If there are more beautiful places in the world to play basketball games I would love to see them. Iowa travels to Paradise Island in the Bahamas to compete in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament which includes the likes of Kansas, Wake Forest, Villanova, USC, Tennessee, UTEP and their first round opponent: Xavier. The Hawkeyes sit at 5-0 thanks in part to a hilarious schedule (the best team they've beat is UNCW, who has an RPI of 112) and steady play from Devyn Marble, Aaron White and freshly eligible Jarrod Uthoff.
If you haven't watched Iowa play all season I'll break it down for you in a few short bullet points:
- All five starters are back: Mike Gesell, Devyn Marble, Aaron White, Melsahn Basabe and Adam Woodbury.
- In fact, the only scholarship senior to graduate last season was Eric May.
- Jarrod Uthoff, the transfer from Wisconsin, is usually the first player off the bench.
- The only recruit signed for 2013 was Peter Jok, who some considered one of the best prospects in the nation (and better than Jabari Parker, apparently) before blowing out his knee.
- No, Adam Woodbury still cannot dunk and yes he still has little bird arms.
Statistically, the Hawkeyes are one of the most dominant teams in the nation. They're out-rebounding, racking up assists, playing excellent defense, forcing turnovers and forcing opponents into submission with their depth. Iowa is capable of going 10 deep and getting excellent play off their bench, especially from the aforementioned Uthoff. But before I list a bunch of impressive statistics I should remind you: they've played no one.
And it hasn't been all smooth sailing. Iowa continues to struggle shooting three pointers and is missing a true presence behind the arc. Their problems were never more apparent than when they faced the University of Nebraska at Omaha and shot a horrid 21% from deep. On the year the Hawkeyes are shooting 35.4% from three and that percentage is likely skewed due to a couple of "stronger" performances against UMES and Abilene Christian.
Xavier is the toughest non-conference opponent the Hawkeyes have faced thus far and will arguably be their most difficult matchup in non-con play (unless they should advance in the Tournament). The last time the two teams met was back in 2010, when the Musketeers won 86-73 in the Paradise Jam. Unlike Iowa, Xavier has played a relatively solid non-conference schedule to this point and has wins over Tennessee, Morehead State and Miami (Ohio). Iowa lacked a true signature non-conference win last season so if they're going to make the dance in 2014 they'll probably want to beat a solid Xavier team.
The Musketeers are led by sophomore point guard Semaj Christon who is averaging 16.3 PPG and is on the floor for over 35 minutes. Christon presents a unique problem for Iowa, who has struggled over the past couple seasons defending an explosive point guard. To quote Xavier assistant coach Travis Steele after watching him in practice:
Man is this kid fast...I thought he had John Wall speed, Rajon Rondo speed and great size. I think Semaj just had to be harnessed a little bit and be molded.
Well, that's not terrifying. At all.
The Four Factors:
Statsheet's "four factors to winning" has Iowa as a favorite due to their superior ball security, offensive rebounding and free throw rate. While Xavier is the better shooting team it appears that Iowa picks up more second chance opportunities and gets to the line more frequently.
Semaj Christon and whoever is guarding him. Probably Mike Gesell.
What to Expect:
A high scoring fast pace game with a whole lot of free throw shooting. I expect Iowa to struggle with Christon and the Musketeers to struggle with Iowa's depth. In the end, I think it's the depth that makes the difference. Iowa wins by 8.