Iowa City, Iowa – The first week of December was not kind to the Iowa men’s basketball team. They were in the midst of a four game losing streak, including two Big Ten contests, and looked noncompetitive at times in every single contest.
The last week-plus has been much better for the Hawkeyes (6–6), who will look to extend their winning streak to three games when they welcome Southern Utah (6–4) to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday night. Nicolas Baer in particular has been a recent bright spot, with his injury seemingly fully behind him.
The Thunderbirds (one of the best mascots in Division I) are in a bit of a transition period. Second-year head coach Todd Simon is doing a solid job cleaning up a mess of a program, already matching last year’s win total in ten games, but they are still a long ways away from competing with power conference teams. All four losses have come to strong programs, including Iowa’s Big Ten foe Michigan State. The game was scheduled back when Jason Butikofer, an Iowa grad, was Southern Utah’s athletic director – he is now at Purdue.
The Thunderbirds are ranked #298 in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced college basketball analytics despite their record. Southern Utah’s six wins have come over two non-Division I teams and three other teams in the bottom-180 of the KenPom rankings. The Thunderbirds are also one of the worst defensive teams in the nation, ranking 343rd in adjusted defense and allowing over 83 points per game.
That weak defense should be a blessing for an Iowa offense that has scuffled at times. The Thunderbids like to push the ball – they run at the 20th fastest tempo in the sport, and Iowa should be able to take advantage of this.
The Thunderbirds are led by Seattle transfer Jadon Cohee. The Canada native averages 16.8 points a game to lead the team. Brandon Better (13.8) and Jamal Aytes (12.0) also sit at double digits in scoring.
Southern Utah is the worst team Iowa will face the rest of the season, and this game should essentially serve as another exhibition. The Thunderbirds turn the ball over at the 6th highest rate in the country, so this will be a good chance for the Hawkeyes to make strides on defense. This game was essentially scheduled as a favor for Jason Butikofer, the former Southern Utah athletic director who graduated from Iowa, but is now no longer at the school.
Tip-off is scheduled for 8PM central on Big Ten Network.
Prediction: Iowa 95, Southern Utah 60.