Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) vs. Texas Longhorns (2-0)
Date: November 20, 2014
Time: 6:00 p.m. CT
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York City
Line: Texas -4.5
After just two tune-up games, Iowa draws the No. 10 team in the country in one of basketball's great Meccas on national television. The lights, they come up quickly this year.
Like Iowa, Texas has faced a pair of cupcakes at home as part of the 2K Classic, summarily dispatching of both with relative ease: Where Iowa beat Hampton and North Dakota State by a combined 65 points, Texas handled Alcorn State and North Dakota State by a combined 67. What I'm saying is, it sucks to be North Dakota State right about now.
It's difficult to read much into the stats for either team so far, what with nearly a whole game of garbage time for each, but Texas's 34.1 percent effective field goal rate allowed (and 28.2 percent from inside the three-point arc) are worth noting. Texas is big -- yes, no kidding, it's Texas, and we laughed and laughed -- with four players over 6'9 contributing significant minutes and making it extremely difficult for halfcourt offenses to do much. Six-nine center Cameron Ridley is a beast inside, clocking in at 285 pounds and willing to throw it around in the service of rebounding. Forwards Jonathan Holmes (6'8, 240 lbs., 12.0 ppg this year) and Connor Lammert (6'9, 240 lbs., 5.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) are not much smaller, and the trio of bigs gives the Longhorns a decided advantage in the paint against most teams.
There's even more size on Texas' bench, with two additional players over 6'10 waiting in the wings. Freshman forward Myles Turner (6'11, 240 lbs.) has already established himself as one of Texas' most important players, averaging 12.5 points per game in just a half of action off the bench. Junior center Prince Ibeh (6'10, 260) remains a work in progress but looks considerably better than he did last season.
It's not much easier to beat Texas on the break. The Longhorns rebound their own misses well -- remember all that height! -- and sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor (12.7 ppg, 4.0 apg in 2013-14) has been relatively effective at avoiding turnovers during his time at Texas. Without rebounding opportunities or turnovers, fast breaks are hard to come by. That means teams settle into the halfcourt, which slows the tempo and lets the Longhorns' front line take over. The formula is fairly simple.
The Hawkeyes are one of the few teams in the nation that can match Texas' height, if not its size. Iowa is also essentially starting three players over 6'9 with a 6'10 center and 6'8 forward waiting on the bench. But those bigs -- especially Aaron White and Gabe Olaseni -- have struggled in the past with big guys like those at Texas, wide bodies that muscle Iowa's lighter frontcourt into submission. Even with a slight height advantage, going toe to toe with the Longhorns is probably not wise.
No, if Iowa is going to pull the mild upset tonight, it will likely have to do it how the teams that handled the Longhorns did it last year: Tempo and perimeter shooting. Iowa will need to generate some defensive pressure, force a few turnovers, and turn the game into a long series of liners for the Texas frontcourt, and Iowa's shooters -- particularly Jarrod Uthoff, who has the height to pull an interior defender out of the lane -- will have to be on their games. If Uthoff, Peter Jok and Josh Oglesby -- all over 6'5, all solid shooters -- can make open looks, Texas will have to stretch their defense. And when Texas stretches, it leaves holes that those big guys can't fill. If the Hawkeyes can do that and break even on the glass, Iowa has a solid chance.