TCU takes the floor Sunday afternoon against the Iowa Hawkeyes, a basketball program that was left just outside of the NCAA Tournament. Since these two programs don’t have much of a history, we sat down with Max (@GospelofMax) from Black Heart Gold Pants to talk all things Iowa shooty hoops.
Melissa: Iowa comes in as a #1 seed, meaning they were one of the First Four out of the NCAA. How close were the Hawkeyes to making the Tournament and was the feeling around the program that they got jobbed?
Max: I would absolutely love to sit here and talk about how Iowa got jobbed for a spot in the tourney, but the fact of the matter is that the Hawks didn't get the job done when they needed to. Their non-conference schedule was pretty soft and they lost games to a weak Memphis team and not great Nebraska-Omaha squad, both of which were resume killers. Midway through the conference schedule, your average Iowa fan probably would've been laughed out of a room if they told you that Iowa would make the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament.
After rattling off a bunch of late wins, including road victories against Wisconsin and Maryland, the narrative changed and suddenly the Hawkeyes were on the bubble, but going into the Big Ten Tournament, everyone knew that they would absolutely need one win and quite possibly two in order to make it into the field. Instead, Iowa was ripped apart by Indiana in their first game and that destroyed any chance they had to make the field. That they were even in the First Four out of the tournament came as a bit of a surprise, so the #1 seed in the NIT is going to be just fine!
Melissa: When you come so close to playing in the Big Dance, there can be a letdown when you're relegated to the NIT. How motivated is the team in this tournament?
Max: The team obviously has to be disappointed to not be in the tournament, but since they're so young, I think they're naive enough not to care all too much about it. I think they're just happy to be playing basketball in mid-March and they don't feel any of the pressure now that they're in the NIT.
If any player on the team is disappointed the most, it's probably senior Peter Jok who wanted to go out with a NCAA Tournament run. Even then, you have to imagine he's motivated to finish out his career on a positive note and is determined to make it back to Madison Square Garden.
Melissa: What type of home court advantage does Iowa have in general and specifically what do you expect for Sunday night?
Max: Typically, Iowa basketball doesn't have much of a home-court advantage and they haven't for quite some time. For a place that holds 15,500 people, Carver-Hawkeye Arena is an absolute morgue for the majority of the games it hosts for two main reasons. The first is that the way Iowa prioritizes season ticket holders, it keeps the average fan out and puts donors and longest-tenured ticket holders first, which doesn't always bring in the rowdiest and most energetic fans (but hey, money makes people do some crazy things). Secondly, Iowa basketball was brutally murdered by Steve Alford and Todd Lickliter for about ten years, and even though Fran McCaffery has rejuvenated the program, the students have yet to fully embrace what probably seems like a traditionless basketball program to them.
That all goes out the window for the NIT. The athletic department essentially lets anyone and everyone come in and it shows. Iowa fans still talk about the electric sell-out crowd that showed up for a 2012 NIT game against Dayton and Wednesday's game against South Dakota drew about 13,000 fans (6,000 more than the second most attended NIT game in the first round). If anything, I would expect Carver to be sold out on Sunday when a notable opponent comes to town, as it'll energize more people to come and the students will be back from spring break. It should be intimidating, which it rarely ever is.
Melissa: For those not familiar with the Hawkeyes, give us a quick capsule of the team. What style do they play and what is their biggest strength and weakness?
Max: The Hawkeyes are a young team, and I mean really young. They regularly trot out six freshmen, four sophomores, a junior, and a senior. They're a team that likes to play in transition and relies heavily on shooting three-pointers but often finds themselves not playing very much defense.
Their biggest strength is probably their shooting ability. Peter Jok, Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Nicholas Baer, and Brady Ellingson are all shooting over 36% from three-point range. When they spread the floor like they're able to do, that then opens up the inside game for their big men, and Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, and Ahmad Wagner all shoot above 50% from the field. They can beat you on the offensive end in a plethora of ways and when they're having a good shooting night, they're hard to stop.
Now that I rattled off just about every regular player in Iowa's rotation and their offensive prowess, it's time to talk about the other end of the court, where they are just not very good. They often find themselves out of position and leave opponents wide open, which is typical of a very young team like Iowa with a senior who has never been known to play much defense. This isn't the same team that gave up 100 to Memphis and 98 to Omaha back in the non-conference, but they still tend to have many more defensive lapses than you'd like to see. Even when they do play solid defense and force misses, they're a horrific rebounding team and offer up way too many second chance opportunities to opponents. In their game against South Dakota, a team whose tallest player was something like 6-7, they allowed 12 offensive rebounds and I'm pretty sure 4 on one possession. It can be ugly.
Melissa: Peter Jok is the leading scorer from the Hawkeyes, dropping in nearly 20 ppg. What is it about his game that makes him so tough to stop, but when he is slowed down, what are the strategies that teams have used to do so?
Max: Jok can score at will when he's on, but he's been ailing from a back injury for much of the season and has been relatively invisible in many of games the Hawkeyes have played this season, with his stats saved only by his free-throw shooting ability in those games. It's hard to say whether or not his bad games have been forced by other teams or his bad back. Teams can often force him to dribble around and bounce it off his foot or make a wild pass, but his shooting is hard for other teams to inhibit.
What makes him tough, though, is that he can shoot it from anywhere on the court and has such a quick release that it often doesn't matter if a defender is in his face. This year, he started driving to the basket more than previous years and the potential for that has made it much tougher to expect him to shoot a pull-up jumper.
Melissa: If Iowa wins they will have...
Max: They will have shot lights out from three-point range and cleaned up on the glass. They need to rebound in order to beat tough teams, but they don't play good enough defense to win without some hot shooting. Jordan Bohannon and Peter Jok will need to have big games, while Tyler Cook will need to be a presence in the post.
Melissa: If Iowa loses TCU will have...
Max: They'll play tenacious perimeter defense, forcing the Hawkeyes into silly turnovers and bad shots. This Hawkeye team can be forced into making bad choices because they're so young, and they'll need to stay disciplined with the ball if they want to have a shot at beating TCU. It also would greatly benefit TCU to be unconscious from deep, as that's how teams have been able to keep up with the Hawks best this season.
Melissa: What are your predictions for the game?
Max: I hope that the Iowa faithful shows up and gets in the head of the Horned Frogs, for starters. Iowa really fed off the crowd against the Coyotes on Wednesday, and if they show up in waves, I think Iowa will play with the swagger that we're accustomed to seeing them have in their best games. If Iowa has swagger and confidence, they'll dominate on the offensive end of the floor and it'll be tough for TCU to keep up. With the exception of the Indiana game, Iowa has played great basketball, and I expect them to do it again. Let's pencil in Bohannon, Jok, and Cook for about 15-20 points apiece and:
Iowa 84, TCU 77. Mark it down.
Melissa: Iowa's biggest in-state rival is the Cyclones, a team which TCU fans know well from the Big 12. But it's not a program many Frog fans have hate for. So, can you tell us what's so awful about Iowa State?
Max: I took a poll in the BHGP Slack and here are some of the responses I received:
-Have you guys even read Wide Right & Natty Lite?
-Football team branded to look like USC but not play like them
-Ames is a terrible place
-The little brother complex is annoying
-They stormed the court against us when favored and broke a reporter's leg
-Lost their best tradition because they rioted in the streets for no reason
DOES THAT SUM IT UP ENOUGH FOR YOU GUYS?
Thanks to Max for his time and check out our Q&A over at BHGP as well. Here’s to a TCU win and another game at the Scholly!