Minnesota-Iowa men's basketball preview

The Gophers get back into Big Ten play when they face rival Iowa tonight at 6:00 in an ESPN-televised contest. Iowa lost to Northwestern 77-68 Saturday in Iowa City, while Minnesota defeated Princeton 57-53 Saturday at Williams Arena. Both teams are hoping to bounce back from disappointing conference losses as the Hawkeyes fell to Northwestern, who had lost four straight games, and the Gophers dropped a road contest to Penn State.

The two programs also have other similarities. Fans of both schools are frustrated with the inconsistent play of their teams and there is talk that both head coaches could be in trouble, despite long-term deals.


Iowa coach Steve Alford and Minnesota coach Dan Monson, who are close friends, are both in their fifth year in the Big Ten Conference. Alford is 81-62 at Iowa and Monson is 75-62 at Minnesota. Iowa has not had a winning record in the Big Ten for four straight seasons, while Minnesota has yet to finish higher than sixth in Monson's four complete seasons.


Both teams rely heavily on local talent. Iowa's roster includes eight players from the state of Iowa and the Golden Gopher roster includes 12 players from Minnesota. The two teams have played just one common opponent. Iowa lost to Texas Tech 65-59 in a game played in Dallas, Texas, while Texas Tech defeated Minnesota 90-73 in Lubbock, Texas.


Minnesota holds a 92-81 advantage over Iowa in the series that began with a 47-10 Gopher win in 1902. Iowa had won four straight meetings before the Gophers won 77-64 in Minneapolis in 2003 and 86-78 in Iowa City in 2002. Iowa won both meetings during the 2001 season and two of three games in 2000 before Minnesota won the last two meetings. The Gophers hold a 55-31 advantage in games played at Minnesota. Iowa has won two of the last five meetings in Williams Arena, including an 87-74 win in 2001.


Iowa is 8-4 start this season, after starting 6-0 against a weak non-conference schedule, except for a 70-69 victory over Louisville in Indianapolis. Expectations were not overly high for the Hawkeyes this season. However, with four returning starters, six returnees who averaged more than seven points per game, a former starter back after missing last season and a strong returning class, some thought that Iowa (17-14 last season) could be the surprise of the Big Ten.


The Hawkeyes have started the same five players all season.


Pierre Pierce, who sat out last season after pleading guilty to assault causing injury, has been the team's top player this season.  Pierce was a freshman starter and he and sophomore Jeff Horner are the only players to ever have more than 200 points, 100 rebounds and 100 assists as freshmen. Pierce is averaging a team-high 16.9 points along with 5.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. However, he needs to cut down on his turnovers (3.6 per game) and improve his free throw shooting (63.9%). Iowa

's shooting from the charity stripe has been a problem recently for the team.


Jeff Horner started all 31 games as a freshman and set the school record for assists for a first-year player. He struggled with his shooting last year, as he shot just 33.2% from the field and 27.7% from three-point range. He has improved those number slightly to 38.8% and 31.4%. He is a good rebounding guard with 5.7 rebounds per game. Horner is leading the team with 4.6 assists and is contributing 9.8 points.


Outside threat Brody Boyd is the third part of the Hawkeyes' three-guard attack. He is shooting 39.5% from the field and 33.3% from three-point range. Brody and Horner are primarily three-point shooters as 105 of their 171 attempts are from beyond the arc.


Jared Reiner, who led the Big Ten in rebounding (8.3) in league games and for all games (8.3) in 2003, has seen his rebounding drop to 7.1 caroms, while averaging 10.5 points. He played just 19 minutes against Northwestern and has been hampered by a sprain in his mid right foot. Sean Sonderleiter, a part-time starter last season, will likely get more minutes and could even start, if Reiner is not 100%. Sonderleiter is averaging 3.5 points and 4.1 rebounds, down from 8.5 points and 4.0 rebounds last season.


Greg Brunner, who was a freshman starter, has improved his numbers from 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds to 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds this season. He started the season strong, making 33 of 45 shots (73.3%) and averaging 15.6 points in the first five games and scoring in double digits all five contests. He is averaging just 8.1 points in the last seven and has reached double figures just twice during that time. Brunner is a physical player who can step outside, but he is shooting just 50% from the line.


Glen Worley was second on the team in scoring and rebounding last season. He has been bothered by foul trouble throughout his career. Worley fouled out of 12 games last season and has continued to struggle defensively. He broke a bone in his hand earlier this year and also suffered a sprained ankle.  Worley is averaging just 5.4 points and 2.9 rebounds this year, way down from last year when he averaged 10.9 points and 5.2 caroms.


The Gophers could get a break, with Reiner questionable and newcomers freshman Mike Henderson and Nick DeWitz, a highly touted JC transfer expected to miss the game, due to academics. Henderson is averaging 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds, while Dewitz is contributing 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds.


The possible loss of as many as three Hawkeyes will definitely hurt the depth of a team that relies on just nine players. The Gophers would be wise to take advantage and force the tempo.


The Hawkeyes are shooting just 65.1% from the line, compared to 70.2 for the Gophers. They are averaging 16.7 turnovers compared to only 13.5 for Minnesota




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