Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you are all enjoying time with family, watching football, and eating good food. Tomorrow night, the Hoos play their first game in Destin, Florida against Iowa as part of the Emerald Coast Classic, so I caught up with Ross Binder (@RossWB) from Go Iowa Awesome to chat all things basketball.
Check out my answers to his questions here.
STL: Iowa is off to a 3-1 start and is putting up a lot of points offensively. What have you seen from the team that you've liked?
ROSS: Peter Jok was good last year -- and so far he looks even better this year. His shooting form is picture perfect, his release is lightning-quick, and he's improved his ability to score from all points on the court. He's getting to the line, he's making jumpers inside and outside the arc, and he's finishing at the hoop, too. We hoped Jok would take a leap forward this year as Iowa's main senior and so far he has done a great job of living up to that hope. The other thing we're really enjoying is Tyler Cook, a 4-star recruit and ESPN Top 100 recruit who is living up to every bit of his hype so far. He's averaging 14.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg, making over 57% of his shots from the floor, and delivering a steady stream of highlight dunks every night. He's performed well against good competition, too -- he had 24 points on 9/15 shooting against Seton Hall last week. We can't wait to see how he develops this year.
STL: Peter Jok, who was named Big Ten Player of the Week, has been incredible, averaging over 24 points per game. What can Virginia do to slow him down?
ROSS: It's not going to be easy because Iowa is going to work hard to get him the ball, no matter what, and he's shown the ability to get a shot off (and make it) with even a fraction of space. So you may just want to hope that he's having an off night shooting or, conversely, just let him get his points because Jok alone won't beat you and the quality of his supporting cast has been very up-and-down this year. All that said, if you want to slow him down, I'd say the best thing you can do is something him defensively -- deny him the ball and get physical. He's still likely to get shots off and fouling him is dangerous because he's better than 80% from the free throw line for his career, but it's still preferable to letting him get into a rhythm from outside.
STL: Virginia's defense has been suffocating to put it mildly, holding their last three opponents under 40 points. What concerns you about the Wahoo defense?
ROSS: Um, everything? But if we have to boil it down to a few things, I'd say tempo and turnovers. Virginia is excellent at slowing the game down, especially on defense, and forcing teams to make smart decisions and be efficient on offense. That...is not a strong suit of this Iowa offense right now. They have a lot of young players, especially at the point guard position, and they make a lot of ill-advised decisions. That's a recipe for disaster against a defense as good as Virginia's, especially at a low tempo where every possession is at a premium. Tyler Cook, for all his awesomeness, is also a bit turnover-prone right now: he's turned the ball over four times in half of his appearances so far. And speaking of turnovers...Virginia ranks 17th in the country in that department, forcing turnovers on 25% of opponent possessions. Iowa 184th in the country, turning the ball over 19.3% of their possessions. That is potentially a very, very bad combination for Iowa.
STL: Who are some players to know for the Hawkeyes?
ROSS: Well, Jok and Cook are the two biggest names to know, but we covered them already. Nicholas Baer is another guy worth knowing. He tends to fill the stat sheet -- so far this year he's averaging 8.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.0 steals per game, and 1.0 block per game. He does a little bit of everything for Iowa. Jordan Bohannon and Christian Williams are Iowa's two-headed monster at point guard, averaging a combined 7.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 9.1 apg, 2.0 steals per game...as well as 3.5 turnovers per game. Bohannon is a true freshman and Williams is a lightly-experienced true sophomore and they're both prone to making mistakes. They're also really struggling from the floor, making just 26% of their shots. Bohannon was a gunner in high school, so we have hopes that form will materialize in college, but it hasn't yet. Friday night would be a really good time for him to start making shots!
STL: What type of expectations do you guys have for Iowa both in the Big Ten and in the postseason?
ROSS: I think this weekend's games will be pretty telling on that front, honestly. We really aren't sure what to expect from this team. Jok is the only returning starter from last year's team, so we're relying on a lot of newcomers and a lot of those newcomers are freshmen. They're a bit of a mystery so far. Iowa looked competitive against Seton Hall (a good opponent and likely NCAA Tournament team), but they came up short in the game. Virginia is an even better opponent, so how well Iowa looks against them should give us another point of reference for figuring out this team's ceiling and floor. Ditto the second game of the weekend, against either Memphis or Providence. But, ultimately, we're hoping to see this team improve throughout the season. I would like to see them contend for an upper-division finish in the Big Ten and also at least be in the bubble picture for the NCAA Tournament. That would be a solid sign for this team, given their youth and inexperience. But even an NIT trip wouldn't be bad for them, honestly. Aside from Jok, there's a good chance that pretty much this entire team will be back in 2017-18, so the experience they get in the NIT could really carry over nicely for them next year.
STL: Can you do everyone a solid and beat Maryland?
ROSS: Ha, we'll do our damndest. I don't have high hopes for Iowa getting a win in College Park in February, but I think they'll have a good shot to beat them when the Terps come to Iowa City in January. So far Iowa is 1-1 against them in Big Ten play, beating them in Iowa City two years ago and losing a tight one in Turtle-land last year.
STL: What's your prediction for the game?
ROSS: I would love to predict an Iowa upset, but it's hard to see that happening. I don't think Iowa matches up that well with the Cavs and the combination of Virginia's experience and Iowa's youth concerns me. If Iowa can get some shots to fall early, I think they'll have a chance to stay in the game for a while. If they get behind early, I think the game could get ugly. KenPom is predicting a 76-66 Virginia win, but I think Virginia may win by closer to 15 points. Something like 80-65 Virginia sounds about right, unfortunately.
Thanks so much for your time, Ross, and make sure you tune into the game tomorrow night (Friday) at 7pm on CBS Sports Network. Go Hoos!