With the Advocare Invitiational pending, and the season now in full bloom, it seemed like a good time to start bothering fans of our opponents with needless questions. Iowa if chock-full of good-hearted God-fearing folk that are too kind to say no. Ross, from the SB Nation (IT’S ON US!!!!) blog Black Heart Gold Pants, is such a fellow.
He was gracious enough to answer a few questions about this year’s Hawkeye team — giving us a very insightful overview that will make Blackburn’s recon completely moot. Thanks Ross, and good luck to the gridiron Hawkeyes.
Let’s start out with thoughts on the head coach. Fran McCaffery is entering his 6th season in Iowa City and is 98-75 at the helm of the Hawkeyes. It’s hard to knock a coach who has led his team to two NCAA Tournament berths in the last two seasons, at a football school nonetheless. That being said, I’ve read rumblings that Iowa (much like their football team, we’ll get to that later) is under-achieving and the natives are restless. What are your thoughts on Coach McCaffery?
ROSS: I don’t think there’s any real substance to any rumblings or grumblings from Iowa fans in that regard. McCaffery led Iowa to its first NCAA Tournament win in 14 years (yes, it really was that long) last year and the trajectory of the program has been moving steadily upward ever since he got here: after a terrible first season, he’s gone NIT appearance, NIT Championship Game, NCAA Tournament appearance, and NCAA Tournament second round appearance. That’s pretty solid.
If there are complaints, they’re pretty minor. Iowa endured a brutal stretch to close the season two years ago and nearly missed the NCAA Tournament after being a Top 10-15 team earlier in the season; that was unfortunate, but Iowa responded well last season. And obviously success begets bigger expectations, so Iowa fans would like to really contend for Big Ten championships and Sweet 16 appearances, but I think there’s still a lot of confidence in Fran’s ability to help Iowa do just that. The recruiting for future classes is pretty promising and I think there’s a sense that the best is still to come for Iowa hoops under Fran. That’s certainly my view of his tenure right now.
Iowa was picked to finish 9th in an always loaded B1G Conference. Therefore, projections are probably not too high in Iowa City, correct? How do you feel this team stacks up against the rest of their conference?
I think the sense from Iowa fans is that that was too low, particularly for a team that returned four seniors and five players with considerable starting experience. Yes, Iowa suffered some important departures from last year’s team — losing Aaron White, an All-Big Ten forward who played brilliant ball down the stretch a year ago, and Gabe Olaseni, the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year — but they also returned several players who were starters and key contributors on teams that made the NCAA Tournament and finished in the top six of the Big Ten the last two seasons. A projection around 5-7 would have seemed a bit more fair.
As far as how Iowa stacks up to the rest of the Big Ten… I think it’s too early to say. A lot of Big Ten teams have stumbled a bit at the start of the season — Wisconsin (2-2, including a home loss to Western Illinois), Maryland (barely beat Georgetown and Rider), Ohio State (lost to UT Arlington), Michigan (lost by 16 at home to Xavier) — so it’s hard to gauge the strength of the league at this point. Michigan State and Purdue have looked pretty impressive (ditto Indiana, at least until a loss to Wake Forest), but right now no one’s played enough to get a sense of how good teams are. My rough expectation is that this team should finish in the top half of the Big Ten and that they could contend for a double bye (top-4 finish) in the Big Ten Tournament if things break right.
Iowa is off to a solid 3-0 start with three blowout wins against Gardner Webb, Coppin State, and Marquette. From what I’ve gathered from message board fodder, it appeared that all hell was breaking loose when the Hawkeyes lost to Division II Augustana. How do you feel the team responded to that shocking preseason loss to start out so hot?
I think that exhibition loss ended up being a very useful wake-up call for this team. Losing to a Division II team is never a good thing, but the fact it happened in an exhibition game instead of a game that counted towards Iowa’s official win-loss record certainly made it more tolerable. I think that loss served as a good reminder that Iowa can’t take anyone for granted and that if they try to sleepwalk through a game, they’re liable to get burned. This team has a lot of freshmen and they played sparingly in the Augustana loss, which I thought served as a useful lesson to them that they needed to play well in practice to earn minutes during games and also that they need to play harder during games when they did get opportunities.
Senior Jarrod Uthoff is picking up where he left off last year as the clear leader of this team. The preseason All B1G player is averaging about 16 points and 6 rebounds per game. How would you describe him as a player? What is his weakness that Dayton could potentially expose on the defensive end?
Uthoff’s capable of doing a little bit of everything — with his height and incredible length, he’s able score in the post, but he’s also a tremendous overall shooter with a sweet jump shot and good ability from long range (almost a career 40% shooter from 3-point range). He’s also a solid rebounder and a lethal shot blocker on the perimeter. His main weakness is probably a lack of assertiveness at times — he can get a bit too in love with long jump shots and he doesn’t always attack the rim as often as he should. (Which also means he doesn’t draw enough fouls — he averages around 3 FTA per game, which is too few for a guy who shoots around 75-80% from the free throw line.)
I think the best approach to him defensively might be to sag off him and give him those long jump shots and see if he falls in love with that shot. The obvious risk there is that he could get hot and make plenty of ’em — he’s very capable of doing so — but those are fairly low percentage shots and if Uthoff just camps out inside the three-point line, he’s not going to be as effective for Iowa as he could otherwise be.
In the rare instance that Uthoff is shut down, who do the Flyers need to be concerned about in regards to the Hawkeyes’ scoring output?
Peter Jok is Iowa’s #2 scorer on the season, averaging 14 ppg and currently shooting over 50% from the field (53%) and a blistering 67% from 3-point range. He had 20 points in 18 minutes against Marquette last week and looked fantastic, scoring from deep (4/6) and at the rim. Now obviously small sample size alerts are in play here, but Jok has flashed skills like this in the past — the issue has just been performing at a consistent level. It’s too soon to say if he’ll be able to be more consistent this season, but he’s very capable of lighting up the Flyers on Thursday night.
Other than Jok, Dom Uhl and Mike Gesell are probably the two guys most likely to get hot and pour in points for Iowa. Gesell is Iowa’s point guard and primarily concerned with distributing the ball (he’s averaging 8.3 assists per game so far), but he’s capable of getting to the rim and getting easy buckets and getting hot from deep. Uhl was a guy Iowa fans had big hopes for this season and he’s off to an encouraging start, averaging 11.3 ppg 4.0 rpg, and 2.0 apg. He’s shooting a ridiculous 70% from the floor, including 56% from 3-point range and while obviously those numbers aren’t going to be sustained, he’s a big guy with some inside-out skills who could hurt Dayton if he stays hot.
This team is averaging just under 90 points per contest, so scoring comes easy for them. What is another aspect of this team that has impressed you so far? Secondly, what is this team’s main weakness as a whole?
The offensive output has been fantastic, although the level of competition hasn’t been great so far. Coppin State is one of the worst teams in the country and Gardner-Webb is nothing special. Scoring 89 on Marquette on the road was a damn impressive performance, though. The most impressive part of that game might have been Iowa’s ball movement on offense — the ball was zipping around Iowa’s half court sets and Iowa players always seemed to find an open man. Iowa’s offense hasn’t always looked that crisp, so seeing it like that was a very pleasant surprise.
Iowa’s two main weaknesses have been rebounding and getting to the free throw line. Iowa’s been pretty mediocre about getting offensive rebounds so far this year (176th in the country, per KenPom) and they’ve been among the worst teams in the country at getting to the free throw line (306th in the country in free throw rate, per KenPom). That hasn’t been a problem for Iowa so far because they’ve been scorching hot from the floor (from 2-point and 3-point range), but if (when) those shots aren’t falling, Iowa could be in trouble if they still can’t get to the line or get second chance opportunities.
Let’s finish this up with a speed round. Fill in the blanks:
Iowa Football will play _Michigan State_ in the B1G Championship and will _win_ by a score of _24-20_. This will lead to Kirk Ferentz getting an extension for a period of _forever_.
Ashton Kutcher is from Iowa. His best movie is _The Butterfly Effect_.
Field of Dreams is the best movie set in Iowa. The second best is _Zadar! Cow From Hell (or maybe What’s Eating Gilbert Grape)_.
If I could clone Dan Gable or Hayden Fry, I would choose _Dan Gable_.
The winner of this Iowa/Dayton game will be _Iowa_ by a score of _74-69_.