By: Brad Fuson
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa finds themselves paired up with the Tennessee Volunteers, but may be lucky to be playing at all. After yet another crushing defeat, this time in the first round of the Big Ten Conference Tournament, the Hawkeyes were selected to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. Though the work isn't over yet; they must first win a play-in game to truly make the "Big Dance".
It was the same old song and dance against Northwestern: slow offensive start, sloppy defense, and being outhustled on both ends of the floor. The Hawks did themselves no favors by dropping the game, but look to re-group against a tough Tennessee team Wednesday night (TruTV, 9:10 EST). In doing so they'll aim to limit the Volunteers to under 40% shooting from deep; a task the Hawkeyes haven't been able to accomplish since this losing skid started.
The Vols boast a slightly better record (21-12) than the Hawks (20-12), but have also had a disappointing season. They're led by guard Jordan McRae and forward Jarnell Stokes who average 18.6 and 14.7 points respectively. The duo has similar experience to that of Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White of Iowa, being seniors and juniors, but the games of the two big-men differ greatly.
Stokes uses his large, powerful frame to bang on the low block and clean up the glass – averaging 10.3 boards per game.
White on the other hand relies on length and finesse packaged into a versatile inside-outside game. White has the advantage as a playmaker, but Stokes is able to throw around all 260 of his pounds to physically dominate the opposition. With McRae and Marble the closest to a "sure thing" for either squad, they essentially cancel each other out leaving these two forwards as keys to success for their teams.
One thing both teams lack is a superstar with lottery pick potential; something like a Chris Paul for instance. Now, of course any collegiate team in the country could use CP3; that's obvious, so what role does he have in this game? The Los Angeles Clippers point guard took it upon himself to wish Iowa coach Fran McCaffery's son, Pat, the best of luck with his pending surgery. 13-year-old P-MAC – as the team calls him – will be undergoing surgery to remove a thyroid tumor in Iowa City Wednesday morning.
Fran plans on being in Dayton in plenty of time for the game after spending this morning with Pat in Iowa City. While the situation certainly is tragic and untimely, there's a silver lining to every cloud. Iowa senior Marble said at a press conference Tuesday that the whole team has rallied behind the situation and it's motivated them to play even harder. Tennessee players and coaches have shown support through social media and at the public press conferences. Regardless of the outcome of the game this is a grave reminder that sports are only a part of life, not life itself.
My prediction: Iowa – 68 Tennessee – 66
Fight! Fight! Fight! for IOWA!