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Iowa at Northwestern: Battle For Respect

This is NOT a football game. Otherwise I'd peg Northwestern to win immediately.

No, this is a battle for conference standings, and seeding in the conference tournament.

Iowa stands right now at 10-15, and 3-10 in the conference. Northwestern is 14-10 and 4-9 in conference play. Iowa has been dangerous of late, but after a big home loss at the hands of Minnesota, that may be wearing off. Yes, Iowa pushed Wisconsin to OT and pummeled MSU, but Wisconsin was a home game and MSU has been a rolling disaster at points this year. However, given the utter disaster to start Big Ten play for the Hawkeyes (who were 0-6 before knocking off Indiana), a strong finish would be a great boost for Fran McCaffery and his young team.

Northwestern was supposed to make the NCAAs for the first time ever, but that looks extremely unlikely unless they win the Big Ten tournament. The Wildcats have lost 5 of their last 6 games, but they were able to beat Iowa in Iowa City 90-71 on January 12th. If the Cats can pull off the sweep, they may be able to get some momentum going before they hit the final stretch. All but one of Northwestern's remaining games are against Big Ten opponents currently under .500 in conference play (Wisconsin being the exception at 9-4 in Big Ten play).

The 1-2-3 punch for Northwestern of John Shurna, Michael Thompson, and Drew Crawford has paid dividends; all 3 players have averaged double-digit scoring this year. Shurna has been excellent from beyond the arc this year, making 49.5% of his threes. However, Northwestern has not had good showings from the free throw line; only one of their starters, JerShon Cobb, has hit more than 75% of their free throw attempts (Cobb averages 76.5% from the line).

Iowa has three players that average double-figures in scoring: Matt Gatens, Bryce Cartwright, and Melsahn Basabe. But Iowa has been reluctant to take shots from beyond the arc, preferring to take shots inside with Basabe and Jarryd Cole. Iowa's best starter from beyond the arc is Eric May, who hits 42.9% of his shots. Matt Gatens is easily Iowa's best free throw shooter (making 90.8% of his attempts), but after him, the Hawkeyes, especially the Hawkeye starters, have been cold from the line (Cartwright with 69.4%, Cole with 65.1%, and May with 61%).

This is basically a battle for seeding in the conference tournament. With both teams standing where they are in conference play, it's unlikely that either team makes the NCAAs barring a miracle run in the Big Ten tournament.