Men’s Basketball: Northwestern, seeking to host No. 5 Iowa as arduous Big Ten schedule rolls on


Miller Kopp takes a shot. Kopp tallied 11 points in Northwestern’s loss to then-No. 10 Iowa on December 29, 2020.

Patrick Andres, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

10. 16. 12. 21. These are the rankings of Northwestern’s last five opponents, against whom the Wildcats have compiled a 1-4 record after a 5-1 start to the season.

NU might be due for a breather – since the AP Polls 73 years ago, the Cats have never played five consecutive ranked teams – but the Big Ten offers no respite. Northwestern  will meet No. 5 Iowa Sunday morning, in search of an upset that would keep its record above .500.

The Hawkeyes and Cats last met in December in Iowa City, with Iowa winning 87-72 after an efficient display of three-point shooting against NU (11 for 26, 42.3 percent). Each of the Cats’ three opponents since have also hit the 40 percent threshold from beyond the arc, and coach Chris Collins identified the three-pointer as a key reason for NU’s most recent loss to No. 21 Ohio State. 

“We withstood an early barrage of threes, they hit eight threes in the first half,” he said postgame on Wednesday. “The eight threes gave them the separation (they needed)… we just didn’t have the execution on both ends and the poise, and Ohio State did.”

Nine of the Hawkeyes’ 11 three-pointers in the first meeting came from two players; guard Jordan Bohannon made six of his nine attempts from long range while guard CJ Fredrick made three of six. The Cats defended center and Player of the Year candidate Luka Garza admirably, holding him to just 18 points, but did not have an answer for the rest of Iowa’s deep squad.

This story seemed to unfold in reverse in Columbus, as Ohio State leaned heavily on 16-point-per-game guard Duane Washington Jr. to take a 42-33 halftime lead (Washington Jr. scored 17 of his 23 points in 18 first-half minutes). However, the Buckeyes flipped the script late in the second half after a run brought NU within 67-66. Guard Justin Ahrens, playing the third-most minutes of his three-year career, nailed a three-pointer to halt the Cats’ charge in its tracks. 

“Ahrens’ shot out of that timeout was huge,” Collins said Wednesday. “That put them up four, and we had a wasted possession coming down, and then they came down and scored again… I thought that little three-possession swing was where the game got back away from us.”

The Ohio State game ended in a familiar fashion for NU: a fourth consecutive loss, all to ranked opponents and all by double digits. Against this backdrop, some of the Cats’ most reliable wells have run dry: sophomore guard Boo Buie is in a 2 for 29 slump, junior forward Miller Kopp has shot south of his season average in three straight games, and sophomore forward Robbie Beran was held to four points by the Hawkeyes and none by the Buckeyes in 44 combined minutes. 

A reversal of some or all of these trends is a must for the Cats in an unforgiving, historically stacked conference. Measured by College Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System, the Big Ten has exhibited this level of collective strength just once since 1950: 1989, when eight of the league’s 10 teams had winning seasons.The same metric rates Iowa as the third-best team in the country, and the Hawkeyes trail only Gonzaga and the Citadel in the more familiar statistic of scoring offense.

“There are nights in the Big Ten where you’re gonna shoot it well, and there are nights that turn into grinders,” Collins said prophetically after NU upset No. 4 Michigan State on December 21. “You gotta learn how to win multiple different types of games.”

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