Tonight at approximately 8:10 central time the Iowa basketball team will take the floor in Dayton, Ohio as a part of the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. The Hawkeyes find themselves pitted against the Tennessee Volunteers for the right to take on Massachusetts in round two action on Friday.
So what should fans expect out of this Big Ten versus SEC match-up?
1. Contrast of styles
Tennessee wants to turn games into slugfests. Iowa would prefer a track meet.
The Volunteers have won this season by getting physical with their opponents and attempting to bludgeon them in the half court. The Hawkeyes love to get out on the break and wear down the opposition with their depth and pace.
UT prides itself on defense (16th nationally in points allowed). Iowa loves to score (10th in points per game).
It’s unlikely that in an NCAA Tournament game between two major conference opponents that one team will be able to completely impose its style and will on the other. However, whichever of the two can get the action to play out closer to its preference will have a great shot at coming out on top.
2. Battle on the boards
In Tennessee and Iowa you’ve got two of the top 10 teams in the country in terms of rebounding margin. What makes this match-up unique though, is that they go about attacking the glass in two very different ways.
As I touched on earlier, the Volunteers want to pound opponents into submission. This becomes a little easier when you start a pair of 6-8 260lb behemoths on the interior in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. The defensive lineman sized front line simply roots itself in the paint, and consumes shots that carom off the rim.
The Hawkeyes will throw out six different players at least 6-7 in height, and almost never have fewer than three of them on the floor at the same time. It’s with length and athleticism that this team rebounds the basketball, which comes especially in handy on the offensive end.
It will be intriguing to see whether or not Iowa’s length can combat the brute strength of Tennessee on the backboards. If it can’t, the Hawkeyes could be in serious trouble.
3. Wing stars
For both the Hawkeyes and Vols, the role of primary scorer falls upon the shoulders of a senior 6-6 wing player. In Tennessee’s case, that’s Jordan McRae. The Midway, Georgia native is a rangy athlete that when hot, can carry the scoring load for his team. When Tennessee isn’t pounding the ball inside you can be sure that they’ll be looking to get McRae open looks.
Iowa has the good fortune of also throwing out a super swingman of its own in Devyn Marble. The 1st team All-Big Ten recipient has very similar numbers to McRae in terms of scoring the basketball, but supersedes the Vol guard in terms of play-making ability defensive prowess. If Marble can neutralize and/or outplay McRae the Hawkeyes have a great chance to get a win tonight.
From a sheer momentum standpoint everything leading up to tonight’s game would suggest that Iowa is destined to come out on the losing end. The Hawkeyes come in losers of six of their last seven games, while the Vols have won five of their last six. Whatever the reason has been for Iowa’s recent funk, it cannot continue if the team wants to survive and advance.
Call it blind faith, but I think Iowa will somehow find a way to win tonight. Maybe it will take the team rallying around their head coach Fran McCaffery and the worrisome health scare that his 13 year-old son Patrick is currently going through. Such adversity has been known to give teams a boost, even when the deck seemed stacked against them.
I probably would have predicted an Iowa victory anyway based purely on having a puncher’s chance even before this humbling situation fell upon the Iowa basketball family, but now I feel even more confident.
The Hawkeyes will take the floor tonight playing for their coach, extended family, and tournament lives. Give me Iowa in an emotional and inspired effort over the Vols, 72-65.