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Northwestern must slow Iowa’s torrid pace in Big Ten tournament

Here’s the formula for how to beat a feisty, defensive-minded Northwestern team: Run them up and down the floor.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, no team in the Big Ten runs the floor better than Iowa. The Wildcats face the Hawkeyes on Thursday night in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis.

But even if Northwestern is able to get past Iowa, the Wildcats will have to contend with that style for as long as they remain in the four-day tournament.

Northwestern has only four players — Drew Crawford, Alex Olah, Sanjay Lumpkin and Tre Demps — used to playing big minutes. Fatigue has been as much a factor in the Wildcats’ losses as their well-documented offensive ineptitude.

Coach Chris Collins has very few options off the bench. He already is playing Kale Abrahamson and Dave Sobolewski because of a season-ending foot injury to JerShon Cobb.

So how can the undermanned Wildcats slow Iowa?

“We have to have good offensive possessions,” Crawford said. “We can’t turn the ball over, we can’t take errant shots because that’s what leads to run-outs and they’re a great transition team. So the way we take care of the ball offensively is going to be important, and then just have the mind-set to get back [on defense] every possession.”

Most teams that have beaten Iowa, which averages 82.6 points per game, have been able to play that up-and-down game, too.

But Northwestern can’t compete in a track meet. So it will look to downstate rival Illinois for the model of how to handle the Hawkeyes.

Collins said he thought the Illini were the most successful at slowing down Iowa. Illinois beat the Hawkeyes 66-63 on Saturday.

“We just have to try to play our game,” Collins. “In the games we’ve been successful, we’ve been able to keep the scores down, keep it more of a possession-by-possession game.

“You can’t give them fast break points.”


Twitter: @SethGruen

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