Iowa (7-1, 0-0) vs. Notre Dame (4-1, 0-0)
9:15 PM EST
Line: Iowa -9
Series Record: 8-5 Notre Dame
Last Meeting: 77-68 Notre Dame (1990)
The Iowa Hawkeyes have become a mainstay at the bottom of the rankings so far this season. They currently sit at #23, with a 7-1 record. They've gotten busy in the early going, due to their performance in the Battle of Atlantis, something that is significantly less cooler than its name suggests. In the quarterfinals, Iowa pulled out a tough overtime victory against Xavier, 77-74. They did so on the back of Roy Devyn Marble, who put up a game-high 30 points before leaving with persistent leg cramps. But this was no glamorous win. Iowa never led once before overtime, and almost let Xavier put them away at the end of regulation. But due to some big shots by Mike Gesell in the extra period, Iowa scraped away with a win.
However, they didn't leave the mystical undersea paradise of Atlantis with a trophy. They met a hot Villanova team in the finals, fresh off the Wildcats' victory of Kansas, and couldn't put it together for a full 40 minutes. They had an early lead, but Villanova heated up and went on a 21-2 run. Although Marble again was the leading scorer with 24 points, that was pretty much it in terms of consistent offensive output. They had enough in the tank to eventually force overtime, but scoring was few and far between, and the Hawkeyes fell 88-83.
Now that they've escaped the vengeful grasp of Poseidon and made their way back safely to dry land, they encounter the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The focal point for Notre Dame is guard Jerian Grant. He's the leading scorer for the Irish, putting up an average of 19.3 points per game. He can be a bit of a loose cannon with the ball when he's out of control, and is known for putting up some inefficient shooting numbers. But this season, Grant has been lethal, shooting 58% and not turning the ball over.
Notre Dame also has a two-headed monster at point guard that's a mix of experience and youth. Senior Eric Atkins and freshman Demetrius Jackson have looked effective when playing together, and provide stability in the backcourt. But their reliance on these guards means that they generally play small. Pat Connaughton stands only at 6'5", but plays big frontcourt minutes. He's a solid rebounder for his size, but could be pushed around by burly B1G men. They do have 6'11" Garrick Sherman manning the paint. This Michigan State transfer hasn't looked that great so far this season, due to some trouble with turnovers, but could be a tough matchup.
The key for Iowa in this game is trying to force Jerian Grant into taking bad shots. That's probably going to be a team effort, especially because Iowa plays with such a big lineup. Adam Woodbury hopefully will be able to stick Sherman, but the general height differences between the two projected starters could cause some interesting matchups. Iowa will win the height battle, but then will they be able to keep up with the smaller and quicker Irish? We do know that rebounding should be a strength for the Hawkeyes in this game. Notre Dame is 122nd in the league in rebounding, and Iowa is 6th. If they dominate the glass, they can slow down the game and keep the Irish in check.
Finding scoring from guys other than Marble is also a key. Marble could very well match Grant shot-for-shot, but that won't end well for either team. No one so far has proven they can consistently score against good teams. Aaron White will have a few inches on whoever guards him, so look for him to take advantage of that. In addition, the way the game flows will dictate how the bench will be utilized. If playing big is working, expect Jarrod Uthoff and Zach McCabe to play lots of minutes. But if the guards are running the Hawkeyes out of the gym, Anthony Clemmons will be needed to step up. That's a facet of this matchup that will be decided mid-game.
It's tough to make something out of both team's schedules so far. Notre Dame has yet to be tested, while Iowa has scraped through their tough tests on the back of one consistent scorer. This game will be a clash of styles, as the methodical Hawkeyes try to slow down the speedy Irish. This game could mean a lot for both teams come March, so expect an exciting affair in Iowa City.
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