Nebraska heads to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes this Sunday. These are two teams coming off frustrating losses to opponents many thought they would beat. Nebraska with Maryland and Iowa with Purdue.
We reached out to our sister SB Nation site Black Heart Gold Pants to get a better idea of the Husker’s upcoming opponent. Lucky for us they sent Ben Ross to help us out.
Corn Nation: Not a whole lot was expected of Iowa coming into this season by many national pundits. What were the fan expectations for this year?
Ben Ross: I think fan expectations were largely mixed. The most optimistic of fans figured a fully healthy Jordan Bohannon, an improved Tyler Cook and a defense that had the constitution of a cheese cloth would be enough to hover around .500 and be in the bubble conversation. Others, myself included, saw no reason for optimism and expected modest at best improvement from the prior year. The answer, as usual, lies in the middle.
CN: Iowa is sitting at 11-3 on the season and are sitting in the Top 25. What has lead to this years team performing so well and above many people’s expectations?
BR: Well, Iowa may be 11-3 but we’re coming off an embarrassing loss to Purdue where Iowa surrendered 52 first-half points to the Boilermakers to start off 0-3 in conference. We will no longer be in the top-25 next week, even if we beat Nebraska, so obviously we were overranked all along. The catalyst has been Connor McCaffery performing well-above expectations at point guard, easing pressure off Jordan Bohannon, who has been a disappointment this year. Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp and even Tyler Cook have exceeded expectations I’d say, but it’s been tough to assemble 40 minutes where everyone is on the same page offensively and defensively.
CN: Fran McCaffrey is in his 9th season in Iowa City. What is the general feeling among the fan base on his tenure?
BR: After last night’s showing in West Lafayette, I can tell you that patience is wearing thin for a coach that has just two tournament wins in eight seasons. There’s a chance we can squeak into the tourney this year, setting up next season where he may have his most talented roster since arriving in Iowa City.
CN: Name a few players that Nebraska fans should know about before the game on Sunday. Who are going to cause the most problems for the Huskers?
BR: Tyler Cook is averaging just under 20 points and 7 rebounds a game right now and is playing like a guy who wants a future in the NBA would. He’s been Iowa’s largest scoring threat but commits some boneheaded turnovers at times and still lacks finesse around the hoop. Joe Wieskamp is a true freshman phenom who is already shaping like who could be an Iowa great. Jordan Bohannon is someone you should be familiar with, but he’s yet to make a serious impact this year.
CN: What are three things that Iowa does really well on the court and three things that teams can take advantage of?
BR: Well, we’re really good at letting the other team score! In all seriousness, Iowa has been really good at getting to the line this year -- we’re third in the nation in attempts, getting to the line about 15 times a game and hitting them at around a 75 percent clip. Iowa can pile it on for stretches if our threes are landing, but that’s been a Bandersnatch of a choose-your-own adventure this season. If Luka Garza plays, look for him to make a huge impact in the paint and to combine with Tyler Cook for a lot of points. If he sits for the third consecutive, Iowa will be in trouble.
CN: Final question, what will happen on Sunday against the Huskers and what is your prediction for a final score?
BR: Both these teams are going to try their darndest to lose Sunday afternoon, and since this game is going to be played in front of a sleepy Carver Crowd, I don’t see home court advantage playing a huge role. If Luka Garza plays and appears to be around 80 percent, I’d expect Iowa to notch its first conference win. I’m not super enthused by Nebrasketball after their collapse against Maryland, a team I don’t think is good at all. But no Garza, no good for Iowa.
Iowa, 84, Nebraska 81