The Texas Longhorns have their first true test of the year, as they take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2K Classic opener at Madison Square Garden. The Hawkeyes are a borderline top 25 team that will contend for an NCAA Tournament spot. Like Texas, Iowa is long and deep. Michael Scott approves.
6' 9" senior forward Aaron White anchors the frontcourt and is Iowa's best player. Last year, he was second on the team in MPG (28.1) and PPG (12.8) to Roy Devyn Marble, who was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft. White also led the team in RPG (6.7). He's an efficient scorer and good free throw shooter, but not a threat from deep. Pro scouts will be looking at the White versus Jonathan Holmes tape after this game.
White is flanked in the frontcourt by 6' 9" junior Jarrod Uthoff and 7' 1" junior Adam Woodbury. Woodbury is a former top 50 recruit who has gradually improved (5.7 PPG and 3.9 RPG last year), but he didn't have the same quantum leap that Cameron Ridley showed as a sophomore. Despite his height, Woodbury checks in at just 245 pounds. He's a decent jumper but can get pushed around.
Uthoff, a transfer from Wisconsin, averaged 7.6 PPG and 4.6 RPG in limited minutes last year. He has a unique skillset. Uthoff put up better rate stats in defensive rebounding and shotblocking than the taller Woodbury, but also shot 42.5% (17-40) from distance, albeit in a small sample size. Uthoff has continued the hot shooting this year, hitting 6 of 10 from 3 in two games.
6' 10" senior Gabriel Olaseni is the team's best shotblocker. He timeshares with Woodbury. So far this season, Olaseni has notched 26 points, 18 rebounds, and 6 blocks in just 37 minutes of play. He may be Iowa's best option to match up with Ridley, while Woodbury tackles Prince Ibeh. 6' 6" sophomore Peter Jok and 6' 8" freshman Dom Uhl round out the frontcourt rotation.
At point guard, 6' 2" junior Mike Gesell leads the way. Though he averaged just 3.9 APG last year, Gesell was great taking care of the ball. His assist rate was 28.6%, combined with a low turnover rate of 15.6%. Iowa is looking for him to score more consistently as an upperclassman, but Gesell hasn't quite gotten on track yet. 6' 1" junior Anthony Clemmons pairs with Gesell on the perimeter. Clemmons can also handle the rock but has taken on the backcourt scoring role early this year.
Off the bench, 6' 5" senior Josh Oglesby is a 3-point specialist. He shot 31-77 from distance last year and attempted just 33 other field goals inside the arc. The last guy in the rotation is 6' 0" sophomore Trey Dickerson, a juco transfer who backs up Gesell.
Iowa presents a great matchup for Texas, as the Hawkeyes are sort of a Kentucky-lite. Iowa has a deep bench and will rotate guys frequently. They like to run, and to the extent that Texas can keep this a one-way transition game with Isaiah Taylor leading the break, the better. Returning to the "that's what she said" land of jokes, Iowa's impressive length also poses an interior threat to Texas. Despite the height advantage, Iowa was a mediocre defensive team last year. The Hawkeyes don't force turnovers and don't have a commanding defensive presence in the backcourt. Early this season, Texas has been unsurprisingly good at crashing the boards and surprisingly good at shooting the rock. If the Horns continue to do both, they should win.
The game is tonight at 6pm on ESPN2. Hook 'em.