhouse UNLV teams of the early 1990s. Iowa City, for all its charms, doesn’t quite hold the same recruiting cachet as a pre-sanitized Vegas.
But the Hawks certainly put the ball in the bucket like the Runnin’ Rebels did.
Iowa has crossed the 80-point barrier in 6 of its past 7 games. That includes the first 2 games of the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes are averaging a ’90s-like 98 points per game in Indianapolis.
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That includes Friday’s 84-74 win over fourth-seeded Rutgers in the Big Ten quarterfinals. And if you need evidence of how unstoppable Iowa’s offense has become, the Scarlet Knights were the perfect control team for such an experiment.
On Jan. 19, Iowa scored a season-low 46 points at Rutgers.
On Friday, the Hawks had 41 at halftime.
No team has held Iowa under a point per possession the Scarlet Knights limited them to 0.68 points per possession in that game at Jersey Mike’s Arena. In the rematch, the Hawkeyes came closed to doubling that, finishing with 1.24 PPP.
This team is an unstoppable offensive force, and it knows it.
“I think we have a lot of players that are really confident in themselves,” McCaffery said. “So if I start going to my bench, those guys typically produce. And then when I go back to the guys that maybe weren’t playing as well, they typically produce again.
“But it’s a strong confidence in themselves. I’ve talked about that all the time. My primary objective as their coach is to get them to play with supreme confidence, because that’s the only way they will ever be the best version of themselves.”
That confidence is embodied by Keegan Murray, who looks quite annoyed Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis was named Big Ten Player of the Year.
After leading his team to a 112-76 win over Northwestern, Murray spoke of wanting to face Rutgers again. Despite what happened in the previous meeting.
“We felt it’s a game we should have won at their place,” Murray said Thursday. “We wanted it. Now we got it.”
It’s one thing to talk the talk. But Murray backed it up Friday, scoring a game-high 26 points.
“Not just me, but our whole team felt like this was a game we that had circled on our calendar for a while,” Murray said. “And we wanted to see them again at some point in the season, and just play our hardest out there.”
If Rutgers couldn’t stop this onslaught, it’s reasonable to wonder if any team is capable.
We’ll find out Saturday afternoon.
The ultimate showdown of offense and defense
There is one unit playing basketball as crisply as Iowa’s offense in this Big Ten Tournament.
At one stretch of Thursday’s must-win game against Michigan, the Hoosiers forced 13 consecutive misses. As if to prove that wasn’t a fluke, they made Illinois miss 11 in a row in Friday’s quarterfinal. And then after that, Indiana held the Illini without a field goal for the final 5:03 of another clutch win.
Those are the 3rd- and 4th-best offenses in the Big Ten as measured by effective field goal percentage on KenPom.com. That stat includes free-throw shooting as part of its equation, which explains why the Hawks are only 6th in the category. Iowa was 11th in the league in free-throw shooting.
But these days, even that problem has gone away. Iowa was 25 of 27 from the line against Rutgers.
This will be a premier matchup of offense vs. defense.
And in Saturday’s semifinal, we’ll learn which team’s unit has the upper-hand.