When the season began in November, Iowa at Penn State in January was not projected to be a matchup of two ranked teams.
Neither team was tabbed for the top 25 in the preseason and were predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings in the media poll before the season.
But Saturday the Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions collide in Philadephia amidst heightened expectations.
Iowa (10-3, 1-1 Big Ten) enters on a four-game winning streak and has been a potent offensive team all season.
The Hawkeyes are averaging 80.8 points a game, shooting 36.2 percent from 3-point range and have scored at least 85 points in five games thus far.
Leading the way for Iowa has been one of the country’s most productive centers in junior Luka Garza, who is averaging 21.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game on the strength of seven double-doubles.
Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp (12.8 ppg) and freshman guard C.J. Frederick (11.2) have picked up the slack for point guard Jordan Bohannon, who is out for the season after having hip surgery in December.
Iowa is coming off a 93-51 win over Kennesaw State on Sunday that saw Garza, senior center Ryan Kreiner and junior forward Cordell Pemsl combine to go 22-of-26 from the field, with Kreiner making all nine of his attempts.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffrey said. “Our guys recognized when Luka was hot early, recognized when Kriener got going, got the ball to Cordell. That’s what we do, we move the ball and share the ball.”
Just like Iowa, Penn State (11-2, 1-1) also is on a four-game winning streak entering the game.
Penn State’s signature win of the season came on Dec. 10 when it beat then-No. 4 Maryland at home, which eventually put the Nittany Lions in the Associated Press rankings when the Dec. 16 poll was released.
It was the first time Penn State was ranked in the AP poll since 1996.
Despite the success and status as a ranked team, Penn State head coach Pat Chambers said his team has to stick to what has gotten it to this point.
“Nothing changes,” Chambers said after a win over Cornell on Dec. 29. “Nothing changes for us. It’s continue to get better. Come in with a growth mindset, get better. We’ll watch this film. There were mistakes made, and let’s get a little better. I want to win special teams. They scored a couple of times when we fouled. I think we can tighten up our ball screen (defense) a little bit. There’s little things that we’ve got to work on to achieve where we want to go.
“I’m telling you know we haven’t seen our best basketball yet. That is ahead of us and I look forward to seeing that.”
The Nittany Lions have one of the top frontcourt duos in the conference in senior Lamar Stevens, who is averaging 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, and senior Mike Watkins, who is averaging 11.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks.
Sophomore guard Myreon Jones is averaging 14.5 points and shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range.
The teams play again on Feb. 29 in Iowa City.
–Field Level Media