Iowa (1-0) vs. Nebraska-Omaha (1-0)
Date: November 10, 2013
Time: 3:30 p.m. CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena
Television: Nothing on broadcast again, but WatchESPN has it.
Line: Iowa -29.5
This one should be fun.
Nebraska-Omaha made the jump to Division I basketball just last year, and they entered with a splash. The Mavs were the nation's most up-tempo team last season, registering a staggering 72.8 Kenpom adjusted tempo (the Division I average was 65.9; Iowa was 67.4) and scoring 71.2 points per game. In their last 19 games, the Mavericks were held below 70 points just three times.
All of that ended in an 11-20 record, because UNO was horrible at defense. The Mavericks gave up 1.17 points per possession last season, one of the worst marks in all of Division I hoops. Only Portland State, The Citadel, and Grambling State posted worse defensive efficiency ratings than Nebraska-Omaha. Opponents posted a 55.7 percent effective field goal rate, and managed to rebound nearly two out of every five missed shots. Teams shot 38 percent from three against UNO, not that they needed to stay outside: They made 55 percent of two-point shots against the Mavericks, as well. These are all horrendous numbers.
There is little sign that will change. Five of UNO's six biggest contributors from last season return. Much like UNC-Wilmington, Nebraska-Omaha will primarily use a three-guard lineup. They will likely start five upperclassmen -- four seniors -- but these are all holdover players from UNO's days in Division II. Senior guard Justin Simmons (6'3, 190) scored 16.7 points per game for the Mavericks last season, but is not much of an outside threat. Junior guard C.J. Carter (6'1, 180) put up 18 in the Mavericks' season-opening win over Northern Illinois despite shooting 1/5 from behind the three-point arc. Inside, the Mavericks are woefully short of guys who are tall: Center John Karhoff stands just 6'8, and forward Matt Hagerbaumer (6'7, 230) is their best rebounder. Both averaged less than one blocked shot per game last season. They would be better off with scare-center in the middle.
So what we're saying is Iowa should score about a billion points Sunday, and the game should be a walk. But watch how well Iowa defends UNO, especially in transition. Stopping the fast break was one of Iowa's biggest problems last year. It's unlikely the Hawkeyes will see a more up-tempo team again this year, but if they are to make a run to, and then through, the NCAA Tournament, they will have to improve their transition defense. Sunday is a good place to start.