Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Once we’re all loaded up on turkey or ham or steak or tofurkey with plenty of sides and desserts, it’ll be time to settle in for some Hawkeye basketball, spending the holiday as the pilgrims intended.
In the Iowa Hawkeyes’ (4-1) first game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational, they’ll face the #12 Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-0). Under Chris Beard, they’ve surged to 81-31 record (.723 win percentage) in the last three years and change which saw them advance further than they ever had in the tournament in 2018 (Elite Eight) and then again last year as runner up to the Virginia Cavaliers. Plus, they ended Kansas’s streak of Big XII regular season titles.
Beard has seen significant turnover in the offseason, as KenPom has their minutes continuity at 23.2% (330th in the country) and weighted experience at just 1.08 years (329th). For reference, Iowa is at 50.3% & 1.43, 154th and 257th respectively.
Despite the roster instability, Beard has done a good job of instilling much of what made Tech good last year, with a top 10 defense and top 30 offense, according to KenPom. Without players like Jarrett Culver & Matt Mooney to lean on in isolation situations, the Red Raiders have seen their ball movement improve as their assist rate has jumped to 1st in the country. They’ve assisted on 72.4% of their made shots.
- Davide Moretti: The only returning starter from last year’s team (and a BHGP favorite), the sharpshooting Italian has transitioned into a more ball-dominant role. He’s seen his assists/game jump from 2.4 to 3.2 per game despite playing 5 less minutes per game. He’s also increased his PPG to 13.8 as he has decided he’s just not going to miss a shot. (slight exaggeration) He’s 11/17 from two, 12/20 from three, and 11/11 from the free throw line.
- Jahmi’us Ramsey: When Fran Fraschilla called him a “linebacker with a jumpshot,” he seemed like a guy tailor-made to take advantage of Iowa. Though he’s just a freshman, the wing has already put his team on his back in a tighter-than-expected game against Long Island with a 27-point barrage on 5/6 three point shooting. (LIU was leading at half) Between him and Moretti, their hot start to the season has the Red Raiders shooting 42.4% from three, 10th in the country.
- T.J. Holyfield: The senior transfer from Stephen F. Austin will start at center and will test Luka Garza on both sides of the court. Not only is Holyfield shooting 83.9% from two but he’s blocking a shot/game. And while he is drawing over 5 fouls per 40 minutes, he’s also being called for roughly the same amount. If Iowa has a chance, whomever wins the battle down low will likely tell that tale.
- Can Iowa start strong? In Iowa’s game against DePaul, they came out entirely too flat and gave up 29 points in the first 10 minutes. With a similarly athletic bunch from Lubbock that Iowa saw from DePaul, Iowa will be at a disadvantage. To add to it, Texas Tech’s shooting is much stronger than the Blue Demons’, which will also stress the Hawk D. Tech has had some slow starts, including just 27 points against Tennessee State, so if Iowa plays with requisite energy and sees some shots fall, they’ll give themselves a chance. Iowa is, by a wide margin, TT’s strongest opponent to date. Best they can do is demonstrate that ability with amped up effort from the jump.
- Can Luka Garza keep up his hot streak? The junior center is leading the Big Ten in scoring by nearly 5 points a game and will need to continue his dominant streak against Holyfield if Iowa hopes to win. Just how dominant has he been? KenPom’s algorithm has assigned him as MVP in 3 of Iowa’s 4 wins. Against Cincinnati and Tennessee last year, he showed what he was capable of against more athletic competition with 33 points in the tournament. The easiest way to defend Texas Tech’s athletic bigs will probably be to get them off the floor via foul trouble, something he’s proven capable of by drawing 6.2 fouls/40 minutes (100th in the country).
- Will Joe Wieskamp show up? Perhaps I was raising my expectations of Wieskamp too much when I thought he would be the most likely Hawkeye to have a Garza-like start but he has fallen off in the small sample size of this season. He’s yet to assert himself as a star, as his usage rate is in line with where it was last year and his shooting percentages are down. Part of it is certainly being at the top of opponent scouting reports and there’s always the chance he’s nursing a secret injury (he did take a couple weird falls in Iowa’s first couple games) but he needs to step up if Iowa is going to win the kind of game it takes to get into the tournament.
Opponent: Texas Tech Red Raiders (Lubbock, TX // Big XII Conference)
Game time: 7:00 PM CST // Thursday, November 28, 2019
Location: Orleans // Las Vegas, NV
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Online Listening: HRN
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Go Hawks, and play nice in the comments!