By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa men’s basketball team has lost nine of its last 10 games against Purdue at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
Purdue is also 9-2 at home this season, highlighted by a stunning 71-42 beat-down against Michigan State on Jan. 12.
And yet, it wouldn't be hard to picture a scenario in which No. 17 Iowa defeats Purdue on Wednesday.
It would be foolish to predict a win for the Hawkeyes, but the next step for this Iowa team is to show that it can defeat a Big Ten opponent on the road besides lowly Northwestern.
Because to say that Northwestern has struggled to defend the home court this season would be an understatement.
The Wildcats are just 1-5 in Big Ten home games, including a 75-62 loss to Iowa on Jan. 14.
Wednesday’s game at Purdue should be a significant step up from a challenge standpoint, both in regard to the competition on the court and the hostile environment.
Purdue, at 12-10 overall, has slipped by its lofty standards, but that record is deceiving when Purdue plays at home.
If Wednesday’s game were scheduled to be played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, there would be little doubt about the outcome.
But it almost seems like a toss-up at Mackey Arena, although, Purdue might have the slightest edge simply due to home-court advantage.
As a hostile environment, Mackey Arena is at a different level than Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena.
It has more seating capacity, fans who are more engaged and a better team.
Winning on the road is always difficult in the Big Ten, and in most conferences, but it seems even more of a challenge this season, except for at Northwestern, and at Nebraska to a certain extent, although, Iowa lost at Nebraska 76-70 on Jan 7.
Iowa junior center Luka Garza will have his hands full against Purdue’s massive frontline led by 6-foot-9, 270-pound junior Trevion Williams and 7-3 junior center Matt Haarms.
Williams leads a balanced Purdue offense with an 11.3 per-game scoring average, and also averages 7.7 rebounds per game, while Haarms is fourth in the conference in blocked shots at 2.1 per game.
Evan Boudreaux, a 6-8, 225-pound senior forward, provides even more size and experience on the frontline.
Combine all that size with guards that are now shooting better from the perimeter than in previous games and Purdue certainly presents a challenge, especially at home.
“I really like their team, I think they have a lot of different pieces that make them difficult to prepare for,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Monday on a teleconference. “They’ve got some guys that are shooting the ball well. There was a stretch where they weren’t shooting it, but now they’re shooting the ball really well, which changes everything in regard to Williams and Haarms and Boudreaux. All three of those guys are playing really well.
“They always defend. They pick you up full and they work defensively and they run great stuff on offense. They move the ball, share the ball. You know intense atmosphere, one of the best in college basketball. So always a tough place to play.”
But with all that being said, this is a winnable game for Iowa, arguably the most winnable road game still left on the schedule.
Three of Iowa's next four games are on the road, so this stretch could go a long way in defining this Iowa team, and its season.
Iowa's other remaining road games are at Indiana on Feb. 13, at Minnesota on Feb. 16, at Michigan State on Feb. 25 and at Illinois on March 8 in the regular-season finale.
Iowa could lose all four of those games and it wouldn’t be a surprise in each case because that is life on the road in the rugged Big Ten.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Iowa lost at Purdue on Wednesday, but nor would it be a surprise if Iowa prevailed.
This Purdue team is vulnerable and lacks the firepower compared to some of Matt Painter’s best teams at Purdue.
But don’t fool yourself, facing Purdue in Mackey Arena is difficult under any circumstance.
This game represents the next step for this depleted Iowa team that is without two injured starters, including senior point guard Jordan Bohannon.
Garza and his cohorts have accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish at this point, with signature wins at home, at neutral sites and at Iowa State.
Iowa is also just one game out of first place in the conference standings with nine games left.
So there is a chance for Iowa to do something special, but for that to happen, it has to prove that it can win on the road.
That's what is currently standing in the way of Iowa truly being special.
Iowa vs. Purdue
When: Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Where: West Lafayette, Ind., Mackey Arena
TV: Big Ten Network
Records/rankings: Iowa is 16-6 overall, 7-4 in the Big Ten and ranked 17th in this weeks Associated Press poll. Purdue is 12010, 5-6 and unranked.
All-time series: Purdue holds a 90-76 advantage in the series. The two teams have split the last eight overall meetings. The Boilermakers won last season’s only contest, 86-70, on Jan. 3, 2019, in West Lafayette, Indiana. The Boilermakers hold a 60-22 advantage in games played in West Lafayette. Purdue has won nine of the last 10 games over the Hawkeyes inside Mackey Arena. Iowa’s last victory at Mackey Arena came on Jan. 2, 2016 (70-63).