IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was two months ago when the University of Iowa men’s basketball team opened Big Ten Conference play against Penn State. The rematch happens Saturday in Happy Valley.
The Hawkeyes face the Nittany Lions at 5:05 p.m. (CT) at the Bryce Jordan Center. The game will be televised on BTN with Wayne Randazzo and Jon Crispin on the call.
“They’re different, that was a long time ago,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said during a Friday teleconference. “Three guys in particular — Tony Carr, Lamar Stephens, and Mike Watkins — are playing at a high level, and Shep Garner has always been dangerous.
“Josh Reaves has emerged; he was out for four games, but he’s back and is a difference-maker. It’s a very good team; it’s why they have 15 wins.”
Penn State is 15-9 overall and 5-6 in Big Ten action after falling 76-68 at Michigan State on Jan. 31. Seven of the Nittany Lions’ eight losses have come since Dec. 1 with all but one being by single digits. Eleven of Penn State’s wins have come at home inside the Bryce Jordan Center.
All five Penn State starters average in double figures with Carr leading the team in scoring (19.2 points) and assists (101 in 21 games). Defensively, the Nittany Lions are in the middle of the pack in scoring defense, but they create havoc with their pressure.
Penn State leads the Big Ten in steals (7.9 per game) and is third in blocked shots (5.6).
“They come after you, they’re aggressive, and they get into you,” said McCaffery. “When you have a rim-protector (like Watkins) you can get after people, get into the passing lanes, up into people as they’re trying to receive the ball, and be physical. That’s the thing that makes them toughest to play against.”
The Hawkeyes are coming off their best half of the season when they scored 57 second-half points in a 94-80 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday.
McCaffery hopes the win over the Gophers was a step forward. He wants to see the Hawkeyes take another step by playing well on the road. Iowa is 1-6 in true road games this season.
“I hope (the Minnesota game) is a big step,” said McCaffery. “Now you have to go on the road and play a good team and play consistently on both ends for 40 minutes. If you want to beat a good team on the road, you have to play well for 40 minutes; that’s what good teams do.”
Following Saturday’s game, McCaffery will have a keen eye on Minneapolis were his hometown Philadelphia Eagles will play in Super Bowl LII. The Philadelphia native is a lifelong Eagles fan, and he was even an usher at games as a high schooler.
“The Eagles are going to win,” he said. “No question about it.”
BOHANNON NEARING RECORD
Sophomore Jordan Bohannon is nearing the Iowa school record of 34 consecutive free throws held by former Hawkeye great Chris Street. So what makes Bohannon such a good free throw shooter?
“From a technique standpoint, there is nothing you would change,” said McCaffery. “He has great balance, follow through, and his elbow is under the ball. He has tremendous confidence. He steps to the line and he knows he is going to make it. That’s important.”