On paper, Iowa’s next opponent doesn’t appear to be all that formidable.
Northwestern is in last place in the Big Ten and just claimed its first conference victory on Saturday against another team expected to be near the bottom of the standings. Like the Hawkeyes, the Wildcats are missing a couple of key players right now, too.
There’s just this one problem: The game Tuesday at 7 p.m. is on the road, at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston.
And Big Ten teams, no matter who they are or which players they put on the court, seem to be very nearly unbeatable at home this season.
Of the 37 conference games that have been played so far, 32 have been won by the home squad. The first 13 league games all were won by the home team and the trend has lingered and defied adequate explanation.
The home court has always been a prominent factor in the Big Ten but things have gone to a fairly wacky extreme in the early part of this season. You needn’t look any further than Sunday, when a Purdue club that scored 37 points and lost by 26 in a road game last week hammered first-place Michigan State by 29 points.
“I just think the benefit is always for the home team and if all the teams are good then the numbers may skew that way,’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday. “It could be a variety of factors. We don’t really think anything about it. I think we all know and have been to enough road venues to know it’s difficult.
“I don’t care where you go, the percentages are going to be against you when you’re on the road. You just have to have a certain toughness and a certain mentality that we’re going to be connected and following the game plan in a way in which we support each other and do the best we can to play well.’’
Allow us to translate that for you. Fran doesn’t have any idea why this is happening either. Seemingly no one can explain it. He’s just hoping the trend takes a one-night hiatus Tuesday.
However, he is acutely aware that Northwestern, although 6-9 overall and 1-4 in league play, is fully capable of beating anyone when it’s at home.
“I really like their team,’’ McCaffery said. “They’ve got a lot of really good young players.’’
He mentioned sophomores Miller Kopp and Pete Nance, redshirt freshman Ryan Young and true freshman Boo Buie, who currently is sidelined by a foot injury.
He also likes a not-so-young player, point guard Pat Spencer, who was named the national player of the year in lacrosse at Loyola (Maryland) last year and now is making a big impact on the basketball court as a graduate transfer.
“Spencer obviously is a great lacrosse player but that’s sort of irrelevant,’’ McCaffery said. “The guy’s a tremendous basketball player. If you watch him play, the guy has great feel and can shoot it, can drive it, can find people, he’s athletic. He’s just a really, really good player. He plays with a tremendous amount of confidence and he’s a handful without question.’’
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CJ update: McCaffery did not completely discount the possibility of CJ Fredrick returning to action this week. The redshirt freshman, who is the Hawkeyes’ No. 3 scorer, did a little bit of shooting in practice Sunday.
“I think he’ll come back at some point …’’ McCaffery said. “It’s literally day to day. If he has a bad day, then he won’t. If he has good days and he does play, we’ll see how it goes from there. It’s just going to be like that the rest of the season.’’
Offensive boardwork: One of the key components in Iowa’s success in the first half of the season has been offensive rebounding.
The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in offensive rebounds in league play and Luka Garza leads the league individually with 5.4 offensive boards per game. Consider that last season Garza only averaged 4.5 total rebounds per game.
“He’s got a real keen sense of how to go find the ball,’’ McCaffery said. “So does (Joe) Wieskamp. I think (Ryan) Kriener and Cordell (Pemsl) do a really good job there. It’s a little different because Connor (McCaffery) has gone from playing a lot at the point to playing a lot of forward so we’re trying to get him to consistently go. But I think it all starts with Luka in particular.’’
J-Bo returns: Jordan Bohannon attended his first game since undergoing his second hip surgery when the Hawkeyes hosted Maryland on Friday.
Kriener, who lives with Bohannon, said his buddy didn’t need to wear the big brace that he did after his first surgery last spring and that he seems to be doing well although he mostly has just been kicking back and playing a lot of his favorite online game.
“A lot of Fortnite,’’ Kriener said. “He just sits there propped up with a pillow and plays Fortnite.’’
11 get votes: The parity in the Big Ten is reflected in this week’s Associated Press Top 25. For the first time this season, there is not a Big Ten team in the top 10 but 11 of the league’s 14 teams received votes.
Michigan State leads the way at No. 15, followed by Maryland at No. 17, Michigan No. 19, Ohio State No. 21 and Illinois making its debut in the poll at No. 24.
Iowa is the top team among the others receiving votes with Indiana, Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Rutgers also being mentioned on at least some ballots.
No. 8 seed?: The latest bracketology projections from ESPN’s Joe Lunardi have the Hawkeyes in the NCAA tournament field as a No. 8 seed. Lunardi has them playing No. 9 Xavier in Omaha with the probable second-round matchup being against Kansas and former Hawkeye Isaiah Moss.
POWs: Purdue's Trevion Williams and Minnesota's Daniel Oturu shared the Big Ten player of the week award after the two sophomore centers each averaged 26 points per game for the week and led their teams to upset victories Sunday.
Oturu scored 30 points in a victory over Michigan and Williams netted 16 in that 71-42 conquest of Michigan State after scoring 36 in a loss to Michigan earlier in the week.
Illinois' Kofi Cockburn was named the freshman of the week for the sixth time.