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Interviews With Roundball Rivals: Iowa Rematch Edition

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

Penn State will play their rubber match against Iowa later today at the Jordan Center. Iowa, as you may recall, was PSU’s first Big Ten win of this season and was also the first of many B1G losses for the Hawkeyes, as it would turn out. Harrison Starr of SB Nation’s Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants was kind enough to reach out to us about trading Q&A sessions, so without further ado, here are Harrison’s responses below:

1. Back in December, when PSU managed to get the rare win in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, it seemed like it would be a nice resume-booster. That has not proven to be the case, as the Hawkeyes sit near the bottom of the Big Ten basement. What has been the cause for such a difficult season in Iowa City?

It’s been a bit of a two-fold problem. Iowa’s defense is absolutely horrendous. There really isn’t any metric one can point and say, “hey, it’s not so bad.” It is exacerbated by their inability to get leads. What happened against Penn State has happened against a number of foes since. Penn State built a eight point lead early and was able to sustain many Iowa runs as a result. On offense, turnovers have been a sore spot as opponents are able to compound the Hawkeyes’ already bad defense with easy run.

The flipside has been the two most recent victories: Iowa was able to build pretty good leads against both Wisconsin and Minnesota and sustain any run they made. Illinois was a complete anomaly, as they couldn’t break a zone to save their life after their three-point shooting went into the can so Iowa was able to come back from a pretty hefty deficit.

Overall, Iowa has trended up in the last three games, with the two wins mentioned and an underrated effort against Nebraska. The turnovers have even better as they had 11 or less turnovers in each of those games. Sometimes teams just hit a ton of unexpected shots.

2. What (if anything) has changed the most about this Iowa team since the first meeting? Any new breakout players to pay attention to in addition to the usual suspects of Jordan Bohannon, Tyler Cook, and Isaiah Moss?

Looking back on that box score and it’s easy to identify a couple different things which have changed. Perhaps first and foremost: Iowa has slimmed down its rotation. It’s difficult to grant Fran McCaffery credit in this regard because it is largely based on injuries to Ryan Kriener and Brady Ellingson but Iowa’s been at about 8 guys receiving the bulk of minutes. Jordan Bohannon and Tyler Cook pretty much only come out if absolutely necessary due to fatigue or foul trouble. Bohannon sat for two minutes in the first half against Minnesota and the offense absolutely cratered.

In addition, Nicholas Baer is back to doing glue guy things and Isaiah Moss is a total x-factor. If he is playing well against good competition, Iowa will have a chance. Outside of those mentioned, freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge have played well of late. Their athleticism will be tested against the Nittany Lion squad, but they’ve shown flashes more and more as young guys are wont to do.

3. What will Iowa have to do differently from last time in order to pull off the win in Happy Valley?

The easy answer is score more points. It’s really the only thing this team can do well which makes it fun to watch when they’re winning (not very often) and not so fun to watch when they’re losing (very often). Now, can Iowa do that?

Jordan Bohannon has already etched his name into the record books with a couple Iowa freshman records but recently tied the points-assists double-double record and is on pace to crush Iowa’s 3-point record (and even push for the Big Ten record). He’s also had like five straight road games where he’s made five or more threes. Tyler Cook and Luka Garza need to stay out of foul trouble and attack the boards. Moss needs to have a good Moss game.

But, if Iowa can’t score more points they’re going to have to get lucky with 1) Penn State missing shots and 2) Penn State missing more shots. Iowa did a much better job of limiting open looks for Minnesota but still gave up a head-scratching 1.14 points per possession. Bohannon has played a part in stopping opposing point guards but there’s only so much he can do. He recently opened up about his plantar fasciitis when was lagging him well into the season so it would appear his defense has been aided the most by that recovery. If he is able to force Carr into inefficient shots, it’ll go a long way, even if they go in.

4. Congrats to Fran McCaffrey on netting his 400th career coaching win the other night when Iowa took down Minnesota. What has Fran meant to the program overall? Do you see him getting this team back to the successes of making the NCAA Tournament?

He’s been an overall net positive when you consider his starting point from the crater Todd Lickliter left. He’s had Iowa competing in the top half of the conference for the last 5 years, this year excepted. He does things the “right way” which matters to those who employ him.

The trajectory of this team, however, is much different than I anticipated coming into the year. I thought they’d push for an NCAA tournament berth and boy was I wrong. It is potentially concerning since many of the kids on this team will factor in prominently for the next two seasons with only one senior and two incoming freshman to worry about. However, I think he can keep pushing forward and get Iowa back into the tournament next year.

From that, you get into the expectations game regarding what type of cadence/ceiling Iowa basketball should have and I’m largely of the opinion that Dr. Tom Davis-style results (winning the first game of the NCAAs with a down year here and there) are basically the ceiling unless you have absolutely elite recruits. The recruiting seems to be coming up Hawkeyes as of late, if Fran can get Iowa into the Sweet 16 in the next couple years, there will be much rejoicing.

5. Last (but not least), give us your #hotsprotstake on the rematch ahead.

Bohannon is gonna score some baskets and Iowa will keep it close. I just think Penn State’s perimeter talent is too much for Iowa to handle. Penn State 80, Iowa 72.

Thanks again to Harrison, and here’s to hoping that prediction of his does indeed, come true.