Opponent: Hampton Pirates (Hampton, Va.)
Date / Time: Friday, November 14th - 9:30 PM Eastern
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa
The Iowa Hawkeyes are at a crossroads as they begin a new season without legacy icon Devyn Marble. Last season's end was cringe-inducing as a 19-6 team slumped to seven losses in its final eight games, dipping out of both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments with barely a ripple.
This is the kind of team that would be well-served with an opening game against major-conference opposition, one that would tell us something about how the team stacks up talent-wise against its mid-tier Big Ten rivals. Unfortunately, a game against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference member Hampton isn't that sort of test.
It may be, though, exactly the kind of game Iowa fans want to see.
Getting to Know Hampton
The Pirates went 18-13 last season with a 3-10 non-conference record, and their only major-conference opponent was Virginia. There were, however, several games against quality mid-majors like Quinnipiac, Delaware and William & Mary. They rallied in conference play, storming to a 13-3 mark and a CBI bid behind one of the nation's fastest offenses.
Expect more of the same this season from Hampton, as its only major loss was MEAC Defensive Player of the Year Du'Vaughn Maxwell. While Maxwell's adrenaline-pumping style will be tough to replace, junior guards Deron Powers and Brian Darden - both preseason All-MEAC selections - will help the offense stay potent. The 6 '2" Darden may struggle against bigger guards like Iowa's Peter Jok (6'6") and Josh Oglesby (6'5"), but he'll still seek his shot, whether it's at the rim or from the arc.
Another rising junior, 6'3" Ke'Ron Brown, is a contender for that defensive award that Maxwell copped last season. Brown ranked among Ken Pomeroy's top 60 in steal percentage last season, regularly shadowing opponents' top scoring threats. 250-pound center Jervon Pressley is a strong offensive rebounder. An intriguing newcomer is grad student Quinton Chievous, who left Tennessee after frequently playing out of position at power forward for coach Cuonzo Martin. The 6'6" Chievous is a physical defender who may be counted on to be the new Maxwell. If he successfully defends players like White or Uthoff without landing in foul trouble, that will bode very well for the Pirates' coming season.
Coach Edward Joyner Jr. is still missing a few pieces, notably two-sport standout Breon Key, who'll join when football season ends, and Miami (Ohio) transfer Reggie Johnson, who's eligible at the semester break. Still, the Pirates aren't likely to abandon their bread and butter: pressure defense and a hustling offense.
What to Watch For
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery appears to have 80% of his starting five set with forwards Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff, center Adam Woodbury and guard Mike Gesell. The fifth spot is still up in the air, but the Hawkeyes will use this game as a chance to tinker, experimenting with different lineups for different situations. Going big too often, though, could leave Iowa vulnerable to Hampton's desire to push tempo, so McCaffery may frequently utilize presumptive shooting-guard combatants Jok and Oglesby together. The pair have the kind of length that will give Hampton's smaller backcourt serious issues as the Pirates try to run their sets.
As for Hampton's defense, McCaffery will look to his point guards for ball security against a defense that ranked among the nation's top 15 in turnover percentage last year. Gesell wasn't prone to handing the ball over last season, but reserve Anthony Clemmons certainly was (his 31.2 turnover percentage was exactly twice Gesell's). Junior college import Trey Dickerson will also have to prove he can avoid being plundered by the Pirates.
The major concern for Iowa as the season dawns lies in finding someone (or someones) to pick up Marble's scoring slack, but this isn't a game that will tell McCaffery on whom he can rely. He'll learn more about his team's focus and killer instinct than its skill level. If he's not happy with what he discovers, that will mean that Hampton hung close and made this a game.
The Pirates have every capability of winning their conference and representing the MEAC in the NCAA tournament, but they shouldn't be able to keep up with the Hawkeyes at Carver. Hampton's reliance on depth and run-outs mirrors Iowa's, but the Pirates tended to live and die with turnovers a lot more than Iowa did last year. Hampton isn't a great shooting team and will cough the ball up itself with only slight pressure, and McCaffery has plenty of horses to bring some.
Pomeroy offers the Pirates only an 8% chance at the victory, and that seems about right. Hampton pulling the upset would take Iowa waving the white flag on the glass early and often while Darden shoots out of his mind and players like Brown and Chievous force an ugly (for a McCaffery team) number of turnovers. If all three of those happen, fear for the courtside furniture, because McCaffery will throw whatever isn't bolted down.
More likely, however, is a peaceful easy feeling for the Iowa coach as his team pulls away early in the second half and spends the final 10 minutes allowing the walk-ons to get some burn.
Iowa by 25 plus.