Villanova takes on Iowa Sunday afternoon, so we got with the good folks at Black Heart Gold Pants, one of SB Nation's best blogs. RossWB was kind enough to answer a few of our questions ahead of the game. We wish them well, but we're still angry about Kirk Ferentz stealing Jordan Canzeri away from us.
Assuming you are alive after Friday's madness, what's been going on with Iowa? From Top 5 to barely hanging on against Temple in a matter of weeks. I mean, we've been there. But what's the story?
I wish we knew -- if we did, we'd tell Fran & Co. so they could fix it and get things turned around. The truth is that those heady Top 5 days were an overachievement for this team -- there were so many things clicking just right for them during that stretch. I don't think the skid they've been in over the last month or so is necessarily their true self, either, but it has been a pretty sobering example of what happens when all the good fortune you'd been experiencing earlier goes sour. Iowa's outside shooting has really struggled and, again, they're probably neither as good as they looked in January nor as bad as they've looked over the last month.
The defense has also slipped, which might be partially due to fatigue -- Iowa was getting a lot of good contributions from bench players earlier in the season, but as those have dried up, the starters have had to play longer minutes, which seems to have had a negative effect on the defensive end. Iowa's led by four seniors and a junior and most of the guys on the bench are freshmen, so inconsistency is kind of an expectation there. They were on the "good" end of inconsistency earlier in the year, but lately they've been more on the "bad" end. So, yeah, there have been a lot of factors in Iowa's swoon.
You guys are going to be nice and finally let Villanova get back to the Sweet 16, right?
I certainly hope not. Villanova hasn't been to the Sweet 16 since 2009 and I'm sure seven years feels like an eternity, but Iowa hasn't been to the Sweet 16 since 1999, so our drought is just a little bit longer than yours. Our Sweet 16 drought is almost old enough to vote, for God's sake.
How does Villanova stop Jarrod Uthoff?
Lately? Let him shoot long jumpers. He's shooting just 27% on 3-pointers over his last ten games (18/68) and his numbers aren't much better on jumpers inside the arc, either. He's certainly capable of getting hot and hurting a team from outside and he was doing that earlier in the season, but of late his shooting has been in a considerable funk, so it may not hurt you too much to just let him cock and fire on long jumpers -- based on his recent form, he's unlikely to torch you. Beyond that, teams have had some success being physical with Uthoff and banging him around, too.
Adam Woodbury. From eye-poker to game-winners in OT. Talk to us about this 7-foot-1 ninja.
Woodbury is a key part of this Iowa team, though not so much for his offensive contributions. The fact that he got the game-winner on Friday was definitely a function of "right place, right time." But that play also speaks to the strengths of his game, which are all centered around the rim. He's emerged this year as an excellent rebounder -- he led the Big Ten with 8.4 board per game and also led the league in offensive rebounds (3.2 per game). He doesn't have especially long arms or notable jumping ability, but he has a keen sense of positioning.
That extends to the defensive end where he's been the lynchpin of Iowa's defense this season. He doesn't have flashy numbers in terms of blocked shots or steals, but he's been tremendous at using his presence to deter opponents from attacking the rim. He's also a key figure in terms of organizing Iowa's defense and getting guys into place. When Iowa's defense has been at its worst this year, it's usually been when Woodbury is on the bench for a breather or foul trouble -- and that's not a coincidence.
Talk to us about Peter Jok. When we last faced off he wasn't a major factor but has turned in to a real player.
Jok's development has probably been this year's most pleasant surprise and one of the key reasons behind Iowa's surge near the top of the rankings earlier in the season. He suffered a serious knee injury in high school and his recovery from that has been slow -- it's taken until now (his junior year) for him to feel fully fit and to have regained his quickness and explosiveness. That health, coupled with the experience of playing over the last few years, has really spurred his development.
Jok's also become much more consistent and much more comfortable within Iowa's offense -- he's very adept at weaving through screens and launching his note-perfect jumpers when he has any space at all. He's also gotten better about attacking the rim and scoring near the hoop. And his defense has improved as well, particularly in terms of anticipation, which has helped him read the passing lanes and get steals that lead to easy transition dunks and layups.
Is Fran McCaffery just a great coach or the greatest coach? We love his antics.
We think he's pretty swell. There's been some angst about how the regular season ended and some of his in-game coaching decisions (he tends to treat timeouts as if they come with "break glass in case of emergency" disclaimers), but overall there's a lot to be thrilled about. Considering the absolute trash fire of a program that he inherited six years ago, the fact that he's now led Iowa to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances and two straight years with NCAA Tourney wins is a great achievement.
He's toned down the antics a bit from his early days at Iowa -- no furniture was harmed in the writing of this comment! -- but he's still a passionate guy with great facial expressions on the sideline. I'd much rather have that than some emotionless robot patrolling the sideline.
Who's the X-Factor for Iowa on Sunday if they're going to pull off the upset?
Obviously Iowa needs Uthoff and Jok to play well -- I don't think they can beat 'Nova without their best players performing at a high level. But those two guys are going to need help, too. They had excellent games but got no help from teammates against a lousy Illinois team in the Big Ten Tournament, and Iowa wound up losing. If they couldn't carry Iowa to a win over Illinois, they sure aren't going to carry Iowa to a win over Villanova by themselves. They got 10 points from Woodbury against Temple and a repeat performance from him would certainly be nice, but I think the key will be what they get from the starting backcourt of Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons. They need at least one of those guys to score in double figures (Clemmons was frequently Iowa's best third scoring option when they were riding high in January) and they also need to take care of the ball and facilitate the offense well. In Gesell's case, that also means staying out of foul trouble -- Iowa's offense tends to grind to a halt in the half court when he's off the court.
Who's grittier, Mike Gesell or Ryan Arcidiacono?
Gesell's a ginger who grew up in Nebraska -- I think "grit" might be his middle name. Arcidiacono loses major grit points for his matinee idol good looks, carefully preened hair, and that arm sleeve he wears. Arcidiacono looks like a guy who would have a popped collar under his jersey if he could get away with it.
We love hearing how our opponents have nicer things than us, so brag about Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
When it's full and Iowa is playing well, it can be a very loud and intimidating atmosphere, full of great energy -- that was the case when Iowa knocked off #1 Michigan State earlier this year and when they played Indiana a few weeks ago. If it's not full, though, or things aren't really clicking for Iowa, it does have a tendency to get quiet. Win or lose, though, the soft-serve ice cream is always delicious.
Predictions for Sunday?
My head says Iowa was a bit lucky to get a win against Temple and they still look more like the team that lost six of their last seven prior to that game than a team that's truly turned things around. My head says that team loses to Villanova, 76-67. My heart says Iowa's outside shooting finally gets on track, Clemmons has a big game, Gesell hounds Arcidiacono into a few key turnovers late, and Iowa grabs a 75-71 win. You can decide which one of my internal organs you'd rather listen to for a game prediction.