Tennessee is one game away from playing in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in half a decade. But the upset-minded Iowa Hawkeyes are standing in their way.
The No. 2 seed Vols (30-5) will take on the No. 10 seed Hawkeyes (23-11) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at 12:10 PM Eastern. Iowa has already pulled off one upset in the tournament, defeating No. 7 seed Cincinnati by a score of 79-72 in the first round. The Hawkeyes trailed by as much as 13 early in the first half and trailed by 12 until a late rally before halftime to cut the Bearcats’ lead to 36-31 at the break. Iowa then found their shooting touch, connecting on over 65 percent of their shots in the second half and dumping on 48 points en route to their upset victory over Cincinnati.
The Vols, meanwhile, survived an upset scare from 15-seed Colgate on Friday afternoon. Tennessee raced out to a 9-0 lead over the Raiders and had a 16-point lead with under three minutes to go in the first half. UT led 42-30 at halftime, but Colgate quickly erased that deficit. The Raiders shot lights out to start the second half and eventually grabbed a 52-50 edge with 11:35 to go.
From there, though, the Vols buckled in and finally began to pull away.
Tennessee weathered Colgate’s hot shooting and used a couple clutch threes from Admiral Schofield late in the game to win 77-70. Colgate’s Jordan Burns finished with 32 points and nailed eight of the Raiders’ 15 three-pointers. But in the end, the Vols did enough to prevail.
Now, the Vols will face another double-digit seed intent on taking them down.
The last time Tennessee and Iowa played was in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The two teams faced-off in one of the “First Four” play-in games of the tournament, and Iowa seemed destined for victory with a 57-52 lead with four minutes to go in the game, but the Vols rallied and ended up going to overtime after Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble hit a jumper with 18 seconds to play in regulation.
Tennessee would dominate the extra period, though.
Jarnell Stokes got the scoring started with a three-point play in overtime, and the Vols held Iowa to just one point in overtime. Tennessee won 78-65 and ended up making a run to the Sweet Sixteen that year.
This year, the two teams won’t be playing for a chance to make it into the field of 64; they’ll be playing for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Tennessee vs. Iowa game in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Another Bad Match-Up
Tennessee’s previous two games have been against teams that like to shoot the three ball and are good at doing so. Can you guess what kind of team Iowa is, too?
The Hawkeyes hit 11 of their 22 three-pointers against Cincinnati on Friday afternoon, marking the 12th time this season they’ve made 10 or more threes in a game. On the year, Iowa is making 36.5 percent of their three-pointers, which is good for the 69th-best percentage in all of Division I basketball. For context, there are 353 teams in Division I college basketball.
Iowa is led by freshman wing Joe Wieskamp, who is connecting on 43.3 percent of his threes this season. Isaiah Moss is making 41.3 percent of his three-pointers, and both Nicholas Baer and Jordan Bohannon are making over 38 percent of their triples.
Against Cincinnati, Wieskamp drilled four of his six shots behind the three-point line, and 6-foot-11 forward Luka Garza was 2-of-3 from three. Garza doesn’t shoot the three a lot, but he’s effective from distance for a big man, hitting 29.6 percent of those shots. Baer was also efficient from three, hitting two of his four three-pointers.
Tennessee has struggled mightily with defending the three this season, and it’s been a major issue in their last couple games. The Vols gave up 15 made three-pointers to Auburn in the SEC Tournament Finals, and Colgate also made 15 threes against the Vols on Friday.
That’s not the only area where Iowa is a bad match-up for UT, though.
Four of the Vols’ five losses this year have come against teams inside the top-160 in adjusted tempo according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics. Auburn (158th), Kansas (65th), and LSU (64th) all run at higher tempos than most schools, and all handed Tennessee losses this year. The lone exception is the Vols’ loss to Kentucky (264th) in Lexington.
Iowa not only makes threes and attempts a lot of them (22.4 a game), but they also play at a high tempo. KenPom’s metrics have the Hawkeyes’ adjusted tempo as the 82nd-fastest in the country. They average an adjusted 69.6 possessions per game.
No matter how you slice it, Iowa isn’t a great match-up for Tennessee on paper even despite their somewhat sub-par record.
Lots of Length
Not only does Iowa present a problem from three, but they also have a lot of match-up nightmares thanks to their length and athleticism.
Iowa has sophomore forward Luka Garza who measures in at 6-foot-11, 245 pounds and can play inside and shoot outside, junior forward Tyler Cook who is 6-foot-9, 250 pounds and is a former four-star prospect who leads the Hawkeyes in scoring and rebounding with 14.6 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, and freshman guard Joe Wieskamp who is 6-foot-6, 205 pounds who is the team’s leading three-point shooter and second leading rebounder (4.9 per game).
Not only that, but Isaiah Moss (6-foot-5, 208 pounds) and Nicholas Baer (6-foot-7, 218 pounds) present match-up issues as well.
The only player under 6-foot-5 who plays significant minutes for Iowa is point guard Jordan Bohannon, but he’s dangerous in his own right. The 6-foot-1 point guard averages 11.4 points and 3.4 assists while making 38.2 percent of his threes. He played the most minutes (38) of any Hawkeye player against Cincinnati and finished with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting, adding five rebounds and four assists.
Getting to the Line
Tennessee must be wary of getting into foul trouble against Iowa, because the Hawkeyes do an exceptional job of drawing fouls.
Iowa has drawn the 14th-most fouls in men’s basketball this season, getting opponents to foul them 698 times. That’s an average of 20.5 drawn fouls per game. They’ve parlayed that into success at the free throw line as well. Iowa is averaging 24 free throw attempts per game, and they’re connecting on 73.8 percent of those shots.
Against Cincinnati, Iowa only got to the free throw line 16 times and only made 10 of them, but that’s an anomaly for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has attempted at least 20 free throws in 21 of their 34 games this season, and they’re 21-6 when they shoot the same or more free throws than their opponent. The Hawkeyes are just 2-5 when their opponent makes more free throws than them. Cincinnati, for example, only got to the line 14 times compared to Iowa’s 16.
Tennessee’s opponents this season are getting to the free throw line an average of 19.7 times a game. The Vols have been out-shot at the free throw line in all five of their losses this season, and they’ve been out-shot by a large margin. Tennessee has attempted just 80 free throws in those five games while their opponent has taken 143 shots from the charity stripe.
Reversing Their Fortunes?
Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Iowa was one of the coldest teams in the field.
The Hawkeyes started out the 2018-19 season strong and held a 16-3 record on January 20th after defeating Illinois 95-71. The Hawkeyes had stayed just inside the top 25 of the AP Poll for most of the season up to that point, and they were riding a five-game winning streak.
Then, things changed.
Iowa lost back-to-back games against Michigan State and Minnesota, then won four-straight games to get back to a 20-5 record on February 16th. That’s when the bottom fell out, though. The Hawkeyes would only win one more game in the regular season after that point, ending the season on a four-game losing streak and losing five of their last six games.
The Hawkeyes entered the Big 10 Tournament in desperate need of some wins to keep their spot in the NCAA Tournament, and they trounced Illinois in their first game. But that was the only win they would get, as they they got blown out by Michigan in their next match-up, 74-53.
Coming into Friday’s game against Cincinnati, Iowa had lost six of their last eight games after winning 20 of their first 25. The Hawkeyes beat NCAA Tournament teams such as Oregon, Iowa State, Ohio State, and Michigan, but all those wins were February 1st or earlier. Of Iowa’s 11 losses, seven came by double digits.
Was Friday’s win over Cincinnati just another example of the up-and-down play of the Hawkeyes this season, or is it a sign of a reversal of fortunes?
It’s Been a While
Tennessee hasn’t been to the Sweet Sixteen since 2014, but it’s been much, much longer for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes haven’t made it beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament this millenium. Iowa’s last appearance in the Sweet Sixteen came in 1999, and they’ve not made it to the Elite Eight since 1987.
Head coach Fran McCaffery is in his ninth season with the Hawkeyes, but this is only his fourth NCAA Tournament appearance since taking over. He himself has never made it to the Sweet Sixteen either, though he coached at mid-major schools before being hired on at Iowa. He took Siena to three NCAA Tournament appearances and got to the second round twice, made it to the Big Dance once with UNC Greensboro, and got there once with Lehigh.
Overall, McCaffery is 5-8 in the NCAA Tournament, and Friday’s win was his third in the tournament with Iowa.