Fran McCaffery’s Iowa Hawkeyes are a team many believe to be capable of at the very least reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006, with guard Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White among the returnees from last season’s 25-win squad. But after blowing out UNC-Wilmington on Friday night the Hawkeyes had their hands full with Omaha, trailing by seven at the half before coming back to win 83-75.
Aaron White was excellent, tallying 20 points and 15 rebounds, and four players reached double figures for the Hawkeyes. But if they’re to make good on the preseason expectations Iowa will have to be more consistent, especially when it comes to taking care of the basketball. Iowa finished the game with 18 turnovers, with 12 of the miscues coming in the first half. The combination of turnovers and 35% shooting in the first half certainly factored into Omaha’s 43-36 lead at the half, and against the stronger opponents they’ll see in the Big Ten Iowa can ill-afford such starts.
The good news for Iowa is that they were able to turn things around in the second half, taking better care of the basketball and improving their shooting by nearly six percentage points. Iowa can also cite its rebounding effort as they move forward. The Hawkeyes managed to grab 20 offensive rebounds, finishing with an offensive rebounding percentage of 50%.
No team is a finished product in early November and that’s certainly a true statement for Iowa, with early games providing the looks needed in order to get better as conference play approaches. The Hawkeyes didn’t look as good as they did on Friday night and Omaha certainly deserves some credit for that. But in the end Iowa avoided a defeat that can weigh a team down should the land on the bubble come March.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.