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Behind Enemy Lines: Iowa Hawkeyes

Harrison Starr from Black Heart Gold Pants answers some questions about the Hawkeyes for us.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Today we are joined by Harrison Starr (BoilerHawk) from Black Heart Gold Pants. He was kind enough to answer some questions about the Iowa Hawkeyes before tonight’s game.

1. Iowa has struggled on the defensive end this season. Where do those struggles come from?

Oh man, where to start?! The best place is probably that the roster isn’t really set up to play much defense with two freshman seven-footers (Luka Garza and Jack Nunge) looking like baby giraffes on that side of the court. I have faith they’ll figure it out defensively but am pretty confident it won’t be this year.

There’s also been a lack of perimeter defense with Jordan Bohannon being undersized and lacking the requisite quickness to keep pace with a lot of Big Ten-caliber point guards. He seemed to turn a corner against Maryland, which was easily his best defensive game. One could tell he was absolutely gassed on offense as the game wore on and the lack of a super credible backup (Christian Williams transferred at the eleventh hour before the season) means he has to find ways to preserve energy.

To put a bow on the individuals lacking, the whole roster is just mismatched for today’s game. Fran McCaffery has rotated about five or six post players and gotten creative by regularly putting Nunge at the 3 and Cordell Pemsl at the 4. Neither are super quick and regularly get blown by in Iowa’s zone. Added to the lack of depth at guard - especially a lockdown defender - and it’s a recipe for disaster.

2. Tyler Cook is scoring 14.7 a game on a healthy 58% rate. How does he look to score his points?

Cook has been one of the few bright spots on this team and looks to score in a variety of ways both inside and out. He’ll use his size to play through smaller defenders and quickness to blow by bigger ones, both in the post and on the perimeter. He’s even added a solid 15-foot jumper.

The more I’ve looked at his stat line this year, the more I’ve been perplexed: his shot attempts - and minutes - haven’t really increased since his freshman season like they probably should. The biggest difference is free throws, where he’s up 10% on another 1.5 attempts.

3. Who are some other players Illinois fans should be aware of going into this game?

Jordan Bohannon is definitely one. He’s been the ire of tons of Hawkeye fans who think he is too slow/not a good enough passer/has too many defensive woes. But if he is feeling it from deep, he can light up the scoreboard. He’s averaging 12 points and 5 assists (on 44% shooting from deep) which are completely respectable numbers, especially considering he is playing with a defender in his hip pocket for most of the game. Ideally, he is probably a great third option on offense.

For a couple others, I’ll add two additional starters in Isaiah Moss and Luka Garza. Moss has been super hot and cold this season and when he gets it going, he can keep Iowa in a game single-handedly. Garza has been able to get his own shot pretty well in the post and can stretch it to three, if necessary.

I’ll add Maishe Dailey as a wildcard. He’s been Iowa’s best bench player and I expect Fran to lean on him with the perimeter-oriented team they’ll face tonight.

4. Many pegged Iowa to have a bounce-back season in 2017-18, but after a 9-9 (0-5) start, that doesn’t look like it will be the case. What has gone wrong, or maybe what hasn’t gone right for that to happen?

Oh man, lots of things. While I’m certainly disappointed about how this season has transpired, perhaps my biggest learning was just that expectations were too dang high. It’s not as if they’ve crumbled under them but they just weren’t quite ready to make the step. I detailed the defensive woes above, but I’m really concerned about how Illinois might turn Iowa over. It was an old habit they’ve mitigated of late but the Illini are a team who can make turnovers rear their ugly head.

They showed a lot of heart against Maryland which - believe it or not - was a step in the right direction. If they can keep sustaining those types of efforts, they’ll string together a winning streak sooner or later.

5. Prediction for the game.

I can’t in good faith pick the Hawkeyes tonight. Though Iowa has a winning record in Champaign (3-2) since Fran took over, it still feels like a house of horrors, of sorts.

Plus, I’m still scarred by the Orange Krush showing up during the nadir Lickliter days.

Illinois 80-70

Thanks again to Harrison for joining us.