Now that the Cincinnati Bearcats have saved their season by toppling the Tennessee Volunteers, its time for a new challenge and one that’s been circled on my calendar for months. The Bearcats will battle the Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament battle that ended with UC on the losing side.
For Saturday’s contest, we got some answers about this year’s Iowa team from Harrison Starr of Black Heart Gold Pants.
You guys can’t possibly shoot 50 percent from three like you did in March, right?
Harrison Starr: I can only hope that Iowa WILL shoot 50 percent again from three. Though this team is without their best three-point shooter (Jordan Bohannon) now, they still have a couple guys who can knock them in from deep. Joe Wieskamp is the most notable shooter remaining but C.J. Fredrick is on absolute fire to start the season. Luka Garza can also stretch the floor from the five.
Speaking of last year, Garza torched the Bearcats and now he seems to be torching everyone else. What’s been behind his ascension and is there anything the Bearcats can do to stop him the second time around?
HS: Garza has always had a bag of tricks down low but his ascension is three-fold.
1) He’s healthy. Throughout much of his first two seasons, he was nursing injuries but isn’t this season (outside of cuts on his face and a loose tooth).
2) He’s got more space to operate. After Jack Nunge went down, Fran McCaffery went small with Wieskamp starting at the four. It’s allowed Iowa quicker and better shooters at the other four spots.
3) He’s staying out of foul trouble. He’s been an effective defender for Iowa and has avoided dumb fouls which have kept him out of games in the past. Hopefully that continues.
Cincy’s best chance probably rests on going at him offensively to goad him into those fouls and hard doubles with big bodies — off non-shooters — on defense.
How much of an effect will Bohannon’s injury have on Iowa moving forward?
HS: This is tough to say but Iowa will miss his confidence and shot making, especially when the shot clock is nearing :00. He’s been a shell of himself, nursing dueling hip injuries, but was exceptional at distributing the ball, especially in transition, for much of this season. Outside of his skills and savvy, Iowa will also just miss the depth he brings as it’s down to only nine scholarship players.
What is different about this year’s team, through 11 games, compared to last year’s round of 32 team?
HS: Two starters, Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss, have departed, Nicholas Baer graduated, and Bohannon is now lost to injury. But they’ve added Fredrick, Joe Toussaint and Bakari Evelyn to the backcourt. The first two have shown to be very tenacious defenders and X-factors offensively as both are capable ball handlers and willing drivers. Evelyn is still finding his way on this team as a grad transfer but will have to step up after Bohannon’s hip surgery.
What have you learned about this year’s team in the losses to Depaul, San Diego State and Michigan?
HS: That some of the same troubles will bother Iowa as past Hawkeye teams. If teams are on fire from deep, Iowa’s going to have a tough time on defense as they lack the athleticism to guard the three point line and driving lanes. The games Iowa has lost have come against the three best opponent percentages from deep. One positive is that all three losses were to teams who look to be pretty good.
Based on Iowa’s strengths, what should Cincinnati be most worried about on Saturday?
HS: Iowa’s offense has been pretty varied in it’s ability to go simple post, inside-out, motion and pick-and-roll/pop. Michigan sold out to stop shooting which limited Iowa’s three-point attempts while Garza feasted. If Cincinnati is willing to make that gambit and can keep pace offensively, they’ll probably end up on top.
This is Fran McCaffery’s 10th season in Iowa. How has the program changed in that time and how would you rate the job he has done?
HS: I answer this as a 100 percent a Fran McCaffery stan so my take does not necessarily mirror that of the larger fanbase. But! There is no question that he took Iowa over during their nadir post-Todd Lickliter (somehow the worst Butler coach of the last 20 years). He’s returned Iowa to respectability. He is an offensively gifted coach and this team feels tailor-made for his system on that side of the court. But the defenses have been a little lacking the last couple seasons, though this one seems better, and he’s had some pretty high-profile late season collapses. He’s constantly graded on whether he can take Iowa to the next level. He’s probably a solid seven out of 10, which means he’s probably not be the guy to take Iowa up a notch. But if he can get this team into the tournament, I can see them catching fire and getting to the Sweet 16.
What does Cincinnati have to do to beat Iowa?
HS: I think Iowa is very comfortable playing a high-scoring game so first and foremost, Cincy will probably have to keep pace with Iowa offensively. Iowa’s two weirdest losses came on their highest turnover games (percentage-wise) against SDSU and DePaul. Turning Iowa over, even though its been otherwise very clean, is probably a big opportunity for the Bearcats after Iowa lost Bohannon and is forced into giving Toussaint, a freshman, more playing time.
Who wins and why?
HS: It’s probably going to come down to how much Iowa can paper over Bohannon’s loss but I think they’ll play some clean basketball and maintain their offensive efficiency. If Cincy’s shot is on, they’ll have a chance, but I like Iowa 75-70.
BONUS QUESTION: What was your favorite movie of 2019?
HS: When I look back at my admittedly sparse year in pop culture, the movie I think about more than anything is Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood. It was entirely enjoyable for me. Second place is the discussion around The Irishman’s length.