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Iowa Hoops: #5 Hawkeyes host Southern

The Hawkeyes look to build on Wednesday’s performance

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina Central at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The #5 Iowa Hawkeyes (1-0) continue their season today at 4:00p with a game over the Southern Jaguars (0-1) to close out Carver-Hawkeye Arena’s multi-team event. Each of these squads took on North Carolina Central to different results. The Hawks won big against the Eagles, 97-67, while Southern lost in overtime, 85-78.

Coming into the season, KenPom had Southern rated about 40 spots higher, at 254. The Jags finished last year 17-15 overall with a SWAC record of 13-5 to finish in second place before the season was cancelled.

This is Sean Woods’ third season helming Southern after eight seasons at Mississippi Valley State and Morehead State. His single NCAA tournament appearance occurred in 2012 during his final season at MVSU. The Jags were primed for a shot at March Madness last year, finishing the season on an eight-game winning streak.

Much like NC Central, Southern is more defensively oriented and allowed a SWAC-low .885 points/possession according to KenPom throughout 2019-20 play. They did this by limiting second chance opportunities and forcing plenty of turnovers. The Jaguars too often sent opponents to the free throw line, as their defensive free throw rate was amongst the worst in Division I last year.

They return much of that squad, including their top two leading scorers in Ahsante Shivers and Micah Bradford. Like the defensive end, they prioritize rebounds and crash the offensive glass well.

Three Guys

Ahsante Shivers (G, 6’4”, 210 lbs): The senior guard led the team in scoring last year with 9.8 points/game in an egalitarian offense. The wing is capable all over the floor and did an excellent job at getting to the free throw line last season where he shot 78%. Yesterday, he was Southern’s leading scorer at 20 points on 7/17 shooting as he added five assists and three steals. Worth monitoring: he played a game high 43 minutes and may have some carry over into the game later today.

Jayden Saddler (G, 6’1”, 195 lbs): The Jaguars’ starting point guard led the way yesterday with seven assists but filled up the box score beyond that with 12 points and eight rebounds. He missed about half of Southern’s games yesterday but was playing his best basketball at the end of the season where he showed similar ability in doing it all and was the peskiest Jag of the bunch, leading the way in steals/100 possessions (3.2).

Damiree Burns (F, 6’7”, 210 lbs): Burns is one of two forwards Southern will start, and the lighter of the two, about 40 pounds less than Kirk Parker. He averaged 8.6 points/game last season in just 18.6 minutes of play and could be a mismatch for either Connor McCaffery or Joe Wieskamp when all starters are on the floor. He finished yesterday with 14 points but struggled defensively, fouling out, as he did in six games last season.

Three Questions

Will the defense be ready from the jump?
Iowa was not necessarily bad on that side of the floor while the starters were on the floor, as the Eagles scored about .90 points/possession in the first 30 minutes. However, it is undeniable Iowa started slow with NCCU keeping pace with the Hawks throughout much of the first half.

Once Iowa settled in, they went a stretch of allowing just 25 points from, roughly the 10 minute mark of the first half to the 10 minute mark of the second (~0.71 points/possession). If Iowa is able to take advantage of the rest advantage and do that from the opening jump, it may provide momentary ease to concerns on the defensive end.

Can Joe Wieskamp get going?
The Iowa junior had a rocky end to last season as he averaged just 8.2 points over the last 6 games on 26.4% shooting. Unfortunately, he picked up where he left off with a modest 9 points on 2/4 shooting as he struggled with foul trouble.

Wieskamp is someone who is too often guided by whether his first shot goes in or not (it did not go in on Wednesday). It would be great if Fran prioritized an easy basket for Joe to jumpstart today’s game, as he’s done in the past.

Does the bench follow up its strong performance?
Pat McCaffery and Keegan Murray looked like prime time players, to borrow a phrase from Dick Vitale. Their emergence along the wing will be huge to ease the burden of Wieskamp and also give Fran versatility in constructing lineups as both can function as modern centers with their frames and willingness to rebound.

Their success allowed Iowa to roll eight-deep throughout the first 30 minutes since Fran did not need to dip below them (or Joe Toussaint) to jumpstart Iowa on either ends of the court. It was an impressive opening to their 2020-21 seasons and if they continue to move forward in similar fashion, it will provide stability to Iowa’s rotation.