By Carter Benson
8 P.M. CT, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, IA – B1G Network
Spread: Iowa (-14)
No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0)
The Iowa Hawkeyes are on the dawn of what could be their most historic season since reaching the Final Four in 1980. Having returned nearly their whole team, the third ranked Hawks have their eyes dead set on securing what could be their first ever National Championship. A statement win over the #16 North Carolina (93-80) has solidified the Hawkeyes as true frontrunners in a conference that is dominating college basketball. Led by head coach Fran McCaffery, Iowa hasn’t scored less than 90 points in any of its first four games. In fact, the Hawks are averaging 98.0 points per game, which puts them at right number four in all of college basketball for scoring. Projected Wooden Award winner Luka Garza has certainly carried the load for this offense. Averaging 29.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds and three blocks on nearly 63 percent from the field, Garza is making his case as one of the most dominant college centers in the last 20 years. If Garza is Batman then 5th year senior Jordan Bohannon and junior Joe Wiescamp are his Robin. Don’t get me wrong, Bohannon should probably have grandkids by now, but an injury suffered last season has allowed him to remain as Garza’s right hand man for another year. Leading the team in assists (5), Bohannon is a true floor general for the Hawks whereas Wieskamp acts as their sniper. Hitting 57 percent of his three point attempts this season, Wieskamp has been used as Iowa’s second scoring option at 14 points per game. In their game against North Carolina last week, Graza was met with heavy defensive pressure in the post. This created an opportunity for Wieskamp and the rest of the squad to prove their long range dominance. The Hawks shot 42.5 percent from three that game with Bohannon and Wieskamp hitting a combined 12 for 23. This is the key to Iowa’s offense that practically turns any defensive scheme into a lose-ose scenario. Heavy pressure on Garza leads to three point opportunities while a perimeter-focused defense will allow Garza to do what he does best: bulldoze defenders in the post.
Coming off convincing wins against their first four opponents, the Hawks should not have trouble with the undersized and inexperienced Cyclones in their match-up tonight. The Hawkeyes are undefeated but haven’t played a team that has presented a challenge other than UNC, with the caveat that the Tarheels finished last in the ACC last year. The Hawks have had ups and downs in previous years, but this season is truly the culmination of McCaffery’s ten years as head coach. Is there a better way of supporting this notion than beating their in-state rival in Carver-Hawkeye Arena?
Iowa State Cyclones (1-1)
The Iowa State Cyclones are an unknown in the realm of college basketball this year. Iowa State only has two games under its belt heading into their match-up against the Hawkeyes tonight,those games being a win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (80-63) and a frustrating loss to South Dakota State (68-71). With a mix of young talent and returning starters, the Cyclones are gearing up to take on one of their biggest challenges this season. Senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands leads Iowa State in scoring this year at 14.5 points per game, followed closely by junior guard Rasir Bolton at 13.0. The most interesting aspect of this match-up between the Hawkeyes and the Cyclones will be how well Iowa State’s Houston Rocket-esque small ball lineup will work against the height of Iowa. The Cyclones will more than likely start senior Solomon Young at 6-foot-8 against Garza at 6-foot-11. Rebounds and points in the paint will surely be an issue for the Clones, however, their perimeter defense will hopefully counter these weaknesses. Last year, in their 68-84 loss to the Hawkeyes, Iowa State managed to hold Iowa’s top two guards, Bohannon and Wieskamp, to 7-22 from the field. This was largely due to the defensive presence of Bolton who now averages three steals per game and Coleman-Lands with two.
The Cyclones are in a weird position in terms of how this season will play out. It is hard to conclude with a win over a 1-5 Arkansas-Pine Bluff team and a loss to an underrated South Dakota State squad sitting at number one in the Summit League. The Cyclones were scheduled to play DePaul last week, but this showing was cancelled shortly before tip-off due to COVID-19. That being said, this game against the third-ranked Hawkeyes tonight will be the first true indication of how the Cyclones will fare the rest this season.
Analysis & Best Bet
This Friday night duel between in-state rivals Iowa and Iowa State can be seen from two angles: another brick in the road to a national title for the Hawkeyes, or a season setting performance for the Cyclones. No matter who wins this battle, just know there will be buckets. The Hawkeyes are averaging 98.0 points per game while shooting 40.2 percent from three, but play some of the worst defense out of any top 25 team. The Cyclones on the other hand are a small team playing against one of the bigger line-ups in college basketball. There is scoring potential from their two starting guards in Bolton and Coleman-Lands, but in order to stay competitive the Cyclones need to rely on that perimeter defense and shoot better than 29.1 percent from deep. One of my biggest worries for the Cyclones tonight will be how well their post players will fare against Garza, who sits at number two in points per game in the nation at 29.5. The Clones’ bigs will more than likely get into foul trouble early, and this could easily lead to another 30 bomb from Garza and take Iowa State out of the game. The Hawkeyes will need to have big games from Garza and the rest of the starters to keep up with the fast pace of the Cyclones.
Regardless of the outcome, in-state rivalries are always entertaining and there is one certainty tonight: there will be a lot of points scored.
Take the over at 159.5.