Looking ahead to Wisconsin Basketball’s showdown with Iowa to kick off Big Ten play, we reached out to an Iowa expert to learn more about the Hawkeyes.
Dear Old Gold is FanSided’s Iowa Hawkeyes fan site. The Site Expert, Andrew Wade, was kind enough to give Badger of Honor some insight into this season’s Iowa hoops squad heading into Friday’s matchup between the Badgers and Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Similarly to Wisconsin, Iowa’s off to an awesome start to the year after what looked to be a pretty miserable 2017-18 season. How are Hawkeye fans feeling about this squad right now?
I would say cautiously optimistic. Iowa returns it’s top nine players from last year and essentially has two new four-star players (Connor McCaffrey redshirted last year due to illness and freshman Joe Wieskamp). There is a lot to love about this team if they can keep it going through Big Ten play. The only Hawk toying with the NBA is Tyler Cook at this point, and they have another four-star coming in next year, so the future is bright whether it’s this year or next. Hawkeye fans are a little jaded, however, after a somewhat disappointing football season, however.
Is Fran McCaffery on the hot seat after what happened last season? I know I saw some speculation about that prior to the season by many in the college hoops media. What would you say were the main causes of Iowa’s woes?
The thing with Iowa sports is that AD Gary Barta has a long leash and believes in loyalty to coaches. Iowa struggled last year, but that was somewhat expected. Although last season stunk, it was sort of expected. Moreover, canning Fran would likely mean that his sons (both four-stars) would not be in the program anymore, which would obviously have a negative impact on the team.
The biggest issue was defense. Iowa was one of the worst teams in the nation last year in points allowed per game. They essentially show the ball early in the shot clock and played risky defense trying to force turnovers, but not playing true lock down defense. It’s been a huge emphasis for the team this year.
What has contributed to the program’s massive turnaround so far this year?
Experience, defense and the addition of Connor McCaffrey and Joe Wieskamp. Returning the nine top scorers helps, plus Fran emphasized defense in the offseason and so far, it has shown. Furthermore, McCaffrey and Wieskamp are four-star recruits have inserted themselves in the top six of the rotation. McCaffrey’s presence has also allowed Jordan Bohannon to shift over to shooting guard at times and provides more of a pass-first presence at point.
What are your expectations for Iowa in Big Ten play, as well as the postseason? Could this be the best team the Hawkeyes have had in recent memory?
This is probably the best team since Iowa’s last NCAA tournament team featuring four seniors in 2015-2016. It’s still early and I am still cautiously optimistic because this team does have a few flaws most notably they still have a penchant for struggling on the defensive end of the ball and if their shots aren’t falling it could be a long night. Given the talent in the Big Ten though, I think this is a 3rd-4th place team in the Big Ten, consistently a top-25 team and likely a 4-5 seed in the tournament.
How big would a victory over the Badgers on Friday night be for this team?
Iowa started off slow with two somewhat close wins against bad small-school teams. They then turned it on in the national spotlight, but early in the season, anything can really happen especially against a young team like Oregon. To beat a tough Wisconsin team would show me this team is legitimate and ready to make a splash in the Big Ten this year.
I think I speak for all of Badger Nation when I say that I am pretty concerned about Iowa’s talented big man duo of Tyler Cook and Luke Garza, Iowa’s two leading scorers so far this year. What makes each player so dangerous, and what are you expecting from them against Wisconsin?
Starting with Tyler Cook, he is a beast. He’s 6’9’’, 250 pounds and attacks the rim with fury. I would liken his game more to a Blake Griffin in the paint. Defensively, he’s not very good but he’s getting better and working hard at it. Luke Garza has a more well-rounded game and is incredibly versatile. He can shoot the three, he can now play with his back to the basket, and he is serving as a rim protector down low. They work really well together because Garza and give Cook space to operate and Cook is so athletic that he can move around in space if needed.
Ethan Happ has been nothing short of dominant for Wisconsin so far. How will Iowa attempt to limit his production, and do you think the Hawkeyes will be at all successful in doing so?
I think offensively, you don’t game plan too much around stopping him specifically and you instead stop the other guys from beating you. Happ will get his 15-20 points, but can Iowa stop the other guys is the question. Defensively, you attack at Happ. In speaking with Tanner on the Locked On Hawkeyes Podcast, Happ is active on the defensive end but susceptible to fouls, which is something Iowa is great with. They’ve gotten to the line over 200 times in six games this year. Against Pitt, Cook got to the line 12 times just by himself.
I’ve been hearing quite a bit of buzz surrounding Iowa’s freshman guard Joe Wieskamp. Just how impressive has he been so far, and what’s the ceiling for him in Iowa City?
This guy is incredible. He’s the best recruit Fran has ever gotten. Everyone knows that he can score well, but what stands out about him is his maturity and basketball IQ. He can play the 1-4 and can defend each of those positions with relative ease. He’s also a high-motor guy. He’s currently averaging 11.3 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting 45% from three-point range.
How do you think this game is going to go? Who comes out on top between the Badgers and the Hawkeyes?
I believe Iowa is going to win if Iowa City can get out to support the Hawks Friday night in Carver Hawkeye Arena (they were only at 66% capacity against Pitt). It’ll be close, and it’ll come down to these two things: can Iowa get to the free throw line consistently and who wins the battle down low between Cook/Happ and Garza/Reuvers. Iowa by five points
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com