Iowa (0-0) vs. Gardner-Webb (0-0)
Date: November 13, 2015
Time: 8:30 p.m. CT
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
The 2015-16 college basketball season tips Friday, and while Iowa's first opponent doesn't exactly draw a national audience -- there's a reason why there's no line on the game -- it also looks like a potentially-important game for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa opens its campaign against Gardner-Webb, a program that finished last season with 20 wins and a respectable semifinal run in the Big South tournament. The Runnin' Bulldogs were the highest-scoring team in the Big South last season, runnin' at a respectable 68-possession tempo (38th nationally) and shooting a boatload of three-point attempts. To put it in perspective: Jarrod Uthoff led Iowa by far in three-point attempts last season, taking 145. Just one other Hawkeye took 100, and Peter Jok's 105 didn't exactly turn Iowa into a perimeter threat. Gardner-Webb had two players take more threes than Uthoff, and three others who took more than Jok.
The good news for Iowa: A decent chunk of that firepower is gone. Forward Jerome Hill, who was arguably the best player in the Big South last season, left school early to play professionally. Hill averaged a double-double last season. Point guard Tyler Strange, who either led or ranked second on the Runnin' Bulldogs in minutes played, assists, steals, fewest personal fouls per 40 minutes played, three-pointers attempted and three-point rate, graduated. So did fellow guard Jarvis Davis, who was one of Gardner-Webb's most consistent players on offense and defense. Between them, the Bulldogs have to make up for 36 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists and 3 steals per game.
What's left is still pretty good for a team of this caliber. Junior forward Tyrell Nelson (6'7, 230) was the Bulldogs' most efficient offensive player last year, making 60 percent of his shot attempts and getting to the free throw line with regularity. Senior forward Adonis Burbage (6'5, 200) led the team in three-point attempts and canned 36 percent of them. Senior guard Harold McBride (6'0, 175) will be expected to man the point this season, and is also a considerable deep threat. It's not a deep roster, but there are threats that Iowa will have to handle.
The game takes on extra significance after the Hawkeyes stubbed their collective toe against Augustana in the exhibition season, a loss that can either be an oddity or a sign of things to come. The process of burying that embarrassment begins here, with a solid win over a slightly-better-than-average sacrificial lamb.