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NCAA Tournament First Four: First Look at Iowa

Our first pass at Tennessee's First Four opponent.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Because we've been the team who slid into March before (2001, 2011), there's a tendency to look at Iowa's situation and immediately feel good about ourselves.  But if we're going to use Ken Pomeroy's ratings to feel even better about ourselves right now, we'd be wise to also check out the Hawkeyes there.  Tennessee sits at 13 in Pomeroy's rankings, by far the highest rated double-digit seed.  The second highest?  Iowa at 27, and fourth best in offense.

The Hawkeyes are a tale of three seasons.  Iowa was 11-2 in the non-conference, including an appearance in the Battle 4 Atlantis alongside the Big Orange.  They had a more exciting weekend than we did; had we not screwed up against UTEP we would've seen each other already.  Iowa went overtime win over Xavier, then 36 point blowout of UTEP, then overtime loss to Villanova which looks much stronger now.  They also lost a three point 85-82 thriller at Iowa State, also looking pretty good.

As Big Ten play opened Iowa started 8-4 with each loss to a tournament team:  75-71 at Wisconsin, 75-67 at Michigan, a home overtime loss to Michigan State and a 76-69 home loss to Ohio State.  But the Hawkeyes also won in Columbus, beat Nebraska by 10, and hammered Michigan 86-57 on February 8.  After a 12 point win over Penn State one week later, Iowa was 19-6 and ranked 15th in both polls.

But much has changed since then.  Five, six, and seven point losses to Wisconsin, at Minnesota, and at Indiana.  After bouncing back with a win over Purdue, Wisconsin lost by 10 at Michigan State.  It went from bad to worse after that:  a three point loss to Illinois on senior day, then an instant exit from the Big Ten Tournament against 13-18 Northwestern.  From our sister site Black Heart Gold Pants, here's the short and entertaining version of how that one went.

Their long and involved version is great reading on their entire season, especially defensively:

I think we all understand that Iowa's defense is hot garbage right now. This horse is way past dead (probably decaying by now), and I'm tired of beating it for at least a couple of more days. But I'm still trying to figure out how Iowa went from doing this against Michigan, to doing this against Illinois and then putting up this laughable performance against Northwestern. Sports are crazy, you guys.

Iowa's top two scorers are 6'6" senior guard Roy Devyn Marble at 17.3 per game and 6'9" junior forward Aaron White at 13.0 and 6.7 rebounds.  From there, it's the mosh pit:  the Hawkeyes have six players who average between 6.0 and 8.1 points per game.  There's depth and then there's depth and then there's this:  eleven Iowa players average at least nine minutes per game.  For comparison, the Vols have nine players averaging at least nine minutes, and that counts A.J. Davis who hasn't played more than three minutes in nine games.

Iowa is good at (offense, basically):

  • Scoring Possession Percentage (58.3% - 1st Big Ten, 5th nationally; Vols are 7th)
  • Points Per Game (82.0 - 1st Big Ten, 10th nationally)
  • Points Per Possession (1.15 - 2nd Big Ten, 13th nationally; Vols are 30th)
  • Offensive Rebound Percentage (38.1% - 1st Big Ten, 14th nationally; Vols are 6th)
  • Assist/Turnover Ratio (1.43 - 4th Big Ten, 20th nationally)
  • Pace of Play (71.0 possessions per game - 1st Big Ten, 40th nationally)
  • Assist Percentage (57.9% - 2nd Big Ten, 46th nationally)
  • Free Throw Rate (45.9% - 1st Big Ten, 48th nationally)
  • Field Goal Percentage (46.5% - 3rd Big Ten, 63rd nationally)
Good news for Tennessee:  not only is Tennessee one of the few teams better at rebounding than Iowa, the Vols are 32nd nationally in points per possession defense and have been on a strong defensive tear recently, and we'll need it if this bunch comes to play.

Iowa's numbers dropped in conference play, though obviously they're playing in a very strong league.  Their defensive numbers especially struggled:  9th among Big Ten teams in points per possession allowed, 11th in field goal percentage allowed, 12th in effective field goal percentage allowed.

Believe it or not this is Iowa's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006, which could take away some of the oh noes that tend to come with teams who've lost six of seven.  We'll look more at the specifics of an Iowa/Tennessee matchup as we get closer to Wednesday night, but obviously Tennessee's defense will need to play at the level we've seen in the last three weeks to give the Vols a real chance to win, especially if our normal rebounding advantage is a bit cancelled out.  And how will the UT offense fare against a defense with holes?  Offensive identity has been one of Cuonzo Martin's biggest challenges at times, but the Vols finished the year with strong offensive numbers and certainly have players capable of getting it done regardless of tempo; what will the Vols do against a defense that's been giving it up?

Stay tuned.