Iowa basketball: Should fans worry about Northwestern?

As the Iowa basketball team enters its third game of Big Ten play they will do so without the services of their head coach.

Most Big Ten and college basketball followers know by now that Fran McCaffery has been dealt a one game suspension following his ejection at Wisconsin on Sunday night. Therefore, the Hawkeyes will have a new man pacing the sidelines on game day for the first time in more than three-and-a-half years, though it is merely a one night reprieve.

Iowa (12-3, 1-1 Big Ten) will enter its match-up against Northwestern (7-8, 0-2 Big Ten) with a no. 20 national ranking and as winners of 41 of its last 49 games at home, including 18 straight.

So far the Wildcats have struggled this season under first year head coach Chris Collins. The issues have been further magnified against quality competition, with their best win probably coming over lowly Western Michigan. All things considered Northwestern will likely finish near the bottom of the Big Ten, but are they a threat a Hawkeye team minus its head coach?

For Northwestern to spring the upset they would be best served to control the pace of the game to their liking. In the case of athletic teams this would probably mean pushing an up-tempo style, but without an abundance of these types of players an underdog is often prone to slow the game down.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their personnel doesn’t fit very well with either of these two strategies. Northwestern doesn’t have the type of athletes to excel in a fast paced game, nor has it shown the efficient shooting and passing ability necessary to succeed in a slower half-court contest.

Although senior guard Drew Crawford is a capable scorer at 16ppg, as a team Northwestern currently sits 320th nationally in scoring. On top of that the Wildcats also find themselves 315th and 195th in field goal percentage and assists respectively.

In previous years Norwestern’s Princeton style offense helped it to keep possessions to a minimum and games close, but with a new coach and new system in place that advantage is gone.

The Wildcats have had issues getting stops against high caliber opponents, so Iowa and its 11th ranked scoring offense should be able to put the ball in the basket on a consistent basis. If that happens Northwestern could quickly find itself in a world trouble, especially on the road.

While it cannot be ignored that the Hawkeyes will be without their head coach for a conference game the impact may not be as severe as most people would assume.

Kirk Speraw (left) will not be a stranger to the duties left to him as substitute head coach by Fran McCaffery (center). (Photo Credit: The Des Moines Register)

Kirk Speraw (left) will not be a stranger to the duties left to him as substitute head coach by Fran McCaffery (center). (Photo Credit: The Des Moines Register)

Taking control on the bench for Iowa will be assistant Kirk Speraw. Though he may not be a household name in national coaching circles he is more than qualified to assume this temporary role.

Speraw himself has 17 years of Division 1 head coaching experience while at Central Florida with an above-.500 record. He will not be fazed or intimidated by anything that comes at him, and by all accounts he is very well respected by the Hawkeye players.

With this additional factor aiding Iowa’s favor I expect the Hawkeyes to come out ready to play and play well. Look for a focused group of players who have grown tired of answering questions about their head coach the past few days to perform to their usual standards.

While I don’t expect a completely cohesive effort from the get-go, I think Iowa will find its groove rather quickly and run away with a 15-20 point victory.