IOWA (8-2) VS. WESTERN CAROLINA (3-9)
With the Iowa state championship firmly in grasp and a brutal early Big Ten season on the near horizon, the Iowa Hawkeyes take on the excellently-named Western Carolina Catamounts Tuesday night. Iowa is a massive favorite, in this and the two games to follow, and these should be little more than tune-ups.
Western Carolina is a special kind of bad. Consider this: There are 353 Division I basketball programs. Western Carolina ranks 349th or worse in these statistical categories: Block rate (2.8%, 353rd), turnover rate (26.6%, 352nd), shots blocked rate (16.2%, 351st), possessions stolen rate (13.4%, 351st), and free throw percentage (56.8%, 349th). To put it in some sort of context, the Catamounts are actually a pretty good shooting team (an Iowa-esque 52.5% effective rate from the field), but three out of every seven possessions end in a turnover or a blocked shot. That makes it really, really tough to win.
And win they have not: WCU has two wins against Division I competition this year, both against teams in the KenPom bottom 60. They have played a couple of semi-legitimate opponents close -- WCU took Belmont to double overtime and lost by just three against Charleston -- but the only Iowa comp on the schedule so far, North Carolina State, whomped them by 33.
The setup looks familiar: A post player, in 6'7" junior Carlos Dotson, surrounded by a trio of legitimate three-point shooters. Dotson is shooting a respectable 60 percent from the field this season, draws a bunch of fouls, and, at 265 pounds, presents a problem on the glass. The problem: A guy averaging 5.5 free throw attempts per game is shooting 45 percent at the line, and a guy who touches the basketball on almost every possession is turning it over in 27 percent of possessions.
Those shooters: Sophomore point guard Matt Halvorson (6'1", 170, 35% 3PP), freshman shooting guard Kameron Gibson (6'3", 180, 43% 3PP), and junior forward Onno Steger (6'5", 205, 37% 3PP) average nearly 18 three-point attempts per game between themselves and make 38 percent of them. Dotson has taken more two-point attempts than the three of them combined. They are there to spread the floor and keep defenses honest against Dotson, and they're good at it...so long as they're not turning it over, and they're always turning it over.
Western Carolina also has a Marc Gosselin, which I thought was the guy who played Zach Morris on Saved by the Bell. My bad. Zach was putting up better stats.
Iowa isn't the greatest perimeter defensive team in the world, and in a normal circumstance, that could cause some problems for the Hawkeyes here. There's no doubt that Western Carolina can shoot from three, and that they aren't afraid to do exactly that if given the opportunity. But this team is far too sloppy, and Iowa is far too ready to take advantage of that sloppiness. Get ready for the highlight reel.