A few weeks ago, Iowa likely played itself out of the Big Ten title race by losing four of five games.
Lately, though, the 11th-ranked Hawkeyes have re-established themselves as a Final Four contender with arguably their best stretch of the season. Iowa will try and continue its momentum when Penn State visits Iowa City on Sunday.
The Hawkeyes (16-6, 10-5 Big Ten) have won three consecutive games by double digits, none more impressive than a 77-62 rout at No. 21 Wisconsin on Thursday.
Iowa is led by All-America candidate center Luka Garza, who is leading the conference in scoring at 24.7 points per game. He put up 30 points against the Badgers.
“We’ve had a lot of impressive performances, and this is up there, being able to handle a team coming back at you,” Garza said after the win over Wisconsin. “It feels great to have a team win where so many guys did whatever they could to help the team win.
“When you look down the line, every person on our roster who was on the floor had a tremendous effect, and the bench has been outstanding, providing us energy.”
Iowa’s prowess on offense has been on display all season, given the Hawkeyes are averaging 87 points per game. However, during the three-game winning streak, Iowa has allowed 62 points per game, well under its season average of 73 points a contest.
“Our man-to-man was good again,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after the Wisconsin game. “We mixed it, but our man-to-man was good. They shot 34 threes. That’s a lot of threes. I thought our defense from start to finish was good.”
While Iowa enters red hot, Penn State (7-11, 4-10) is on the opposite side of the spectrum, having lost three games in a row and four of its past five.
Despite the recent form and the poor overall record, the Nittany Lions still might be in contention for an NCAA berth because they were No. 40 in the NET rankings as of Friday.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a 92-82 home loss to No. 4 Ohio State on Thursday, a game that saw Penn State take a 59-51 lead over the Buckeyes with under 15 minutes left before giving up an 18-2 run.
“I’ve got to give our guys credit,” Penn State interim head coach Jim Ferry said. “I thought we played really hard, we played really fast and we were the aggressor, especially in the second half. We started the second half fantastic.”
Penn State has been close in many games this year, taking five losses by four points or fewer in conference play.
In the only meeting of the regular season against the Hawkeyes, Penn State hopes to gain a big boost by beating an Iowa team that was No. 5 in the NET rankings as of Friday.
“We still have opportunities ahead of us,” Ferry said. “That’s what we are going to focus on. Just getting better and focus on what we have got to do to try and compete and beat Iowa at Iowa.”
–Field Level Media