Coming off a rebound win against lowly University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley State Tech University (ok that’s not really the name, but it might as well be), the Hawkeyes will be facing much stiffer competition this holiday weekend in the Emerald Coast Classic down in Florida. Officially, the event features UTRGV and Savannah State, as well as Grambling and St. Francis (so we can’t totally fault the Hawkeyes for having to play the two pushovers already), but the real tournament features Iowa, Virginia, Memphis, and Providence. All but Memphis have qualified for three straight NCAA Tournaments. But anyone who knows basketball knows that Memphis is no slouch either.
This weekend will be a terrific measuring stick to see where our Hawkeyes compare in relation to other NCAA-caliber teams. Let’s take a look.
Iowa leads off with Virginia on Friday at 6 pm. Let’s just get this out of the way early. Virginia is one of the best, if not the best team, Iowa will play this season. Virginia is balanced, experienced, and deep. Oh and not to mention, they are downright vicious on defense, which does not bode well for an inexperienced squad like Iowa. Virginia has not exactly played top competition this year, but neither has Iowa, so stats are relative.
When discussing Virginia, you have to start with Tony Bennett’s defense. The Cavs are giving up 39...39!! points per game on defense. They held NCAA qualifier Yale to 38 points after scoring 98 and 89 points in their first two games. They allowed 9...9!! points in the first half against Grambling. I don’t care if you are playing the Bettendorf JV squad, 9 points in a men’s basketball game is pretty amazing. Opponents are only shooting 29% from the field against Virginia and are getting outrebounded by an average margin of 16. Gulp.
Digging deeper into the Cavaliers reveals that they are very similar to Wisconsin in that they are so methodical on both offense and defense that the game turns into a grind. Their defense forces teams to panic and thereby forces teams into very long droughts. Here’s some terrifying drought numbers for you:
UNC Greensboro: Went 11+ minutes without a point
St. Francis: Went 10+ minutes without a point
Yale: Went 9+ minutes without a point
Grambling: Went 9+ minutes without a point
The takeaway here is that if the Hawkeyes are down 10, it will feel like 20 because teams just don’t go on runs against Virginia.
On offense, they are extremely balanced. Led by all-ACC PG London Perrantes (for those keeping track, yes he is the one that ran circles around the Cyclones last year), the Cavaliers have an impressive 8 players who score between 5 and 13 points per game. They are also shooting a cool 51% from the field, which tells me they basically run a lay-up line for an offense. If there is a weakness, their team 3PG% is only 35%, which is fine, not great.
I don’t like moral victories, but this is a case where I will be pleasantly surprised to see Iowa stay within 10 of the Cavaliers. The team will be forced to grow up in a hurry.
So now that we got that part out of the way, let’s take a look at the potential opponents for Iowa’s second game on Saturday (either 3 pm or 6 depending on whether they win or lose vs. Virginia).
Memphis is welcoming new coach Tubby Smith into their ranks. They are led by preseason American Conference MVP Dedric Lawson and his older brother KJ Lawson. The Lawson brothers are former blue chip 5* prospects and have a ton of talent. For whatever reason, Josh Pastner just couldn’t seem to get his prospects to click. So far this year, it has been a different story. Memphis, like Iowa, is rolling up huge offensive numbers against garbage teams (including UTRGV and Savannah).
On offense, the Tigers have four players that average double figures. Dedric Lawson is a monster stat stuffer. He averages 21 ppg, 13 rpg, 3.7 assists/gm, 1.7 steals/gm, and 1.3 blocks/gm. They don’t have near the balance of Virginia, however. Their minutes are concentrated in their top 7 players, three of whom are averaging over 30 minutes/game. Even though Iowa is not the most polished offensive team, it has displayed a newfound aggressiveness, thanks to the emergence of Tyler Cook. If Iowa can force Memphis into foul trouble, they could have an advantage. Additionally, Memphis is pretty awful with free throw shooting, only shooting 54% for the year.
The stat that should make Iowa fans nervous is the rebounding. Memphis averages a whopping 48 rebounds per game. Iowa has not been terribly impressive, even with their cupcakes, to control rebounds. They were even outrebounded by UTRGV this last Sunday, which should never happen. This is an area where we need to see a vast amount of improvement, in addition to defense.
I think Iowa certainly can win this game, but they will definitely need to slow down the Lawson brothers to do it.
I think Iowa’s best chance for a win this weekend would be against Providence. And that’s not a slight to Providence, I just think the other two teams are better. Providence is in a bit of a rebuild after Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil left for the NBA. In addition to beating up on the Emerald Coast cupcake teams, they also lost a close game at Ohio State.
Scoring-wise, Providence is similar to Iowa in that they have two go-to scoring options and then role players to fill in the gaps. Rodney Bullock is their Peter Jok. Bullock averages 21 ppg, 7.5 rpg, while shooting 84% on FT’s and 44% from 3. The other big name for Providence is one that should be familiar to Iowa fans. Former Indiana Hoosier Emmitt Holt landed at Providence after being booted by Tom Crean. Holt is averaging 16 ppg. Providence is a pretty good team at the line, shooting 77% and is also good from deep at 39%. One thing to note is that Providence is averaging 16 apg, while Iowa is at 22 apg. This seems to go with the idea that Providence is too reliant on their top two scorers. Hopefully, Iowa would be able to make them one-dimensional. Regarding rebounding, Providence is not a great at it. They are averaging 35 boards/game, while Iowa is at 44.
Using the Ohio State game as our barometer, Providence put Ohio State on the line 20 times and allowed OSU to shoot 50% from the field. Because Ohio State only shot 12 3’s, it’s my guess that Providence struggles with dribble penetration and transition defense. Providence only played six guys 20+ minutes in that game, so they likely do not trust their bench much at this point.
Iowa should probably be slightly favored in this matchup. If Jok gets hot, it should open up driving lanes for his teammates, which will hopefully force Providence into foul-trouble and expose their short bench.
What do we need to see from Iowa this weekend?
For starters, I’d like to see them hold opponents under 50% from the field. Additionally, they can’t afford to get killed on the boards. Iowa is also turning it over 16 times per game. They need to get that number closer to the 12 or below range. Aside from Perrantes, I firmly believe Peter Jok is the best player in this tournament. The Hawks need to go to him and let him do his thing. But that won’t be enough. A third scorer needs to emerge this weekend. I would really like to see Isaiah Moss take another step forward and become the aggressive scorer for the second-teamers.
Overall, as is the case with a young team, we need to see them improve each game and not get down on themselves when things start to get shaky.
This should be a good and exciting two days of basketball following a shellacking of the Bugeaters on Friday afternoon. The Virginia game is definitely on CBS Sports Network and if they win, they are definitely on there again. But there seems to be a bit of confusion between the Tournament website and Iowa’s website about whether the loser’s game on Saturday is televised. We will provide an update when we know more.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Go Hawks!