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Behind Enemy Lines: Colorado Buffaloes vs. Iowa Hawkeyes

We talk Iowa with BHGP.

NCAA Basketball: Southern Utah at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

CU has a very fun OOC matchup with Iowa on Friday, and that’s gotten both fanbases excited. Harrison Starr of Black Heart Gold Pants was nice enough to tell us about the Hawkeyes and what to expect.

1. Iowa seems to have a glut of big men. CU does not. Who are the big bodies that Iowa throws out there and how are they different from each other?

The first guy to know is Tyler Cook. He's been the bellcow of Iowa's offense and they've been at their best when they are able to find him for quick moves inside for easy baskets. His athleticism is something which doesn't come around Iowa City and he was likely overshadowed in the recruiting process by high school and AAU teammate, Jayson Tatum. Teams have had their best success against him by forcing him (and many of Iowa's other bigs) into difficult post decisions with quick double-teams. They've also had issues of ball stopping where 4 players will stagnate around a posting Cook.

Iowa's rotated starters quite a bit in this young season but they've seemed to settle on junior Nicholas Baer and freshman Jack Nunge as frontcourt-mates with Cook. In this alignment, Cook is the nominal center, while the 6'11" Nunge will be the small forward and often serves at the top of the press Fran McCaffery likes to deploy. Both he and Baer can hit the three, though Baer has struggled finding his shot after sitting out the first six game. Both he and Nunge have high motors, can contest nearly anyone's shot, and should be three point threats - Baer shot around 40% each of his first two years and Nunge is over that mark currently.

Luka Garza got some early starts and even won Big Ten Freshman of the Week in its first installment. He can also stretch it and is super long. He's had a frustrating time of late as the athleticism has been a huge step up from the private high school league he played in DC as a top 100 recruit. Cordell Pemsl will also get a good amount of run and has the consummate old man's game. Also - if there's a tiff, he's likely to be in the middle of it. Ryan Kriener and Ahmad Wagner (who may be out with an ankle injury) will also be used but more situationally.

Phew! I think I hit them all.

2. Jordan Bohannon seems to be the lead guard on this team. Does Iowa run their offense through him? The big guys? Or is it a motion system where everybody touches?

You hint on it perfectly: ideally the motion offense Iowa employs should mean tons of touches and limited feet in quicksand. When the offense has clicked, it's been absolutely fantastic. They're currently assisting on over 65% of their baskets which is top 10 in the country.

Bohannon has taken on an increased role offensively and it's been a bit of a mixed bag. His shooting has definitely gone up but opposing guards are able to get in his grill a bit without the threat of Peter Jok any more. Isaiah Moss starts alongside him with Brady Ellingson, Maishe Dailey, and Connor McCaffery coming off the bench. McCaffery missed the first 10 games working through an ankle injury and bout of mononucleosis in his first year on campus but would probably be the third guard if he were at full strength. Tough he's 6'5" and not super quick, he takes after his father and is the most pure point guard on the roster. If he could play more, it would allow more off ball action for Bohannon.

Ellingson, who also injured his ankle against Southern Utah, is perhaps the most pure shooting guard on the roster and Dailey oozes athleticism and is displaying some high basketball IQ of late. Both have had to try their hand as backup point guards and Dailey has looked slightly better in that role as he is more willing to probe defenses and less likely to pick up his dribble at inopportune times. His versatility also offers Fran the option to explore three guard lineups a little more with him sharing the wing with Moss or Ellingson.

3. How is Iowa defensively? One would think that all that size makes it tough for opposing teams in the paint, but you never know.

Iowa is a mixed bag defensively, both in terms of tactics they'll deploy and the success you see in those tactics. It says a lot that their best defensive game came against a Drake team which sits just inside 200 on KenPom. What worked wonders in that game was a commitment to the press Iowa hasn't had since the halcyon days of Tom Davis and something I, personally, would like to see more of. They've got the depth so they might as well use it.

In the half court, they've got the length, as you mentioned, and they do a pretty good job of using it to affect shots. The opponent effective FG% of 47.6% ranks 71 in the country according to KenPom. However, they have struggled in terms of using the length to force turnovers. KenPom ranks them 256th in TO% and they've been burned, at times, by quick guard-oriented lineups. Garza, Nunge, and Baer are Iowa's likely shotblockers and Nunge even had a Jarrod Uthoff Special against Southern Utah: a block on a 3-point attempt.

4. Iowa, much like CU, seems to be a really young team. Is the team growing together? Do they “play young?”

It's an interesting dynamic which kinda leads to the next question, as well. Though Iowa is still super young - 3 juniors average a combined 44 minutes per game and Iowa's only scholarship senior is a human victory cigar - the expectations for this group, both inside the program and throughout Iowa media, were to make the tournament and compete in the top half of the conference. So far, they've shot themselves in the foot with tournament losses to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota St., as well as at Indiana and that is probably one or two too many in that vain. The other half of their losses are much more understandable - at Virginia Tech and at Iowa State, plus a close home loss to Penn State.

In the last three games, they've played much better than at any point in the season. They've shown some maturity in terms of taking care of the ball better but competition absolutely needs to be taken into account. We'll see if Iowa reverts to their old ways of "playing young" since Colorado poses a step up in this regard.

5. I’ve heard Fran McCaffrey is on the hot seat. Is that true?

Nah. Though Iowa hasn't done what they needed to for a tourney berth (preseason, I thought they'd be 10-3 or 11-2 at this point), it's not like the fire is burning for Fran among a significant amount of fans or, more importantly, the administration. Iowa is still super young and the rotation is finally starting to take hold. Fran has a huge pipeline of talent as Joe Wieskamp is entering next year as Iowa's highest rated recruit in a long, long time. Fran's son, Patrick, is slated to arrive the following year and is even better.

Iowa should make some noise before the current sophomore crop departs. If they don't, it's probably a fair assumption that the ceiling for winning under Fran is not that high. Barring unforeseen off-the-court issues, it's likely his leash extends at least that long.

6. Prediction for the game?

Iowa's in a bit of a groove right now and I expect it to continue to some extent. Though Colorado is certainly more talented than Iowa's past three opponents, they haven't shown much ability to turn opponents over. One area for concern in perusing the Buffaloes KenPom page is their ability to limit 2 point percentage and offensive rebounds which has been a strong point for the Hawkeyes so far. On defense, I think Iowa should be able to do just enough for a victory, though I expect a strong game from McKinley Wright with Iowa's lackluster perimeter defense.

The environment should be super interesting as Sioux Falls, SD, though I expect the 3k seat venue to lean Iowa's way. It could prove the tipping point.

Iowa 80, Colorado 78