By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa football team was undefeated and ranked second in the Associated Press poll when it lost to unranked Purdue 24-7 on Oct. 16 at Kinnick Stadium.
The Purdue men’s basketball team is undefeated and ranked second in the AP poll heading into Friday’s game against unranked Iowa in West Lafayette, Indiana.
You see where this is going?
The Iowa men’s basketball team has a chance to reverse the roles against Purdue, and to make Purdue fans suffer a little bit.
However, defeating this Purdue squad, which has a nine-man rotation that includes 7-foot-4 sophomore center Zach Edey and 6-10 senior forward Trevion Williams, will be a tall order, figuratively and literally.
Purdue would undoubtedly climb to No. 1 in the AP poll with a victory over Iowa, while 7-0 Iowa would have a good chance of being ranked for the first time this season with a victory over Purdue.
Matt Painter, a former Purdue guard and assistant coach under Gene Keady, is in his 17th season as the Purdue head coach and has guided the Boilermakers to 12 NCAA Tournaments.
Painter has had some very successful teams while coaching at his alma mater, but his current team is showing signs that it could be his best, although, it’s still early.
“Purdue is probably as deep a team as I’ve seen, and I mean over a long period of time, not just this year,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Wednesday. “They’ve had nine different guys start. They have a quality player at every position and a quality backup at every position. All of them can score. They have multiple 3-point shooters. They have a lot of size. They have experience.
“So, they’ll be No. 1 essentially with Duke losing. I thought they were No. 1 already, personally.”
Iowa already has survived one hostile road environment when it hung on to defeat Virginia 75-74 on Monday in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge after leading by 21 points.
The Cavaliers represented a big step up in competition compared to Iowa’s first six opponents, and now Purdue is a big step up from the Cavaliers.
“It’s a great challenge for our team, and it’s going to be a great environment,” Fran McCaffery said. “It’s one of the places if you’ve been watching, they’ve been full. Their fans are excited about that team, and they well should be.”
Filip Rebraca, a 6-9 power forward, transferred to Iowa after having played three seasons at North Dakota because he wanted to play at the highest level in college, and face better competition.
Rebraca asked for it, and now he’s getting it.
He joked with reporters on Wednesday about the size disadvantage that he will be up against with Edey and Williams, who also weighs about 265 pounds.
Iowa also faces Illinois next Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the Fighting Illini are led by 7-0, 285-pound junior center Kofi Cockburn, who declared for the 2021 NBA before deciding to return for another season.
“That’s what I signed up for,” Rebraca said. “I didn’t expect Kofi to be back, but he is. But yeah, I signed up for this and I’ve got to deal with the consequences.”
Rebraca burst into laughter after describing his situation, but he also relishes the opportunity to compete on a big stage and against top-level talent.
“I go out there every night and I try to do my best and battle,” he said. “I don’t care how tall a person is or how much they weigh. I’m always going to give it my all.”
Purdue recently had 7-2 center Issac Haas to anchor its frontline, but Edey is two inches taller than Haas, and has a different playing style.
“I think he’s a little more mobile,” Fran McCaffery said of Edey, who is from Canada. “Isaac was pretty tough. I had a lot of respect for him.
“But I think Edey runs the floor, and he moves his feet. He’s another guy that’s constantly coming at you, and they run stuff for him, so you have to deal with him.”
Purdue was expected to have success this season with a veteran roster that also includes 6-4 high-flying sophomore guard Jaden Ivey, and senior sharpshooter Sasha Stefanovic, whereas Iowa was more a mystery heading into the season.
Iowa lost so much experience and offensive firepower from last season’s team that was ranked fifth in the AP preseason poll and that finished 22-9, most notably 6-11 center Luka Garza, who was the 2021 National Player of the Year, and that has caused some to predict, or to assume, that Iowa will experience a decline this season.
But with sophomore forward Keegan Murray playing at an All-America level, and with sixth-year senior guard Jordan Bohannon always a threat from 3-point range, as he showed by making six against Virginia, and with junior point guard Joe Toussaint running the offense with more poise and precision, Iowa is showing signs that it could be better than expected.
Rebraca also has provided a huge boost in the post, especially on the boards.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Bohannon said. “Anytime you go to Mackey Arena you’re going to expect a war.”
Friday’s game at Mackey Arena will match the top two scoring teams in the country, and both like to play at a fast pace.
Purdue ranks second in the country in 3-point accuracy (.442), scoring offense (92.4), and field goal percentage (.545); third in rebound margin (+16.0); sixth in assists per game (19.7); and eighth in fewest fouls per game (12.9).
Individually, Edey ranks fifth nationally in field goal percentage (.738); Stefanovic is 31st in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.4) and 41st in 3-pointers per game (3.1).
There are so few weaknesses on this Purdue team. You name it and Painter’s squad has it; from size, of course, to athleticism, depth and experience.
An though, it’s only the Big Ten opener, Friday’s game will be a chance for Iowa to make a huge statement, and to see where it stacks up against an elite opponent.
“I think it’s what you come to expect in this league,” Fran McCaffery said. “There’s going to be somebody every year, sometimes multiple teams that are top five teams, teams that view themselves and others as well as National Championship contenders.
“It’s not always the first game out of the conference schedule, but this year it is, and it’s not always going to be on the road. It’s a great challenge for our team, see how we perform under pressure in that environment against a team that is incredibly talented, but the thing that I think has impressed me is they execute well. They’re not a mistake team, and they stay the course and they defend.”
McCaffery was asked Wednesday at his weekly press conference if he expects more Iowa fans to attend Friday’s game with the Iowa football team playing barely one hour away in Indianapolis the next day.
‘I think that’s a logical assumption, but I think the game is sold out, so I’m not sure there’s going to be any tickets available,” McCaffery said.
Iowa vs. Purdue
When: Friday, 8:03 p.m.
Where: West Lafayette, Indiana, Mackey Arena
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
All-time series: Purdue holds a 92-77 advantage in the series. The Boilermakers have won four of the last five in the series. Iowa snapped Purdue’s four-game win streak over the Hawkeyes with a victory in the only meeting last season in Iowa City. The Boilermakers hold a 61-22 advantage in games played in West Lafayette. Purdue has won 10 of the last 11 games over the Hawkeyes inside Mackey Arena. Iowa’s last victory at Mackey Arena came on Jan. 2, 2016 (70-63).