No more cupcakes! Well, at least for the next week or so.
Despite playing the majority of their games against Kenpom’s sub-300 teams, the Hawkeyes are just 4-2 as they begin to move into the meat of their schedule. Here, we’ll hopefully find out who the Hawks truly are - will they be a team that continues to struggle on defense, or will Nicholas Baer’s return reignite the team?
Their first test of the season with Baer back in the mix, of course, comes when they travel to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hawkeyes haven’t been great in the series, as they’re just 5-11 overall since it began in 1999, but had won three consecutive appearances before losing to Notre Dame last season.
In order to get back to their winning ways in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Hawks will need to defeat a Virginia Tech squad they’ve had plenty of trouble with in the past. The two teams have squared off three times, all as part of the series, and Iowa just hasn’t been able to get over the hump against the Hokies, losing all three games.
Getting to know Virginia Tech
The Hokies come into their date with the Hawkeyes 5-1 on the season, although like Iowa, they haven’t faced anyone of consequence yet. After playing an exhibition against South Carolina, it has been downhill from there - Kenpom has their strength of schedule at 333rd in the country, just three spots ahead of an Iowa squad that’s been much maligned for their weak non-conference slate, and it turns out The Citadel and Detroit Mercy aren’t the best barometers for success. Who’d have thought?
VT’s lone loss on the season came at the hands of Saint Louis University in the 2K Classic, in which the Billikens were able to hold the Hokies to 71 points. That’s significant because VT has been one hell of an offensive team - they’ve scored 100+ points in three of their games and their lowest point total in a win this season was 96. The Hokies have five players averaging double digit points per game and are led in scoring by senior guard Justin Bibbs, who averages 21.3 ppg. They also excel in three-point shooting, which is an area Iowa’s struggled to defend: Virginia Tech is shooting an absurd 50% of their three-pointers this season, and while that’s not sustainable over the course of a long season, it goes to show that they have some elite talent on the offensive side of the ball.
If there’s an area where the Hokies are just average at best, however, it’s definitely on the defensive side of the ball - sound familiar? Per Kenpom, Virginia Tech’s adjusted defensive efficiency is 80th in the country at 99.9 points allowed per 100 possessions (adjusted for opponents). If you’re less into advanced metrics and more into “just tell me how many dang points they give up,” well, I have encouraging news for you, dear reader! The Hokies have given up between 73 and 79 points in all but two of their games this season (63 allowed vs. Morehead State; 93(!!!) vs. The Citadel). For an offense that has the potential to get hot like Iowa’s, that’s pretty good news.
Keys for Iowa vs. VT
First and foremost, getting Nicholas Baer as involved as possible is going to be the biggest factor against a team with great perimeter shooting. Iowa’s shown a complete inability to stop teams from getting theirs from beyond the arc and Baer can be the missing piece that disrupts Virginia Tech’s flow early and often. I wouldn’t bet on him playing a whole lot of minutes, but his conditioning should be fine after dealing with a broken pinky. Pairing him with Ahmad Wagner could give the Hawkeyes some of their swagger back on defense.
On the other side of the ball, the biggest key has to be getting the big fellas involved. Iowa’s been at their best this season when teams have to respect the inside game and it’ll be important for Iowa to get Luka Garza, Tyler Cook, and Cordell Pemsl involved early on. If they can make an impact early, that should open things up on the perimeter for Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, and Iowa’s most efficient three-point shooter in 2017... Ahmad Wagner???? It’ll also slow things down quite a bit for Iowa, which will help against a team that loves to speed up the tempo.
Max’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 94, Iowa 78. Expect Nick Baer to have a bit of rust in his first game of the season and for the Hokies to take advantage of Iowa’s poor defense with their good ball movement. It’s Iowa’s first true road game of the season and youth could very well be a factor in a tough road environment. Iowa can win this one if they get in a groove offensively, but a shootout favors the home team here.
Opponent: Virginia Tech Hokies
Game time: 8 p.m. CT // Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Location: Cassell Coliseum // Blacksburg, VA
TV: ESPN2 // Announcers: Mike Couzens and Debbie Antonelli
Mobile: WatchESPN App
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network, Sirius 83, XM 83 // Announcers: Gary Dolphin and Bob Hansen