IOWA (0-0) VS. SIU-EDWARDSVILLE (1-0)
It's early November, and come Friday night, Iowa hoops is officially back. The Hawkeyes start their 2019-20 season -- one that feel especially consequential for Fran McCaffery -- with a buy game against SIU-Edwardsville.
We should probably start, then, with just what an SIU-Edwardsville is. The "SIU" is an acronym for Southern Illinois University, making SIU-Edwardsville an offshoot of the Missouri Valley program you may know. The school is located north of East St. Louis. The Cougars play in the Ohio Valley Conference, a conference frequently won by Murray State and Belmont.
The Ohio Valley is not usually won by SIU-Edwardsville, though. In fact, until 2011-12, SIU-Edwardsville wasn't even a member of the OVC; the Cougars were playing Division II hoops until jumping to Division I in 2008-09, and spent a few years as an independent before getting into their current conference. Iowa played SIU-Edwardsville back in 2010, the sixth game of McCaffery's tenure, and won by 61. The Cougs won ten games last season, which was a high-water mark for the last half-decade. Just one of those wins came against a team ranked in the Kenpom top 200, though. The program has never beaten a power conference opponent, and has never beaten a team in the Kenpom top 100.
The Cougars have a new head coach, Brian Barone. The former Texas A&M and Marquette guard had spent the previous two seasons as an SIU-Edwardsville assistant, and is getting his first shot as a head coach after 18 years as a collegiate assistant. Barone does have a bit of Big Ten experience: He was a non-bench assistant for Tom Crean at Indiana back in the late aughts. He's also the son of former Creighton and Texas A&M coach Tony Barone.
With a new coach on the sideline and a new season starting, it's always dangerous to read much into last season's performance. However, unlike Iowa, SIU-Edwardsville has technically already played a game. The Cougars defeated something called Quincy on Tuesday, and won 61-52. The best player on the court, 6'2" guard Cam Williams, scored 17 on 4/10 shooting, including 2/5 from behind the arc, and a perfect 7/7 at the free throw line. However, the rest of SIU-Edwardsville's starting five combined for just 15 points, and the team scored a sub-optimal 0.88 points per possession. Again, against Quincy.
More importantly for Friday night, SIU-Edwardsville put twelve players on the court Tuesday, not one of which was taller than 6'8". The starting lineup was Williams, 5'10" senior guard Tyresse Williford, and three 6'7" upperclassmen: Seniors Anselm Uzuegbunem and Brandon Jackson, and junior transfer Zeke Moore. Jackson, who barely played against Quincy, is probably the best of the bunch. He was one of the Ohio Valley's best players last year, ranking among the conference's top 20 in effective field goal rate, offensive rebounding, turnover rate, two-point shooting percentage, and usage rate. Moore started his career at SLU, transferred to Tulsa after a year, and has now moved back to the St. Louis area. He was a solid three-point shooter for the Billikens, but that was three years ago, and he didn't crack the Tulsa rotation in any meaningful way last season. Usuegbunem is ostensibly the center out of that group, but he has broken into double-digits twice in his career. None of them have the kind of size or production that should give Iowa's bigs much trouble.
If there is any drama in the second half Friday night, things have gone horribly wrong. Not that that's impossible -- this is Iowa hoops, after all -- but Fran doesn't really have a track record of staying close with this kind of opponent. We should get a good, stress-free look at the Hawkeyes Friday night, the last of those for a couple of weeks.