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As the World Tourns: Iowa Hawkeyes vs. #13 Oregon Ducks

The Iowa Hawkeyes return to Madison Square Garden to take on Bol Bol and the Oregon Ducks

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Washington at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) return to the scene of their last games of the 2017-18 season tonight as they face the #13 Oregon Ducks (2-0).

Dana Altman’s squad dispatched of their pre-tournament foes pretty handily - Portland State, 84-57 and Eastern Washington, 81-47 - in games which were never closer than 11 points in the second half. For as much as can be gathered after two games against outmatched competition, the Ducks’ defense has carried the way. Opponents have shot an effective FG% of 32.6%, which ranks third best in the country according to KenPom. They’ve blocked nearly a quarter of their opponents shots as they lean on their height, length, and general athleticism.

Bol Bol remains the guy to know. As a consensus top 10 recruit, the 7’2” forward/center chose Oregon over Kentucky and Kansas. He’s immediately come in and led the Ducks in points (17), rebounds (12), and blocks (3.5). It really is incredible to watch him play, even against teams like Eastern Washington, where he showed all facets to his game in the highlights below:

How Iowa defends him will be tantamount to their chances this evening.

Joining Bol as double-digit scorers for the Ducks are Payton Pritchard (16 PPG) and Paul White (13 PPG). Pritchard is someone who will leave the floor sparingly, as the junior guard played 35 minutes a game last year. He can sink the three, drive, and dish. One slight drop-off in his game this year has been his turnover rate (23.5%), which is much higher than prior years.

White was typically Oregon’s center last year, though Bol’s arrival has oriented his role more towards the perimeter: 8 of his 14 shots are from deep. He’s seen an uptick in his playing time after three contributors left Oregon after last season.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for Iowa to do throughout tonight’s game:

Defense? I was pleasantly surprised after watching Iowa’s games last night to see an uptick in their defensive effort over last year. It is early, no doubt, but I found them to be more active and communicative in their zone and generally more in the offense’s face. The obvious condition of the opponents apply, but it seemed to be a move in the right direction. I was particularly pleased with Connor McCaffery in the zone - who’d have thought putting the coach’s son out there would be like having a coach out there himself? If Pritchard gets going early, I wouldn’t be surprised to see McCaffery get the call over Bohannon.

And yeah, who the heck is gonna guard Bol? My money is on Tyler Cook. He’s typically raised his game against other pro prospects and if Cook can stick with Bol and stay out of foul trouble, it’ll make everyone else’s job easier.

Taking care of the ball: Oregon is not a team Iowa can turn the ball over consistently against. Cook has shown more perimeter-oriented isolation game thus far this season and it’s already been tremendous (five assists against UMKC) and horrible (six turnovers against Green Bay). If he plays in control, he can be a unique force for Iowa. It is a razor’s edge for him and the rest of the team (Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp have both had four-turnover games), so any time Iowa can avoid giving the Ducks the ball back will be a marginal success.

Sustained effort: As mentioned above, I think the box scores didn’t necessarily reflect what I saw the Hawkeyes do in their first two games. If they can continue working their tail off - you can add Wieskamp already to the list of 100-mile-an-hour Hawkeyes with Luka Garza and Nicholas Baer - they might just have a chance in this one. Heck! ESPN’s algorithm gives them a 55% shot at winning.

I don’t think the chances are that high - KenPom has it at about 40%, which seems right - but they know the stakes. A win here changes the mood around the program and arguably all of Hawkeye sports.

Let’s get it.