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Friday, December 02, 2005
Hawkeye Challenge Starts Tonight
Iowa vs Fairfield
8:11 pm CST

Iowa's annual home tournament gets underway at 5:45 tonight with a matchup between Tulane and Valparaiso. The lucky winner will know a day earlier that they'll leave Iowa City with only one loss. C'mon, we've all come to learn that major conference teams don't lose at their own tournaments (*cough, cough*), and this weekend will be no different.

Coach Alford, like any other coach, takes a more modest approach, bringing up Fairfield's recent three point loss to the Big East's Providence and the tournament history of both Tulane and Valparaiso. Nice spin coach, but PC isn't exactly a power team this year, Valpo's vaunted tourny history includes one win (but what a win it was....remember Bryce Drew in 1998?), and Tulane's last NCAA tournament victory came in 1995. Tradition is nice, but it doesn't do a lot for any of these teams this weekend. [But I'll give Tulane a free pass from criticism this weekend - they were one of the New Orleans teams displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Susan Harman has more.]

Back to Fairfield, Iowa' opponent tonight. They're coming off a decent run in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, finishing in the top three for three straight years. Unfortunately, the outlook isn't so rosy this year. They lost Deng Gai, the nation's top shot blocker (per game) last year and the MAAC's defensive POY for each of the past three seasons. He leaves a big hole to fill, as Fairfield's biggest regular this year, Marty O'Sullivan, stands 6-7, 230. Fairfield has responded by jacking up more threes - 30% of their attempts were threes last year; the figure is 38% through three games this year.

If O'Sullivan is the biggest guy on the team, the rest can't exactly be giants either -

G - Terrence Todd, 6-0
G - Jonathan Han, 6-0
G - Michael Bell, 6-4
F - Alvin Carter, 6-4
F - Marty O'Sullivan, 6-7

The bench doesn't look much bigger. Danny Oglesby (6-3) and Michael Van Schaick (6-2) are the only others averaging 10 mpg. As expected, Fairfield is getting beaten pretty badly on the boards - Providence grabbed 48% of their offensive rebound opportunities against the Stags.

Anybody remember Michael Bell? He played at Marshalltown and was first team all-state in 4A back in 2002. I'm sure Larry Morgan and Mac McCausland will bring him to your attention tonight, should you be watching from home. Bell's reputation is the designated shooter, and he has a decent 37% career 3pt%, though he's off to a Horner-esque start at 6 for 21 (29%) so far.

Facing an undersized squad should give Iowa a great opportunity to re-establish their inside game tonight, which has been noticably absent in the games against ranked teams. Kentucky, Texas, and NC State held Iowa to 42, 45, and 33% shooting on their two-point shots, respectively. There were a lot of shots swatted by that trio's assortment of trees, as well as a lot of bunnies missed by Iowa. It's hard to imagine the former will be a factor tonight. I'd expect Greg Brunner to improve on the .310 FG% he posted over his last three games.

The bigger issue on many fans' minds seems to be the dismal three-point shooting of Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner. Maybe they'll get a chance to work on that tonight, but my guess is that Iowa will just pound away inside against Fairfield's dimunitive roster.

One final thought (and feel free to comment on this) - anyone have a guess as to what the crowd will be like this weekend? It was awesome having the Hawks Nest filled from top to bottom on Wednesday, and I'm hoping the crowd's intensity of that game's final few minutes, combined with the win, left a good taste in everyone's mouth and encourages them to come back for some of these less exciting games. I know I'll be there.
You really don't want that ticket, do you? :)
I plan on coming down for the game, but I will need to find tickets, any suggestions?
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