IOWA HAWKEYES vs.
WESTERN ILLINOIS LEATHERNECKS
|TIME||7:00 pm CT|
|WHERE||Carver Hawkeye Arena|
|TV||Big Ten Network|
|STREAM||Fox Sports Live|
TALE OF THE TAPE
The AP #3 Iowa Hawkeyes -- that's so much fun to type -- get one last tune-up before the serious basketball begins, as Western Illinois makes the short trip from Macomb to Iowa City Thursday night. Tip at 7 on BTN.
The Leathernecks have yet to play a game this season, and are a complete enigma. WIU was just 5-21 last year, with two of those wins against non-Division I opposition. They won just two games in the Summit League, lost to Indiana by 33, and had just one road win. For a team named after the Marine Corps, the Leathernecks were oddly horrible at defense. They ranked among the nation's ten worst teams in every defensive metric. Much of the problem was structural: WIU had little size on the inside and two lights-out three-point shooters on the perimeter (plus two others that weren't half-bad), so they just chucked from deep and gave up points in bunches.
The coaching staff got fired, and everyone left: There is one guy left -- senior guard Anthony Jones (6'5", 190) -- who played at all last season, and he was a bench guy. Enter head coach Rob Jeter, a guy with a metric ton of Iowa ties. Jeter is the son of Evashevski-era Iowa football superstar Bob Jeter (1959 Rose Bowl MVP). He replaced former Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl at UW-Milwaukee back in 2005, after four seasons as Bo Ryan's assistant and lead recruiter at Wisconsin. He won two conference titles in eleven seasons at Milwaukee, sprung a memorable 6/11 upset of Oklahoma in the 2006 NCAA Tournament (definitely the only memorable upset of that year), and won 20 or more games five times. He was fired after the 2016 season after Milwaukee's APR fell below the threshold and they got hit with a one-year postseason ban. Since then, he's worked as an assistant to Marvin Menzies at UNLV and Richard Pitino at Minnesota.
What do you do at a rural, small-school basketball program with no players? You hit the transfer and JUCO markets hard. WIU has two Division I transfers on the roster: Tamell Pearson (6'10", 223), who started 16 games last year at UAB but averaged just 3.2 points per game, and Rod Johnson (6'7", 200), who came off a medical redshirt to make 28 starts for UT-Chattanooga with a respectable 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Will Carius, the all-time scoring leader at Pleasant Valley High in the Quad Cities, is on the roster as a grad transfer from Division III Monmouth College. There are also six new JUCO transfers on the squad, including Justin Brookens (5'9", 175) who scored 20 a game and shot 52% from three (!!!) at Iowa Lakes last year. He's going to be fun to watch.
Jeter also brought in a handful of freshmen. Of note, the Leathernecks got 6'0" point guard Marcus Watson, Jr. out of Chicago. Watson was a legit three-star recruit with offers from Illinois and Wake Forest. How did he end up in Macomb? Jeter used the oldest trick in the book: He made Watson's high school coach an assistant (there are three guys from that coach's high school program on the roster, including the UAB transfer Pearson). Ramean Hinton, a 6'5" forward out of Curie High in Chicago, didn't have quite the offer sheet as Watson but many of the same accolades; when he committed in May, he was considered the best recruit in program history.
How this all works is anyone's guess. Jeter doesn't have the full Wisconsin slow-down trait, but his teams at Milwaukee hardly pushed the pace, either. They shot a ton of threes -- his last eight teams at UW-M took at least 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc -- regardless of whether they were any good at them, so expect bombs away tonight. Other than that, there's no real way to scout a team that has thirteen new players and a new coach.
I think this WIU team is better than last year's squad, at least on paper, and with a proven coach. Western Illinois might have enough to beat that 33-point spread, but there's still enough lacking to consider this much of a threat. Pearson is the only guy on the roster over 6'8", and the only other real post, 6'8" forward Adam Anhold, didn't even get a photo on the team's website. This could be a big Garza night again; if it is, the dominoes start falling, and there's not much the Leathernecks can do to counter it.