With the Iowa Hawkeyes heading to Sioux Falls, SD to face the Colorado Buffaloes, I’d like to take a brief moment to remind everyone of the fantastic drama which manifested itself when this game was announced.
Our fearless leaders could not recount what led to this game so here’s a refresher: Iowa was not selected for a third straight Gavitt Games against a Big East opponent so they found an alternative with Sioux Falls and Colorado. They offered $165,000 and some hotel rooms. “It wasn’t about that,” Fran said. Well, Sioux City took exception to it. (it’s worth the survey question) After that kerfuffle, Hawkeye and Buffalo fans sold the 3,000 seat Pentagon out in 13 minutes. Joke’s on you, Sioux City. People wanted to go to Sioux Falls, including our friends to the west.
Visited the namesake Sioux Falls. Very #dope also some love for the Buffs pic.twitter.com/L0N0iPXHm6— RalphieReport (@RalphieReport) December 22, 2017
(@ us @BHGP if you’re in Sioux Falls tonight)
So, there’s that.
I understand why Fran chose the Falls.
Beyond the drama of this game’s locale, Colorado poses some interesting threats akin to teams Iowa has struggled with earlier this season.
First and foremost is freshman point guard, McKinley Wright IV. He’s leading the team in scoring at 16.6 points, 4.5 assists, and 32.6 minutes a game while being the second leading rebounder at 5.5 per. Not only do the stats say he’s the full package but our Q&A with Ralphie Report showed he brings a certain intangible to this Buffalo squad. Iowa is going to have their hands full keeping Wright in check.
Beyond him, the Buffs will deploy a lineup akin to the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns who gave Iowa fits earlier this year. While Louisiana only threw out five 6’4” - 6’7” athletes, the Buffaloes will throw out six. Contrary to the Cajuns, the Buffaloes are not as adept at turning teams over. Louisiana forces turnovers on 20.3% of opponents’ possessions, CU has done the same 16.0% of the time.
After McKinley, George King and Namon Wright join him in double digit scoring. While the two are likely slashers on the wing, King isn’t afraid to take a three, as he leads the Buffs in three-point attempts. Iowa will need to keep an eye out on him in transition and the corners of the zone. King is also unafraid to attack the rim on rebounds and leads the team on the offensive side of the floor in that regard.
In the post is “baby giraffe” Dallas Walton and stretch big Lucas Siewert. Both will do big guy things but aren't particularly adept at accumulating those statistics with their low rebounding numbers. Colorado does a good job of team rebounding, allowing offensive rebounds only 24.3% of the time (29th in the country according to KenPom). Their post’s ability to keep their matchups off the boards in that regard could prove fruitful tonight.
So what are a couple keys for a victory tonight?
Contain McKinley Wright IV. It goes without saying that he is their best player. Iowa does not need to shut him down, necessarily, but they need to force him into low percentage shots (i.e.: long twos) via “hero ball” action. As a young team, they’ve fallen victim to many of the ills we’ve seen with Hawkeyes so far this year. Limiting ball reversal and catch-and-shoot jumpers from Colorado’s wings will make them easier to defend.
As a team, they’re even worse at turning the ball over than Iowa. Fran should deploy the press, which has shown success during Iowa’s winning streak. Hopefully it forces the ball out of Wright’s hands and makes the turnover-prone Buffaloes cough the rock up. In the half court, I expect Isaiah Moss and Maishe Dailey to have Wright’s number all night.
Pound it down low. Tyler Cook and Luka Garza have returned to early season form. The two are a combined 36/55 (65%) during Iowa’s winning streak and it’s imperative they continue that trend going into the conference season.
This does not mean, however, Iowa should drop it into either guy and let them post up. They’ve had their best success in two distinct ways: 1) early touches via rim runs or designed sets for quick post moves and 2) garbage man putbacks. Don’t put either big in a position to make a drawn-out decision. They’re skilled enough to put the ball in the hoop, but they haven’t shown the ability to maneuver double-teams from defense.
Find the open man. It’s overly simplistic and isn’t particularly insightful but it is worth keeping an eye on. Iowa’s done a great job, on the whole, of doing this already as their assist rate (assists/field goals made) is top 10 in the country. Keep that up.
Jordan Bohannon is likely to be hounded by Wright, who leads CU in steals, so run sets for him off ball. Connor McCaffery is playing tonight - though his freshman season is up in the air - so I’m guessing he’ll have some time on the court with Bohannon. He’s a willing passer and there’s a mindset which seems to overcome the team when he’s running the floor.
While Iowa is more experienced and seems to overmatch Colorado talent-wise, CU holds the trump card with a do-it-all point guard. If Iowa can keep Wright in check, they should win.
If not, look out.