After being swept in the regular season, Northwestern gets a third chance at Iowa when they face the Hawkeyes in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.
The Wildcats lost by near identical scores, 70-50 in Iowa City on January 13th and 71-57 in Evanston on February 10th. The game in Iowa City is when Jared Swopshire suffered the knee injury that cost him the season. The wins by Iowa ended a five game losing streak to NU that stretched back to a 78-65 loss at Iowa in 2010.
NU and Iowa have only met once in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hawkeyes ousted Iowa 72-55 in the first round in 2001. That began an amazing Iowa run that ended in the Big Ten Tournament title. Iowa needed four wins in four days to earn the Big Ten’s automatic berth. In the third year of the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa became the first time to win four straight games to claim the title. As with 2001, sixth seeded Iowa will face 11th seed Northwestern.
NU’s injuries have taken their toll. Nine different Wildcats have started games for Bill Carmody this season. Freshman Kale Abrahamson has been thrust into a starting role with the injury to Swopshire. Abrahamson has his best game of the season in the regular season finale against Michigan State. He finished with 16 points, four rebounds and shot 6-11 from the floor and made two of his five three point attempts.
Northwestern has kept competing despite being shorted handed. Michigan State needed to pull away late to put the Wildcats away in the last regular season game on Sunday. After Alex Olah tied the game on a dunk with 5:45 left, MSU went on a 10-0 run to put the game away.
Poor shooting was the common denominator in both games. Northwestern shot 32.4 percent from the floor and just 21.5 percent on its threes in the two meetings with Iowa this season. Nobody from either team was consistent in the two meetings this season. No player reached double figures in both games.
A win over Northwestern is essential for Iowa to have a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes are listed among the second four out by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. CBSSports.Com’s Jerry Palm does not have Iowa in his field. He only lists the first four out and Iowa is not listed there. The winner will face Michigan State on Friday.
The Hawkeyes present a tough matchup for Northwestern. They rank first in the Big Ten in rebounding, assists, field goal percentage defense and three-point field goal percentage defense. For Northwestern to have a chance at the upset, they are going to need a big game out of senior Reggie Hearn. Hearn combined for just 19 points on 7-19 shooting in the two earlier meetings.
Iowa enters the Big Ten Tournament having won six of their last eight to finish 9-9 in the conference.
Iowa will likely need wins against the Wildcats and at the least a strong showing and preferably a win over Michigan State in the quarterfinals to have a chance to get in the tournament.
Northwestern could have a season making with with an upset over the Hawkeyes. They had upset wins earlier over ranked teams Minnesota and Illinois earlier this season. A win here would avoid ending the season on a nine game losing streak.
Bill Carmody’s future is very much in question after the season. An injury marred campaign has hampered NU’s growth this season. Staying competitive against Iowa could give NU some positive momentum for the offseason, even if everyone remembers the nine game losing streak.
NU and Iowa will tipoff about 8pm CT from the United Center on the Big Ten Network.