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Thursday, January 20, 2005
 
Up Next - #1 Illinois
Iowa Hawkeyes (13-3) at Illinois Fighting Illini (18-0)
Champaign, IL
6:05 CST, ESPN

National Rank in Parentheses
.......................................Iowa..........................Illinois
Pts / G..........................78.3 (28)..................81.9 (14)
Pts All / G.......................68.5.........................62.2
Poss / G.......................71.3 (56)..................65.5 (239)
Offensive Eff................110 (68)...................125 (1)
Defensive Eff.................96.............................95
adjFG%.......................0.533 (55)................0.582 (5)
FG%............................0.474 (56)................0.507 (11)
3pt%...........................0.390 (51)................0.407 (20)
TO / poss...................0.210 (82)................0.163 (2)
Oreb rate...................0.306 (263)..............0.372 (62)
FTA / FGA..................0.440 (32)................0.268 (314)
3ptA / FGA.................0.304 (226)..............0.366 (73)

A mere 16 days ago, many fans (myself included) were eagerly anticipating a matchup between 15-1 Iowa and 18-0 Illinois. It would be a battle to determine who was in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title. Illinois held up their end of the deal, but Iowa has since lost two of its first three conference games. Iowa's last game against Minnesota appeared to be a confidence builder, but they'll need more than that if they plan to stay in the game tonight.

As mentioned here this week, Illinois's offensive prowess comes mainly from great shooting and a miniscule turnover rate. Iowa has been off and on shooting, but they are one of the Big Ten's best at getting to the free throw line. It was this propensity that allowed them to hold off Minnesota on Saturday when the Hawks ended the game on a nearly 11 minute field goal drought.

What are Iowa's chances?
"Not good."
"Not good like one in a hundred?"
"I'd say more like one in a million."
"So you're telling me there's a chance!"
- Dumb and Dumber

Heh, had to slip that in there. Seriously, though, Iowa's odds are slim, but that doesn't mean that a win is impossible. Ken Pomeroy's rating system gives Iowa an 11% chance of winning. For that small miracle to actually occur, several things will have to go right for Iowa. Here are a few things Iowa can do to improve their chances of winning.

1) Keep Illinois off the offensive glass. I'm looking in your direction, Erek Hansen. Allowing offensive rebounds killed Iowa in the loss to Michigan. Iowa allowed them to rebound 57% of their misses in that game. Unbelievable. Given the low frequency of Illinois's missed shots and turnovers, Iowa cannot afford to let them continue possessions through offensive rebounds.
To illustrate - let's assume there are 70 possessions in the game tomorrow. Let's also assume that Illinois has 10 TO and Iowa 15 TO. That means Iowa is already down 5 possessions. They'll either have to shoot better than Illinois or shoot more free throws to make up that difference in opportunities. When you're trying to overcome that difference, allowing an offensive rebound is just a kick in the (insert painful target here).

2) Find a shooter. Easier said than done, of course. But if Iowa is going to keep it close, I think Horner or Haluska will have to re-discover that shooting touch. I doubt Iowa can suppress all of Illinois's shooters, so some Hawkeye will need to counter with threes of his own.

3) Attack the basket / draw fouls. I could be wrong, but Illinois's roster doesn't look very deep. Almost all of the production comes from the five starters. It would really help to get one of them in foul trouble to reduce at least one of the offensive threats.

4) Eliminate stupid mistakes. I think you know who that's directed at. I'm just cringing at the thought of Pierce taking on too many defenders, Illinois snatching the errant pass and running full-speed ahead to the other end for an easy basket. Iowa's margin for error is tiny, so they better play smart and maximize their chances.

I'm looking forward to a good game. It wasn't that long ago that Iowa's backcourt was drawing comparisons to the opposing trio. A national TV audience gives them a great chance to rekindle the debate.

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