In the Iowa Hawkeyes’ final non-conference matchup against a Power-5 opponent, they travel to Sioux Falls, SD for a date against the Colorado Buffaloes. To prime us for the matchup, we spoke with Jack Barsch of Ralphie Report.
1) You mentioned in our Q&A that Colorado lacks the frontline depth of the Hawkeyes but their roster is stock full of 6'5" - 6'7" guys. How will Tad Boyle deploy this group to neutralize Iowa's beef down low and does anybody rise to the top of this bunch?
The first name to know if George King. He will most likely play PF against Iowa, and he plays above his height of 6’6. His freakish arms and athleticism allows him to board anything (when he wants), and his three point shooting may force the Iowa bigs to step out to the arc on defense. Tad Boyle puts a huge emphasis on rebounding in general, especially on the wing, so expect some hard crashes to the hoop. Namon Wright, Tyler Bey, and King are all plus rebounders from the wing, and they will challenge the big guys. Now, on defense, they might be in trouble. Lazar Nikolic, a point-forward, was the main post-defender last game (largely because Mike Daum is a freak). CU will try to make them step out to the perimeter on offense and hedge hard on defense. It should be an adventure. Iowa has tall AND skilled players, which will be tough.
2) Freshman guard McKinley Wright IV is leading the team in scoring and assists and has the second most rebounds. Outside of the stats, what has he added to the Buffaloes this year?
Oh boy, what hasn’t he added. It’s hard to remember he’s a freshman. He plays like a senior. He scores when he needs to, runs the offense, and is a bulldog on the boards. His stats speak for themselves. But he also has brought a whole different mentality. McKinley is clutch, hitting the game-winning shot against Quinnipiac and playing great defense down the stretch against Drake, and he never stops running. He inspires everyone on the floor with him to take it up a notch. It’s hard for me to describe what he’s done, because even Tad Boyle is at a loss for words. He’s just special. You’ll see on Friday.
I’ll use this platform to talk about his recruitment. For some reason, CU was one of the programs to immediately show the love after Archie Miller left for Indiana and McKinley asked out of his Dayton commitment. Minnesota was slow to the punch and Indiana never came. So Boyle’s persistence paid off and he got his guy. Watching him play, it’s insane that he didn’t get every offer in the Midwest.
3) The Buffs have done a great job of constricting teams inside. Given it's been a strength of Iowa's, what can Hawk fans expect when they try to pound the post offensively?
Uh… Team defense? Not much else. The biggest defender, Dallas Walton, is a baby giraffe just getting his legs back. He has potential, but he has been thrust into action. He wasn’t supposed to play this much. After that, Lucas Siewert is 6’10” but prefers the perimeter. The reason the stats suggest a constriction inside is because CU has played a lot of 3-pt shooting teams. Air Force doesn’t really bang inside. The two teams that take inside consistently, Xavier and CSU, had their way on the interior. I expect Iowa to do the same. Now, I will say this, Tyler Bey grew up before our eyes last game. He started out a skinny freshman wing and ended the game a skinny freshman wing who can play solid post D. If he continues that progression, he may flummox the Hawkeyes at times.
4) These two programs mirror each other in tons of bench minutes and a lot of youth. What kinds of growing pains have been experienced so far?
All of them. Missed assignments on D, stagnant offense at times, tons of turnovers, you name it. The potential is brimming out of this group, but man, they make it hard to watch sometimes. If Iowa presses, CU may be in trouble, and if Iowa plays physical, CU may be in trouble. There are 8 underclassmen players in the rotation. 8. The Buffs are just learning how to play at a high level. Turnovers plague this team at times because they force passes or go 1 on 5. But they have heart and grit, which helps the mistakes go down easier.
5) After some early success, in terms of NCAA tournament entries, Tad Boyle has taken Colorado to the tournament just once in four years. Is there any general feeling on his direction of the program?
You just had to stoke the fires. Harrison, you don’t know this, but the Buff faithful are locked in a struggle of sorts. Many longtime CU basketball fans, or basketball fans in general, see Tad as the greatest coach in program history (indisputable, in my opinion). He has half of the program’s all-time tournament appearances. Recently, each season has had its own derailing. In 2014, Askia Booker was not ready to lead and the locker room problems led to listless play. In 2016, the Buffs had Derrick White, who is not a natural vocal leader, and not much else.
The direction of the program is positive. After a few listless years of recruiting, Tad signed the best class ever at CU (on paper), and it looks to be panning out. He retooled the staff, retooled the roster, and the next era of his leadership seems to be starting. This year, the NCAA Tournament looks like a tall hurdle. But the Buffs are positioned well in the long run. Tad is back on track and there is no one better to lead the program.
6) Pre-prediction bonus question: You'll be at the game. How was the travel and what do you expect from The Pentagon?
I am writing this from a public library in Omaha before we take a bus to Sioux Falls. The price is nice, the locales are iffy. But hey, I’m excited for Sioux Falls, and I am in love with the Pentagon as an idea. Old school arena where the seats are practically on top of the action? Sign me up. It has been painless, but Nebraska in December is not a destination. If you want more travel updates, I will be posting Sioux Falls stuff from @RalphieReport, in case you want to follow along. I expect that Iowa will travel much better than the Buffs to this thing.
7) Finally, who ya got?
Iowa. They have the size, experience (hard to believe), and they are on a roll. If CU can steal this one, it would be nice because they are staring down the barrel of a brutal conference start. But I expect the Hawkeyes to overwhelm with size.
Thanks Jack. We hope your team loses by a million. You can pester him on the Twitter about the game (or Omaha public libraries) if you’re feeling like it at @JackBarsch or the above @RalphieReport.