In advance of Thursday's big game in Iowa City, we check in with RossWB from Black Heart Gold Pants on what to expect from the Hawkeyes. We answered some questions for them, too, which you can read here.
1. I haven't watched much of Iowa outside of the Indiana game. Who are the guys to watch outside of Marble?
Roy Devyn Marble has been Iowa's best player this season, but Aaron White has been a very solid #2 for the Hawkeyes. He's averaging 13 ppg and 6 rpg and converting 53% of his field goal attempts (although he's a woeful 22% from 3-point range). White is a terror around the rim and he's usually good for a dunk or two a game (hence BHGP's nickname for him -- Dunk L'Orange). Beyond White, Iowa's fortunes rise and fall on the play of a trio of freshmen starters: Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons, and Adam Woodbury.
Gesell and Clemmons are both guards -- both nominally point guards, in fact. Gesell began the year as the starting point guard, but McCaffery switched to Clemmons after a few games and the Iowa offense has looked much better ever since. Clemmons is leading the team with 4 apg and has a knack for making smart, timely passes (as well as a few too many out of control passes lately; freshmen, right?) and an increasing confidence in his ability to drive to the rim. Gesell is adapting to life as an off-guard and is probably Iowa's best outside shooter (although he's shooting just 33% from long range right now, which is problematic) as well as a very capable fill-in at point guard for Clemmons.
Woodbury was the prize gem of last year's recruiting class for Iowa, a talented in-state post presence that chose Iowa over Roy Williams and North Carolina. He's had his ups and downs this year, but he has shown some nifty offensive moves at times and his mere presence has really improved Iowa's interior defense. The problem with all three, of course, is that they're freshmen, which means they're great some days and terrible other days. Consistency is not something that they've mastered just yet.
If at least 2/3 of them play well against MSU, Iowa should have a chance in that game; if most of them play poorly, Iowa will have virtually no shot at upsetting Sparty.
2. How is Iowa's NCAA Tournament resume looking right now? What conference record do you think they need?
I did a post about this yesterday and right now they seem to be firmly in the bubble conversation, although most observers seem to have them on the outside looking in right now, which is understandable. The biggest thing they've been able to do this year is avoid racking up any bad losses. They played a very weak non-conference schedule... but they did the same last year and struggled to beat some of those teams (i.e., Campbell). This year, they beat all of their cupcakes -- and pretty decisively at that. They don't really have any bad losses, although the road loss to Virginia Tech is definitely looking worse and worse with each subsequent Hokie loss.
On the other hand, they also don't have any terribly impressive wins -- their best non-con wins were over Iowa State and UNI, which are solid wins, but nothing incredible. I think the goal in Big Ten play is pretty much the same: avoiding losses against the Big Ten's underclass (Nebraska, Penn State, Northwestern?) and try to snipe a few wins against the upper class Big Ten teams. Given how hard winning on the road figures to be in Big Ten play, I think it becomes extra-important that Iowa take advantage of home court opportunities to score wins over quality opponents like Michigan State, Minnesota, and Illinois.
So in short: Iowa's tournament resume isn't terrible, but it's not great, either.
3. What does Iowa need to happen in order to win Thursday?
Play consistent defense for a full 40 minutes. Iowa really got after it on defense against Indiana and that (plus some poor shooting from the Hoosiers) was a key reason Iowa was able to keep that game close. Against Michigan, Iowa played pretty solid defense for the first 15-18 minutes of the game... and then completely fell apart for the remaining 22-25 minutes of gametime. The second half turned into an orgy of dunks and open three-pointers for Michigan, which is how the final score got so out of hand.
Iowa has struggled at times this year to balance the desire to play fast with the need to play under control -- how well they can master that balance against Michigan State will go a long way in determining whether or not they can win the game. It would also be helpful if some of Iowa's three-point shooters could bust out of their season-long slumps and drain a few shots from beyond the arc on Thursday. Iowa's poor three-point shooting is really hampering the offense right now.
Finally, key guys like Mike Gesell, Anthony Clemmons, and Adam Woodbury need to stay out of early foul trouble. Clemmons, a Lansing native, did a pretty respectable job of harassing Trey Burke early in the first half, but he picked up a silly second foul late in the half and Burke really started going nuts after Clemmons sat down. Woodbury's interior defense has been enormously helpful for Iowa this year and they often struggle in that area when he's out of the game.
4. Give me a prediction.
If this was in East Lansing, I would have no hesitation in picking Michigan State by at least 10-12 points. They're a better team and a more experienced team -- and Iowa has really struggled away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena this year. But they've also played well when they've been at home this season and I think that will hold true in this game.
I think Iowa will pull this one out behind solid games from Marble and White and a breakout performance from Melsahn Basabe. I'll say Iowa 74, Michigan State 70.