Well, now that that roller-coaster of a football season is all but over, Iowa fans can turn their attention to the team playing over by the dental school.
If you haven’t been following along, Iowa has been struggling a little as of late, losing three games already to Seton Hall, Virginia, and Memphis. The Virginia loss was expected and bad, but the Hawkeyes had more than enough chances to take down Seton Hall and Memphis and the youth of this team is really showing.
On Tuesday Iowa takes on Notre Dame as part of the ACC-B1G Challenge. This is the second time in three years these two teams have squared off, with the Irish coming ahead in both contests. Mercifully, this game is on ESPN 2 so you won’t be doomed to try and stream the game from some off-brand network’s janky site.
We metaphorically sat down with Patrick Sullivan (be more Irish, you can’t) of the great Notre Dame blog One Foot Down to grill each-other questions about this match up and determine who would win in a dance-off between Fran McCaffery and Mike Brey. Let’s go to the tape.
- I think it’s safe to assume Notre Dame will be ranked in the top-25 later today after its 6-0 start. Do you think that's warranted? Colorado is a pretty solid win.
I'm actually not sure it is warranted. Yes, Colorado is a solid win, and Northwestern could prove to be a bubble team or better if they keep playing like they did against ND, but overall this team really hasn't faced much of a test yet. I think early season rankings are pretty pointless. The Irish moving into the top 25 is a nice little reward for taking care of business so far, but I'll need to see this Notre Dame team prove themselves against some tougher competition before I believe they are one of the best 25 teams in the country.
Games in back-to-back weekends in December against Villanova and Purdue should tell us a lot about how far away the Irish are from competing with some of the best teams in the nation.
2. It looks like the Irish have three-four legitimate scoring threats this year with Bonzie Colson, V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia and Matt Farrell. Do you think that's a fair assessment?
I do think that's a fair assessment, and have to point out how surprising it is that you included Matt Farrell in that scoring threat group and how surprising it is that I agree with it.
I did NOT want Matt Farrell to see time last season, because I did not think he was big, athletic, or defensively proficient enough to play at the level ND needed as the Irish went into the tournament. But he played smart, effective basketball last March and has looked even better this year, with a deceptively quick first step, great finishing ability around the hoop, excellent passing ability as he penetrates, and superb free throw shooting. His defense still isn't fantastic, but even that looks mildly improved. Farrell has really stepped up so far, and I'm interested to see how he measures up to the guards on Purdue, Villanova, and those he will see in ACC play.
As for Colson, Beachem, and Vasturia, those three were expected to be huge contributors this season. They were all named captains and have tons of experience, having all played crucial roles in ND's back-to-back Elite Eight runs.
Colson has an incredibly diverse offensive skill set, allowing him to step out for three pointers, knock down mid-range jumpers all day, and utilize an array of post moves and creative shots that allow his long wingspan to put the ball in the hoop over taller defenders.
Beachem is the Irish player with the best NBA future, as his jump shot is one of the sweetest strokes you'll see all year, and he has really developed his ability to take the ball to the hoop and elevate for a dunk when he needs to do so. His mid-range game is similar to Colson in that fans expect it to go in when he shoots it from that area.
Vasturia is a jack-of-all-trades combo guard who can handle the ball a little bit, shoots well from the outside, and is great at getting to the hoop for layups or drawing fouls. He can be streaky at times (last season he had a stretch that wasn't great), but overall he is extremely reliable and constantly beats defenders who don't respect his ability to go to the hoop and finish inside.
All four of those guys have been on campus for awhile -- how big of an advantage does that pose for this team?
It's huge. Vasturia was a starter on the 2015 and 2016 Elite Eight teams. Beachem was a key shooter off the bench in 2015 and a starter on last year's Elite Eight team. Colson was the critical sixth man on both of those teams. And Farrell is a junior who has been everything from the hype man on the bench to a starter in the Elite Eight.
They have been around, they've been playing together in Mike Brey's system for a few years, and their leadership and poise will be critical in bringing along the younger players on the team who will be needed in ACC play after losing Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste from last season.
3. And then there's Matt Ryan, a sophomore who came off the bench on Sunday to drop 23 against Chicago State. Is he the sixth man for this team? What does he bring to this lineup?
I actually don't think I'd choose Ryan as the sixth man. I think he will be very important, especially in ACC play, because his 3-point range is essentially limitless. However, he can be a liability in terms of defense and ball handling and doesn't have great athleticism, so I really think he is the 7th or 8th man on this squad, especially considering he can be streaky as a shooter and has gone stretches of games without being much of a factor in terms of scoring.
I would say his fellow sophomore Rex Pflueger is really the 6th man. Pflueger is a fantastic athlete and probably Notre Dame's best defender on the perimeter and will definitely be used to help shut down some of the elite guards the Irish will face. He's beginning to come along with confidence in his jumper and in contributing more on the offensive end as well, and can handle the ball if necessary.
I see him as the critical bench guy this year, along with possibly backup PG TJ Gibbs, who is a true freshman but could end up being extremely important as the first guy off the bench to help Farrell with ball handling duties against teams like Louisville who pressure the ball well.
4. This Iowa team has trouble defending the perimeter ... and the paint. Defense in general isn't a strong suit for this team. Who do you see giving us the most trouble?
Beachem and Colson.
Beachem has an uncanny ability to get open looks from three, and he will hit them on any team who fails to close out on shooters (and a lot of times even on teams that successfully close out on shooters). Meanwhile, Colson is a wizard when it comes to scoring in the paint, so if Iowa struggles there, I'd expect Bonzie to really put up some numbers and carry a good chunk of the load offensively.
5. Peter Jok is the leading scorer in the Big Ten and fourth-leading scorer in the nation. He's coming off a 42-point game against Memphis. How do you see ND defending Jok? Will he be a problem for you guys?
A lot of the time, the players that give the Irish fits are long, athletic wings who can score. Peter Jok absolutely fits that bill, and considering ND is similar to Iowa in that they are not a good defensive team (Mike Brey teams never really are, at least generally speaking), I think Jok will absolutely put up some numbers
You'll likely see Vasturia and Pflueger guarding him the majority of the time, with maybe a little Beachem thrown in for length, and although they may have some success in stopping him occasionally, he will absolutely score a lot of points considering how much Iowa's offense runs through him.
Whenever ND plays teams with one player who does the majority of the scoring, that player is very likely to have a big day and the Irish will focus on shutting down the other players and taking care of the ball on the offensive end, outgunning the star player down the stretch.
6. Mike Brey has been the coach there since 2000 and is coming off two Elite Eight appearances. Is it fair to say he's more or less been handed a lifetime contract?
I think at this point, absolutely. And that's pretty funny to think about, considering two years ago at this time there were plenty of people calling for Mike Brey to be fired. Before the 2014-2015 season, he had been to just one Sweet 16 in his first 14 seasons and typically saw his teams peak in the regular season only to flame out catastrophically in March. (Editors note: sound familiar, Hawkeye fans?)
But with some fantastic recruiting that brought in the likes of Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson, Pat Connaughton, Zach Auguste, etc., he was able to put together the past two years of postseason magic. At a football school that pours all its resources into that sport while the basketball teams practice in what is literally a basement instead of a nice practice facility like all other top programs, making back-to-back Elite Eights and being the most likable coach ever have made Mike Brey the guy with the most secure job in the country. Irish fans will allow him to coach until he wants to retire.
7. Finally, who you got? Score prediction and any other scorching hot takes?
Notre Dame 87, Iowa 80