Thursday, November 03, 2005
Opening Day (Sort Of)
This post is a little late, as it's already game day, but I figured I should break my posting fast with baby steps, rather than try to take on too much immediately. You have, after all, heard the fable of the snake that tried to swallow the alligator?
After several months of waiting for basketball to resume and ignoring the existence of the football team (maybe that's just me), it's finally time to see Iowa take on a squad of players in something resembling an official game. Not a moment too soon, I might add, as I've actually been taking an interest in the NBA in recent weeks.
Iowa opens its exhibition season tonight at 7:05 in Carver-Hawkeye against Brock University from Ontario. Much is expected of Iowa this year, as you no doubt know by now - most pundits have them tabbed as a top 25 team who should challenge for the upper tier of the Big Ten and a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament. The exhibition games, along with the other cupcakes typically in the early going, are a good chance to feel out the team. You can see who has improved, which lineups are most effective, what roles certain guys can handle, how the team responds to certain offensive/defensive sets, etc. Since Iowa returns four starters and a veteran team, they have fewer questions than most, but tonight will still provide an opportunity to observe several topics worth examining.
Can Iowa stop a good post player? Iowa's starting frontcourt was vulnerable to all kinds of big men last year. Brunner lacked the height to challenge tall guys, and at 260 lbs, he didn't have the quickness to keep up with more nimble players. Erek Hansen could block a shot from anyone, but couldn't keep anyone with bulk off of the boards. The big guys should get their first decent test tonight in Brock's leading scorer, Kevin Stienstra. He's only 6-8, but has used his 250 pound frame to his advantage in shooting 60% and grabbing 10 rebounds per game in Brock's first nine contests (though his reb% of 13.6 is less than gaudy). With names like Paul Davis, Marco Killingsworth, D.J. White, Terence Dials, Courtney Sims, James Augustine, etc, etc, etc, waiting further down the line, it's important for Iowa to establish some method for slowing down the big guys early in the year.
How much can Tony Freeman contribute? Iowa has three very talented players on offense in Jeff Horner, Adam Haluska, and Brunner, but no other options emerged last year, which won't be good enough for Iowa to play deep into March this year. Mike Henderson is expected to start the year in the backcourt with Horner, but he was little better than a black hole on offense last year. For you baseball geeks, Henderson was the Christian Guzman of possession users (as in no bang for your buck). He was like a Pierre Pierce-lite - good defense, lots of turnovers, decent rebounding, but without the actual made shots. Granted, there were signs of improvement by the end of the year, and last year was Henderson's first shot at big minutes, so I should cut him some slack, but it will be nice if Freeman can challenge him for some of those backcourt minutes. Iowa could really use a penetrator in this spot, but since Henderson's passing generally renders his driving useless, it would be nice for Freeman to step up before Big Ten play starts. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Will Greg Brunner look for points further from the basket? As Iowa's only post threat on offense, Brunner generally stayed close to the basket last year. He displayed the ability to consistently hit the three-pointer during summer play, and his size dictates that he needs to improve his perimeter skills to have any shot at a professional basketball job next year, so it's likely we'll see more outside jump shots from Greg this year.
What role will Alex Thompson fill? Multiple roles? The sophomore is expected by many to see more minutes at both forward spots this year. He's tall enough to help out inside, and has touch to handle the perimeter. Improvement from Thompson will go a long way toward providing the depth that concerns so many preseason analysts. How fun (and slow) would an all-Iowa 1-4 lineup of Horner, Haluska, Thompson, and Brunner be?
Other Big Ten Openers
There are two other games happening in the Big Ten tonight.
Illinois vs Illinois Wesleyan
Penn State vs Lock Haven
Both of those teams have several roster questions as well. Penn State is mixing in a few relatively unknown foreign recruits, and Illinois will experiment with ways to make up for 3/5 of the lineup that got it to the national championship last year.