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The Only Questions: Q&A with Iowa

The Spartans hit the road in their quest for a seventh straight victory

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans are hitting the road again, this time against Iowa.

In their last outing MSU fans got to see a close game against Indiana (also on the road) where they squeaked by with a 63-60 victory.

Since losing to Michigan, the Spartans have won six games in a row, beating Iowa would make it seven. It’s the first and only time MSU will face the Hawkeyes so we’ve brought in Harrison Starr from Black Heart Gold Pants to give us the inside scoop.

Iowa is 3-7 in their last ten games with Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan all up next. Is it possible they finish strong?

It’s certainly possible they finish strong but with the schedule you outlined, I don’t think the finish starts within the next 10 days.

You mentioned Iowa’s three wins - Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota - and the trait which runs through them is they are capable of really bad showings like Iowa has had. All three are in the 90s of KenPom and Iowa is lucky three more similar games close out their schedule: Indiana, Minnesota, and Northwestern. If Iowa can get over 5 conference wins, it’d be an acceptable finish to an otherwise putrid season.

Where does the fan base sit with their Hawkeyes right now?

I’m not necessarily the best person to ask as I’m not in Iowa and privy to the day-to-day conversations you hear but my sense online is there is one of apathy among this team.

More on this in a minute, but Iowa basketball absolutely cratered with the end of Steve Alford’s tenure and Todd Lickliter’s three years in Iowa City. There was a real rage towards Alford which developed into prolonged apathy before Fran McCaffery arrived. It is very easy for the fanbase to revert into apathy before frustration or outright hatred. Even when Fran got this team cooking from 2014-2016, the seasons ended with a thud and left a bad taste in people’s mouths, despite getting a couple NCAA tournament victories.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Indiana Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Is Fran McCaffery on the hot seat? Why or Why not?

Iowa is notorious for the longevity of their coaches and Fran is no exception. He’s been around 8 years and was clandestinely inked to an extension earlier this year with a huge buyout. Part of the apathy mentioned above is there is a resignation when things get bad on the court or field, it won’t get turned around because Iowa doesn’t really fire coaches.

But McCaffery has moved Iowa basketball forward nearly every season he’s been here with this season being the clear outlier. It’s magnified because the team seemed to have very high expectations for themselves with fans and media fanning those expectations to retrospectively hilarious heights. For example: I thought this year was nearly a lock to get into the tournament. So, it’ll be awhile before Fran’s seat gets really warm unless next year is even worse than this.

If you could do anything to help turn Iowa’s season around what would it be?

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about and there isn’t really a single tangible issue which would be a fix for this team. They’ve been up and down in terms of turning the ball over and they let missed shots affect their defense far too much.

In terms of being a more palatable team to watch, I wish they had an edge to them. Lacking it permeates all areas of the game, specifically: not hustling back on transition defense, getting beat on the boards, being soft going in for layups, letting deficits turn into laughers. I’ve never seen a team so tall play so small, it’s something to behold. In Iowa’s absolute worst showings, the difference in “edge” has been the starkest. Maryland, Purdue, and Penn State all had that undefinable characteristic about them. Even Rutgers had it.

It is shocking to see this team look so different from a year ago after losing only Peter Jok. They ran an identical Penn State team out of Carver to finish the season and laid waste to Rutgers in a game Jok actually missed.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Cook has been quite the silver lining so far this year. The 6’9 sophomore out of St. Louis leads the team in scoring (15.3 PPG) and rebounding (6.8 RPG). What else should Spartan Nation know about this young man? Is he the future of Hawkeye basketball?

He’s been fun to watch for much of the season but I’m not convinced Iowa has found the best way to utilize him this year. With the addition of Luka Garza, though, Cook has played much more power forward than he did last year, which has been an adjustment. They go to him a lot of times with simple isolations on the block, which work when he is efficient with his dribble but he can struggle sometimes if he stalls or draws a double team. Iowa will also run the occasional set play to get him an easy look out of a timeout. I’d love to see them utilize him more as a rim-runner but Iowa doesn’t have an elite pick-and-roll ballhandler and the spacing isn’t the greatest.

Going forward, he’s definitely one of the building blocks for this team but needs to improve his defense and rebounding, even though he leads the team in that category.

Prediction time: Final score? Who wins? Why?

Iowa’s only game against a team of Michigan State’s caliber was a complete laugher, at home, against Purdue. MSU might not be able to replicate Purdue’s success from deep but they can definitely match their defense and intensity and could ramp up the “edge” to 11. Maybe Iowa catches a break with some Spartan foul trouble and Jordan Bohannon gets really hot from deep but I can’t envision Iowa winning this one.

MSU 85, Iowa 70, in a game that doesn’t feel that close.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to Harrison and everyone over at Black Heart Gold Pants for pitching in and helping make our Q&A’s possible!

Go Green!