Iowa (4-2) vs. Florida State (4-1)
Date: December 2, 2015
Time: 8:15 p.m. CT
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena; Iowa City, IA
Line: Iowa -5
About two weeks ago Iowa played a game as part of an early season inter-conference showdown series against a recently underwhelming team that was expected to be much better in 2015 thanks to the arrival for some highly touted freshmen. That game was against Marquette (with mega-recruit Henry Ellenson, ESPN's #5 overall recruit) as part of the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games, a series pitting Big Ten and Big East teams against one another to get the season underway. You may remember how that game went for Iowa. Tonight Iowa plays Florida State, a 17-16 team a season ago expected to be much better this year thanks to the arrival of some big-time freshmen, in particular Dwayne Bacon (ESPN's #14 overall recruit) and Malik Beasley (ESPN's #28 overall recruit).
So far Bacon and Beasley have lived up to expectations -- and then some. They're the only set of teammates in the country averaging more than 20 points per game (40.6 ppg, to be precise). They're also averaging 10.0 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.6 spg, against 3.4 turnovers per game, while shooting very well (64.1 eFG% for Bacon, 75.5 eFG% for Beasley). The obvious caveats apply: small sample size (five games!) and quality of competition (not good!). But Bacon and Beasley have been very, very good so far -- they're rangy, hyper-athletic players who will provide a unique defensive challenge for Iowa.
FSU also has another productive guard, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a 6-4 sophomore point guard averaging 10.0 ppg and 6.8 apg. Rathan-Mayes has an obvious flaw in this game, though: his shooting -- he's making just 40% of his field goals, including just 11.1% of his three-pointers (2/18 on the year). He is very good at the free throw line (88.9%, albeit on just 8/9 free throws), so maybe don't foul him if it's a close game late. (Then again, the only regular contributor for the Seminoles who isn't making at least 70% of his free throws is PF Montay Brandon, who's making only 50% of his free throws.)
Brandon, Phil Cofer, and Boris Bojanovsky (whose name sounds like something from an old Bond movie) are FSU's main bigs. Bojanovsky is scoring 8.8 ppg (on 44.8 eFG%) and pulling down 3.0 rpg and leading the team in blocks (1.2 bpg). The strength of Florida State's team is definitely on the perimeter, not down low. If this Iowa team had last year's bigs -- Woodbury, White, and Olaseni -- we'd feel really confident about Iowa having a massive advantage in the paint. But White and Olaseni are balling out in Europe now and Woodbury has never been a major offensive threat.
Speaking of match-up advantages for Iowa... why hello there, outside shooting. FSU is letting teams shoot 38.4% from deep, 285th in the nation. That's bad. Iowa is shooting 40.7% from deep, 34th in the nation. That's good! We've said for a while now that this has been the best-shooting team Fran's had at Iowa -- they may need to live up to that to come away with a win tonight. In fact, overall Florida State is letting teams shoot very, very well against them -- 52.2 eFG%, 252nd in the nation. So what is FSU good at? They force quite a few turnovers (on 20.8% of possessions, 76th in the nation) and they're very good at keeping opponents off the offensive glass (23.3% of possessions, 29th in the nation), which plays right into Iowa's own weakness at pulling down offensive boards (although they've gotten better at that recently). FSU also doesn't give up many steals (5.5% of possessions) or get blocked very often (4.9% of possessions) and they shoot very well (59.7 eFG%, including 61.3% on 2-point FG%). If Florida State's offense performs to that level, Iowa's may need to shoot the ball as well as they did in that aforementioned Marquette game to keep pace.
But there are some less-tangible factors that should play in Iowa's favor, too. Bacon, Beasley, and the rest of that FSU team will be playing their first true road game -- so far they've played just two home games and a trio of neutral court games. This will be the first time those freshmen have experienced a hostile environment -- hopefully the atmosphere in CHA is able to rattle them. The other thing working in Iowa's favor? They're the best team that Florida State will have played by far. To date, their best opponent was Hofstra, presently ranked 79th by KenPom. FSU lost that game. Iowa just got down from a three-game stretch against teams (Dayton, Notre Dame, Wichita State) who are all as good or better than Florida State (again, per KenPom). To say nothing of all the good teams that the veteran core of this Iowa team has played over the last few years, too. This Iowa team isn't likely to be rattled.
This is an intriguing game for Iowa. It's one of their last non-conference tests (after this Iowa plays three cupcakes at home, faces Iowa State in Ames, and plays Drake on a neutral court) and it games just a few days after a difficult tournament in Orlando. (Florida State, meanwhile, has had over a week to prepare for this game.) Florida State is probably going to try and play at a breakneck pace -- they're averaging 74.5 possessions per game (30th in the nation) -- and while that sort of tempo has often been favored by Iowa in the past, it may not be the best thing for this particular Iowa team. Finally, Florida State, like several other teams Iowa has played so far this season, could be much better later in the season, meaning that a win now could pay nice dividends for the Hawkeyes in March. Whether or not Iowa can get that win will probably be answered by how well they can slow down Florida State's freshmen phenoms. They did that two weeks ago when they shut down Ellenson -- let's hope they can do it again tonight.