With Illinois' victory over Minnesota on Wednesday night, Iowa's opponent for Thursday is set. They'll face the Fighting Illini Thursday at approximately 1:30 CST. The Hawkeyes won the only meeting between the two programs 77-65 in Champaign.
Illinois used a sharp-shooting effort to easily put the Gophers away on the first day in Indianapolis by a score of 85-52. It shows that Illinois showed up at the conference tourney with a purpose.
Iowa's first matchup will be against Illinois on Thursday. Kendrick Nunn and Jalen Coleman-Lands are very good offensive players but most of the attention for Iowa's defense will be placed on Malcolm Hill. He was an all-conference second team selection and has the ability to take over any game at any point. Nunn and Coleman-Lands are a bit more consistent but also have the potential to rise up and score in bunches as well.
However, Illinois' defense will have their hands full. They struggle to matchup well with Jarrod Uthoff. They have the guards to pin down Peter Jok but no answer for Uthoff if he is hitting on all cylinders. He seemed to find himself offensively against Michigan and that should pose problems for John Groce's team.
I like Iowa's chances against Illinois. They'll have to defend on the perimeter better than they have towards the end of the season and I think they'll do just enough. But their offense should carry them towards a victory. I expect Uthoff to score over 20 and there should also be opportunities for Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell offensively because the Illini are not a defensive-minded basketball team for the most part and will attempt to take Jok away on the perimeter.
FRIDAY VS PURDUE
With a win over Illinois on Thursday, Iowa would meet Purdue on Friday in the second game of the day. They defeated the Boilermakers twice during the season, with their win in West Lafayette being one of their more impressive victories of the season.
The Boilermakers are playing the best basketball they have all year. They're among the three hottest teams in the league. Their size demands a strong game from Adam Woodbury and if he finds himself in foul trouble, that would spell doom for the Hawkeyes. I believe he's mature and experienced enough to avoid that.
For me, it comes down to how difficult it is to beat a team three times in one season, regardless of the opponent. It rarely happens. It's especially more complicated when that team is one of the best in the conference. This isn't with a ton of conviction but I think Purdue bounces Iowa on Friday.