With that important PSA out of the way, we can start to prepare our hate filled hearts for the arrival of the Hawkeyes into our fair state (don't worry Minneapolis residents, the smell of pig feces will fade). Under Fran McCaffery, Iowa has become a pesky little thorn in the sides of many teams (Gopher fans may recall the season sweep we endured at his chair destroying hands last season). But I'm willing to bet that most of you know very little about the Floyd thieving hooptyballers from the south. To remedy that, I turned to RossWB (@RossWB) from the maniacal Mothership blog Black Heart Gold Pants. UPDATE: If you want to check out my Q&A with Ross, you can find it over on BHGP.
The Daily Gopher: How long until Gary Barta hosts a "Save the Chairs" telethon? And has the ASPCC (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Chairs) begun demonstrations in front of Old Capitol yet? Are you bothered by the wanton abuse of innocent seating options by Fran McCaffery? Or are you pleased enough with his turnaround of Iowa basketball to the point where you no longer notice the violence? Where does Fran go next to motivate his guys on a rough night? WWE moves that destroy the scorer's table?
RossWB: Oh God, if we had a Spanish announcers' table, I would be praying for Fran to Stone Cold Stunner someone (please oh please be Ted Valentine or Ed Hightower) right through that damn thing. Hell, I would settle for doing it to the non-Spanish announcers for those games when we're stuck on ESPNU (nothing has ever made me pine for the nonsensical ramblings of Tim Doyle more than ESPNU's bottom-of-the-barrel announcers). The ASPCC hasn't set up shot yet (probably too cold), and personally I'm all in favor of Fran's war on seating options. If a little furniture-related violence is the price we have to pay for a basketball team that a) wins games and b) doesn't make me want to tear my eyeballs out with a rusty spoon, so be it. Also, Gary Barta is too busy prank-calling unsuspecting maroons to hold any telethons, no matter how worthy the cause.
TDG: BHGP is currently running Bubbilicious Bracketology updates. What were your expectations for this team coming into the season and what are they now that you've seen what Fran's guys are capable of? Is being in the bubble conversation enough to make you pleased with year 3 of Fran?
RWB: At minimum, I think we were hoping to duplicate last year, when Iowa made the NIT. Iowa did lose its best player on that team (Matt Gatens), but we brought in a well-regarded group of freshmen that should have been enough to prevent too much backsliding in the program. So far, so good. Given that we were going to be relying on so many freshmen (for a good chunk of the season, Iowa has started three of 'em) this year, I don't think too many people were expecting an NCAA bid before the season began. After seeing them play well and improve during the course of the season, though, I think people are a little more hopeful that maybe Iowa really could steal an at-large spot to the NCAA Tournament. But it's a very tempered enthusiasm -- we're all aware that Iowa doesn't have any signature wins on their resume (their best wins are over Iowa State and Wisconsin at home, two programs that are good this year, but not great) and that the rest of the season doesn't offer too many more opportunities to get said signature wins. If the team continues to show progress, but just misses out on an NCAA Tournament berth -- so be it. Most people were targeting next year's team as the one more likely to seriously contend for a spot in the Big Dance anyway.
TDG: I'll be honest, I don't know much about this year's Iowa team outside of you seem to be playing teams well at home (see: Indiana and Wisconsin) and the NCAA used one of it's dumb rules to keep you from honoring Chris Street. Tell me what I need to know about this team. Who is your favorite player (and why)? Who should Gopher fans fear?
RWB: Iowa's most talented all-around player is probably Roy Devyn Marble, a wing player who can shoot, rebound, pass, and play solid defense. Unfortunately, he's been hampered by injuries for most of the Big Ten season -- he sprained his ankle before the Michigan State (which he missed) and lately he's been hampered by a turf toe injury. As a result, his explosiveness has been curtailed and his shooting has been downright woeful. In fact, the shooting in general for this team has been woeful for several games. It's a little mystifying because for the most part they've been getting good shots -- they just aren't going in. Hopefully they'll break out of that slump ASAP.
As far as other players to know... Aaron White is coming off a career-high 27 points against Penn State and he can be a matchup problems for other teams, since he's too quick for most fours to guard. Iowa's also been getting strong minutes out of Melsahn Basabe in Big Ten play; Basabe looked like a future star as a freshman, but took a big step backwards during his sophomore season. He began this year coming off the bench and his energy and scoring prowess made him a really good sixth man. Fran inserted him into the starting lineup against Penn State to see if he could do the same at the beginning of games; it's not clear if that was a permanent yet move or not. The other players to be aware are Iowa's key freshman trio: guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons and center Adam Woodbury. In some ways, they seem to have hit ye olde freshman wall at times (Woodbury has been struggling mightily to score of late; Clemmons has been a little sloppier with the ball; Gesell's shooting stroke has been hot and cold), but they're still capable of playing very well. The truth is that Iowa probably needs at least two of them to have a really good game here if they want to have a good shot at knocking off the Gophers.
TDG: Hopping away from hooptyball for a minute, I was pleased to read that Barta is going to use the money he's swindled off of Jamie Pollard over the years to purchase new video boards and displays for Kinnick. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is excited to watch images of the stadium clock in high def the next time I'm in town. If you have any influence, I also urge you to have the school include a live Kinnick arrest total tracker on one of the ribbon boards. I hate waiting until your BOOZY ARREST ROUNDUP to see if I won my bet on the over-under. By the way, there isn't a question here. Feel free to use this as a place to insert random Minnesota hate.
RWB: Did you know that Iowa has the Floyd of Rosedale trophy? Because we do. Floyd's resting comfortably in Iowa City and he assures me that he's very happy there and has no desire to ever go back to the Twin Cities, where he says the people reek of lutefisk and keep trying to get him to play hockey. (ED NOTE: I'm a little disappointed that Ross failed to include a link to a picture of Iowa with Floyd from this fall. That's usually a prerequisite for this style of HATE-slam. Otherwise it was excellent...concise, to the point, and included a MN specific jab. All in all I give it 7 out of 10.)
TDG: Minnesota smoked Nebrasketball on Tuesday which obviously means all is well and the Gophers are back on track to win the B1G. What do you think Iowa has to do in order to defeat the Tubby-led juggernaut they will face on Sunday?
RWB: This sounds incredibly simplistic, but Iowa needs to shoot the ball well. Iowa's field goal percentages have been pretty atrocious the last few games; they tend to have a few stretches in each game where they hit a lot of shots, but they've also been spending absurd amounts of time bricking everything in sight. That's not a viable recipe to beat a good team on the road, though. In particular, it would really help if their outside shooting could get on track. The other thing they need to do is push the tempo of the game as much as possible. Over the last four games, Iowa's half-court offense has been "hide the women and children" ugly; it helped Wisconsin and Penn State climb back into games where Iowa had established healthy leads and it was a key reason why Iowa dug such huge holes for themselves against Ohio State and Purdue (holes which they only managed to almost climb out of thanks to some easy buckets in transition). If this is a half-court game, Iowa has very little shot to win.
TDG: What are your predictions for Sunday night? Do you anticipate Iowa winning this game via tie-breaker? You guys seem to have some success on tie-breakers.
RWB: Ah, if only... The beautiful tiebreaker! I would dearly love to pick an Iowa win here (especially since they sure could use a win over a ranked opponent to boost their NCAA stock), but their road performances have been so uninspiring (although the comebacks against Ohio State and Purdue were gratifying to see, even if they did both come up short) that I just don't see it happening. Unless Iowa gets hot from downtown, I think they'll lose this one 8-10 points. Something like 72-62 Minnesota. Naturally, I very much hope I'm wrong.
And naturally I'd like to think of Ross as Nostradamus in this case. Thanks again to Ross and a reminder to everyone to check back to TDG for an WHO HATES IOWA game preview (probably coming tomorrow) and the WHO HATES IOWA Open Thread on Sunday.