Earlier this week, we gave some answers to Black Heart, Gold Pants, about the Davidson Wildcats. Ross B. from BHGP was gracious enough to help answer a few about the Iowa Hawkeyes, because we had burning questions that needed answers.
1. I was in Dayton for the First Four last season and watched you guys lose a heartbreaker to Tennessee. What do you feel the team learned from that experience of getting to the tournament for the first time since 2006? What effect do you think it had on this year's team?
ROSS: I think they got a taste of what the NCAA Tournament is like -- the intensity, the drama, the challenge. I think that could be very helpful because hopefully it means that Iowa has a taste of what to expect and won't be so easily rattled or overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment against Davidson. I think that loss also provided a little extra motivation for this team -- many of the key guys on this team were also on that team, so they experienced the pain of that loss. I'm sure they don't want to feel that way again on Friday night.
2. When you look at the numbers, it appears that Iowa's defense is much improved over last year, but then you look at KenPom's style of defense and you get "inconclusive". So what makes Iowa's defense so great, and what kind of looks can we expect against Davidson?
ROSS: Iowa mixes zone and man looks freely, although I'd say they probably favor man-to-man looks a bit more than zone looks. What makes Iowa's defense so good is their length -- Iowa has a lot of tall, rangy, long-limbed guys which helps them cover a lot of ground and harass shooters. Jarrod Uthoff is a great case in point -- he plays on the perimeter, but he's surprisingly one of Iowa's leading shotblockers because of his uncanny ability to close the distance on shooters in a hurry and block jump shots. Adam Woodbury doesn't have the quickest feet (or hands), but he does often have good defensive positioning and his mere presence goes a long way in deterring guys from attacking the rim. Gabe Olaseni isn't quite as defensively solid, but he's more likely to get the highlight blocks that spark fast breaks the other way. As good as Iowa's defense has looked for much of the year, though, there have been times when it goes completely AWOL and Iowa just gets completely torched by an opponent -- particularly an opponent with a really good offense (see: Wisconsin, Iowa State). Given the quality of shooters that Davidson has on their team, that certainly makes me more than a little nervous about Friday night's game.
3. I feel like next season, we are going to see Iowa in the preseason Top 25, and pretty high up, and everyone is going to go "Iowa?!" because it seems like the Hawkeyes just end up in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten every year and never really wow us. Should I be ready to be wowed? Why?
ROSS: Whether Iowa gets much preseason love next year is probably going to depend on what kind of a run they put together in the NCAA Tournament. But whether they're one and done here or they make the Sweet 16, Iowa is going to have some very big holes to fill next year -- All-Big Ten first teamer Aaron White and Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year Gabe Olaseni will both graduate after this season and they won't be easy to replace. Jarrod Uthoff should replace White as Iowa's best player and leader, but whether Iowa has a "wow"-worthy season is going to depend heavily on who steps up to help him out next year. If Mike Gesell or Adam Woodbury have excellent senior seasons, underclassmen like Dom Uhl and Peter Jok take big steps forward, or one or more of their incoming freshmen are much better than expected, then they might have the makings of a pretty impressive team. But my bet would them being a good, but not great, team once again.
4. The state of Iowa had a big year, getting Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa, into the NCAA Tournament. Now obviously basketball is never going to supplant the wrestling fervor in the state, but what do you think this says about Iowa basketball in general? Is this going to continue (yeah, I realize you may need to pump up the Cyclones and Panthers here. I am so mean)?
ROSS: I think it's a great reflection of the tremendous health of all three programs and the quality of coaching that all three programs are enjoying right now. It wasn't that long ago that Iowa and Iowa State were muddling to finishes near the bottom of their respective leagues. In Fred Hoiberg, Ben Jacobson, and Fran McCaffery, the collective quality of coaching in the state of Iowa is probably as good as it's ever been. Hoiberg has turned Iowa State into a legit powerhouse and Big XII contender, Jacobson has led UNI to some of their best seasons of all time, and McCaffery has taken an Iowa program that was a smoking ruin five years ago and finished in the top half of the Big Ten in consecutive seasons.
As for whether or not it will continue into the future, the first step will be all three schools retaining the coaches that they have -- Hoiberg is already a popular name in coaching rumors (especially where the NBA is concerned) and Jacobson is sure to get some offers after what he's accomplished at UNI. Beyond that, the key for their continuing success is recruiting, especially their ability to locate under-the-radar talent. Neither Aaron White (Iowa) nor Seth Tuttle (UNI) were coveted recruits coming out of college, but I'm guessing there aren't many teams that would turn down either guy now. It's always going to be a struggle to attract top-tier talent to schools in Iowa, which means hitting on a few under-the-radar guys is always going to be important.
5. The Big Ten got seven teams into the tournament, but five of them are 7-seeds or worse. Given that it puts those five, including Iowa, in the bottom half of the at large entrants into the field, what should we expect from the league as a whole in this Tournament? How does that reflect on Iowa's chances?
ROSS: The Big Ten was not as good as it's been the last few years -- I don't think there's any argument against that. The league had one spectacular team (Wisconsin), one really terrible team (Rutgers), and then a pretty robust middle class of teams all capable of beating one another. Minnesota and Penn State finished near the bottom of the standings, but they also lost several close games; a had a few more bounces gone their way, they could have easily won another 2-3 games apiece. Likewise, Maryland was the best non-Wisconsin team in the league, but they also benefited from some of the best luck in the league (in fact, per KenPom, they were the luckiest team in college hoops this year). And if there wasn't too much separating the 2nd place team from the 13th place team, then there really wasn't much separating the 2nd place team from the 5th or 6th place team.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that the Big Ten has a lot of solid teams, but not a lot of stellar teams. The success of the league is going to depend heavily on whether any of the teams in the league get hot this weekend; if they do, they're more than capable of pulling off a few upsets. If they don't, though, the Big Ten could easily send almost everyone packing before the Sweet 16. I think the Big Ten will have at least two teams alive in the Sweet 16, and maybe three if things break really well for the league, but any more than that would be pretty shocking. I'm not sure that reflects on Iowa's chances very much, though -- what's going to matter more for Iowa is which Iowa team shows up this weekend. If it's the team that blasted Maryland, beat UNC in Chapel Hill, swept Ohio State, and rattled off six straight Big Ten wins, then they could do some damage this weekend. If it's the team that lost to Northwestern, Minnesota, and Penn State, then they can book some early plane tickets back to Iowa City.
6. Who is the player that we should learn to hate early on, and who is the x-factor in this game?
ROSS: If you're anything like most opposing fans, you'll learn to hate Adam Woodbury pretty quickly. You probably heard his name linked to an eyepoke controversy earlier this season and physical play has been a hallmark of his game since he arrived at Iowa. Then again, it's not clear if he'll play a lot against Davidson because of the match-ups -- the Wildcats' quickness could be a big problem for him on defense, even if his huge size will pose all kinds of problems for them. The guy you might hate (in a grudging respect kind of way) is Jarrod Uthoff because if his jump shot is falling, he's going to be a match-up nightmare for Davidson. Mike Gesell is likely to be the x-factor in the game; when he's played well, Iowa's tended to look very good, but when he's played poorly, Iowa's tended to really struggle. Davidson has a good edge in the backcourt in this game, so Iowa needs Gesell to do what he can to limit the damage of Davidson's guards.
[Ed. Note: We love eye poke controversies here at MMM. It is like our raison d'etre.]
7. Gimme the goods. Who is going to win?
ROSS: I've gone both ways with this game, but ultimately I really like the way Iowa matches up with Davidson inside. Iowa's been led by strong play in the post all season and this game seems tailor-made for guys like White, Olaseni, and Woodbury to have big games. I just don't see how Davidson's much-smaller defenders will be able to slow them down. If Davidson is able to bomb away from deep with great success, then it won't matter what kind of success Iowa has down low, but I think Iowa will slow them down just enough from long range to get the win. I'll say Iowa 71, Davidson 64.
Thanks to Ross for taking the time to talk with us. Should be a great game. Catch everything on Iowa at Black Heart, Gold Pants, and follow them on Twitter at @BHGP