Many thanks to Ross at our SB Nation Iowa site Black Heart Gold Pants for trading questions and answers with us; BHGP does great work and you can read more of Ross's thoughts on the Hawkeyes this season here. You can also find our answers to their questions about the Vols on their site here.
Here are our five questions on the Hawkeyes:
1. What's been Iowa's biggest issue the last seven games? Is it more complicated than "defense"?
ROSS: There have been a lot of issues during Iowa's losing skid, but I'd definitely say that defense has been the biggest problem. Teams are shooting well over 50% on two-point field goals against Iowa and 44% from deep. That's been almost impossible for Iowa to overcome. (Although their own shooting has struggled lately, too, especially from deep -- they've made just 26% of their own threes during this slump.) Iowa fans are somewhat divided on whether it's bad defense or absurdly bad luck, although I'd say the answer is really "both." Some of the shots that opposing teams have been making against Iowa just feel like the basketball gods smiting Iowa -- bad-shooting players making teardrop floaters in the lane, guys draining rainbow 3s at the end of the half, and countless made shots at the end of the shot clock. But it's certainly not all "bad luck" by any stretch -- Iowa's been giving teams far too many wide open looks and being a step or too slow in their rotations on defense, which has led to a lot of easy hoops for opponents. That's not bad luck, that's just bad, ineffective defense.
The reality is that outside of the Northwestern loss (where Iowa's offense shot a putrid 32% from the field), Iowa's offense has probably played well enough in all of these recent losses to give Iowa a chance to win -- if the defense had been able to slow down opponents. But they have been wildly unsuccessful at that -- when you allow opponents to shoot over 50% from the field and drain nearly half of their three-pointers, you're going to make it almost impossible to win. And, sure enough, Iowa hasn't won many games during this stretch as a result.
2. After Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White it's hard to distinguish between Hawkeyes in points and minutes. Do any of the others in the rotation stand out or has it been different guys on different nights?
ROSS: The buzzword around Iowa for most of the season was "depth" because Iowa played 9-10 guys (sometimes even 11) every game and they were all capable of going for double figures -- and in fact they all have gone for double figures at one point or another this year (although some of those happened during Iowa's early, patsy-filled non-conference slate). Unfortunately, during Iowa's recent losing streak a lot of that help has dried up. Marble has been a steady presence for Iowa (he scored double figures in all but one game against B1G competition this year), so I expect that he'll get his. The key for Iowa will be who steps up to help him. I think Iowa needs to get White going early and often -- and keep him involved throughout the game. He scored Iowa's first five points against Northwestern in their last game -- and then didn't attempt another shot all game.
Marble also needs some help from Iowa's back court. The primary scoring options there (other than Marble) are Mike Gesell (the starting point guard) and Josh Oglesby (Iowa's top long-range shooter and one of the first guys off the bench); Iowa needs to get production from them to get the offense going. Gesell and Oglesby are also Iowa's best three-point shooters and I think Iowa will need strong showings from both of them in this game because I expect Tennessee to make it difficult for Iowa to dominate the offensive glass and get second-chance points or get a lot of transition buckets.
3. Tennessee is one of the few teams in the nation with better rebounding numbers than Iowa. How much do the Hawkeyes rely on offensive rebounding in their scoring and how do you think they'll fare against Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon?
ROSS: Offensive rebounding is a big part of Iowa's offense because second chance points have been a key part of Iowa's offense all year. Iowa's not really a great jump-shooting team (they're very streaky in that regard) and if they can't get out in transition and get easy points off lay-ups and dunks, their offense has had a tendency to stagnate. One of the key ways they've been able to mitigate that is by rebounding a lot of their own misses and getting second and third chances to score; eventually, those shots tend to fall. In Melsahn Basabe and Aaron White, Iowa has two very skilled rebounders and two guys who excel at being "garbagemen" and cleaning up other players' missed shots. I think Iowa will definitely have their hands full with Stokes and Maymon, though -- Iowa doesn't have a lot of big, physical post players (White and Basabe are both fairly slender guys and tend to rely on their quickness rather than physicality) and I expect Stokes and Maymon to pose real matchup problems for Iowa.
4. Does Iowa have to play fast to win, or have the Hawkeyes had success against teams playing a slower tempo this year?
ROSS: Does Iowa need to play fast to win this game? Probably. Iowa's 3-3 in games this year when then the game was 65 or fewer possessions, although that's admittedly a somewhat arbitrary number. But two of those three wins featured an Iowa offense that was outrageously efficient (they averaged 1.33 PPP on 64 possessions against Michigan in an 85-67 wins and 1.41 PPP on 63 possessions against UTEP in an 89-53 win). So, yeah, if their offense catches fire like that again and they're just draining almost everything that they throw up at the hoop... well, then it probably doesn't matter what tempo the game is played at. But Iowa's offense hasn't shown many signs of that level of efficiency lately and I don't expect Tennessee to make it very easy for Iowa's offense, either. The better bet by far for Iowa is to speed the game up and give them more possessions and more chances to score.
5. Iowa will win if: Tennessee will win if:
ROSS: Iowa will win if they get back to playing like they were in January or early February, before the wheels came off the Hawkeye Express. For Iowa, that means playing at a fast tempo and getting easy buckets in transition. It means making a few threes to open things up for the rest of their half-court offense and to give their motion offense room to actually move. And it means actually playing effective defense -- for a full 35 seconds, if necessary. If they can do that -- big ifs, given the way they've played the last few weeks -- then they can move on to play UMass on Friday.
Tennessee will win if Iowa and Tennessee keep playing the way that they've been playing for the last few weeks. Tennessee has been playing well since about mid-February and Iowa has been playing pretty poorly since about that same point in the schedule. If you're a believer in momentum, well, Tennessee has a lot of it right now and Iowa has very little. But, really, if Tennessee wins it I suspect it will be because they managed to effectively impose their will on the game. That means slowing down the tempo, playing hard, smothering defense, keeping Iowa off the glass, and stifling Iowa's transition offense. If this game is played primarily in the half court, that's a big advantage to Tennessee right now. Tennessee's half-court defense is very good and Iowa's half-court offense right now is... sorry, I blacked out there upon contemplating the horror.