By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – A sellout crowd, a dominant center and a healthy C.J. Fredrick is just part of what Penn State will have to overcome when it faces Iowa on Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Fredrick, a 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman guard, is expected to play after missing the past three games due to an ankle injury.
“He looks pretty good,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Friday at a press conference. “He's been able to do pretty much everything the last couple days.”
That means Fran McCaffery will have his third leading scorer to use against Penn State, along with the seven recruited scholarship players that helped Iowa stay on course during Fredrick's absence, winning two of three games.
Junior center Luka Garza has scored at least 20 points in 13 consecutive games, which equals Fred Brown's streak from 1971.
Combine Fredrick's return with Garza's dominance and a hostile environment and the Nittany Lions should have their hands full against an Iowa team that has only lost once at home this season.
The Nittany Lions are 21-7 overall and 11-6 in the Big Ten, and that includes an 89-86 victory over Iowa on Jan. 4th at the Palestra in Philadelphia.
Penn State is poised to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, and for the first time under Pat Chambers, who is in his ninth season as head coach.
His squad blew a 21-point lead against Rutgers at home on Wednesday, but still prevailed as a sophomore guard Myles Dread made a game-winning 3-point basket in the closing seconds.
“It was a great game,” said Fran McCaffery. “You saw a lot of fight from Rutgers, and you saw some resiliency from Penn State. Not an easy team to get up on big, and they did, and they came back and fought and got the win.
“A lot of times when you give up a lead like that, you lose the game, so give Penn State credit.”
Penn State won’t have the luxury of playing before its home crowd on Saturday, and this season has driven home the point that home-court advantage means a great deal.
The Palestra hardly was a neutral site, either, and if anything, it might have given Penn State more of a home-court advantage because it was sold out.
Home-court advantage will definitely be on Iowa’s side Saturday, and that should have an impact.
Iowa is a different team at home, and the fans are a big reason for it.
Iowa is also a different team with Fredrick on the court because he is somebody that opposing defenses have to account for at all times due to his versatility as a scorer, and because he gives Iowa more flexibility on defense.
“When you look at minutes and fatigue, certainly there,” Fran McCaffery said of how Fredrick’s return will help defensively. “He's one of the best shooters in the league, gives you another weapon offensively, but also can make a play, an experienced guy.”
Fredrick's presence on the court also should help to create more space on offense for 6-6 sophomore Joe Wieskamp, who has been held below 10 points in three of the last six games, including just four points in this past Tuesday's 78-70 loss at Michigan State.
Even though the numbers might suggest that Wieskamp was hurt by Fredrick's absence, Fran McCaffery downplayed that theory.
"I don't think so," McCaffery said. "He's getting good looks at it. He's been a little bit off. He's really working. I thought he worked without the ball extremely well. He's trying to mix up his drives and his jump shots, his pull-ups. He'll get going again."
Wieskamp came to Iowa from Muscatine as a coveted recruit, and then made the Big Ten All-Freshmen team last season before testing the NBA Draft process last spring.
The fans have high expectations for Wieskamp, and he admitted to the media on Friday that sometimes he puts too much pressure on himself to meet those expectations.
"I do tend to put a little too much pressure on myself to go out there and perform knowing that those expectations are on me," Wieskamp said. "And I've really been working on that, just zone out that pressure and just go out there and play freely, and just trust in my ability. I've played in so many games throughout my career that I know I'm a good player, and I know I can shoot it really well.
"So I've just got to rely back on that and just shut my mind off out there and just go out there and play."
The fact that Saturday’s game is a sellout shows that Iowa fans are willing to come out and support their team when given a reason to do so, and this team has definitely given fans a reason to be excited, losing just once at home.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena leaves something to be desired from structural standpoint, and that hardly is a secret, but it’ll still be rocking on Saturday.
The current Iowa team is easy to like because its members play hard and with toughness, and there is a nice collection of talent that was, obviously, underrated heading into the season.
A raucous crowd is just what Iowa needs to have an edge against Penn State, just like Penn State had that same edge in the first game against Iowa almost two months ago.
Saturday will be Penn State’s first visit to Carver-Hawkeye Arena in over two years. The Nittany Lions last played in Iowa City on Dec. 2, 2017.
Saturday's game will also be Iowa’s third straight game against a ranked opponent. Iowa has six victories over ranked opponents this season, the most by the Hawkeyes since 2006 (8).
This is the second to last home game of the season. Iowa will face Purdue in the final home game on Tuesday before closing out the regular season at Illinois on March 8th.
Penn State vs. Iowa
When: Saturday, 11:01 a.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
TV: Big Ten Network
Records/rankings: Penn State is 21-7 overall, 11-6 in the Big ten and ranked 16th in this week's Associated Press Poll. Iowa is 19-9, 10-7 and ranked 18th in the AP poll.
All-time series: Iowa holds a 30-18 advantage in the series versus Penn State. The Hawkeyes have won 10 of the last 17 meetings. The Nittany Lions won an entertaining game against the Hawkeyes on Jan. 4, in Philadelphia (89-86). Iowa holds a commanding 17-4 advantage in games played at Iowa City, with all 21 meetings taking place in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes have won 12 of the last 13 meetings in Iowa City. Penn State snapped a 12-game losing streak at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on its last visit in the Big Ten opener two seasons ago on Dec. 2, 2017 (77-73).