Sioux Falls, SD – The Iowa men’s basketball team (7–6) will look to extend its winning streak to a season-long four tonight when they take on Colorado (8–3) tonight in a neutral site game from the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The Buffaloes have long been one of the more consistent programs in the Pac-12 Conference but have struggled in recent years, missing the NCAA Tournament two out of the last three years, and are off to an uninspiring start to the 2017 season. Colorado holds just one win over a team in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s advanced college basketball analytics – Mercer, at #96. Colorado’s three losses have all been by double digits, to Colorado State, Xavier, and San Diego.
The Hawkeyes, meanwhile, have seemed to turn a corner after a rough end to November and beginning to December. Against admittedly sub-par competition, Iowa has notched three straight wins, their first stretch of wins that long since the first three games of the year. Usually, the last few games before the New Year rolls around are set for more “buy games” against weak competition, but this year Fran McCaffery and the Hawkeyes chose to challenge themselves with a neutral site game against a Power 5 opponent. Even if both teams are having down years, the matchup is still compelling.
Colorado’s best player is freshman guard McKinley Wright IV, a quick, elusive scoring point guard with good hands and a great shot. He’s averaging 16.6 points per game to lead the Buffaloes, as well as sitting second on the team in rebounds and leading with 4.5 assists per contest. Rotating with Wright in the backcourt are Deleon Brown and Dominique Collier, who average 7.2 PPG and 6.8 PPG, respectively.
Players to watch in the frontcourt for Colorado are Namon Wright and George King. King, a third-year starter, is putting up 14.6 points and leads the team with over 8 boards a game, while Wright is putting up 11.5 PPG himself. Still, both players are under 6-foot-7, so there’s room for the Hawkeyes larger guys to try and expose them.
Iowa has really struggled at times on defense this season, but Colorado has done the same on offense – per KenPom, they have the 130th-ranked offense in the country. The Buffaloes are an average shooting team, and turn over the ball at a very high rate – 228th in the country. The Hawkeyes have yet to see freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge step up against a power conference team this season, but both of them will have a chance to shine with a weak Buffaloes offense in front of them.
Defensively, Colorado plays hard, but focuses on slowing offenses down. They run at an average tempo, but on defense, they almost never force turnovers or allow offensive rebounds. For a Hawkeye team that struggles with turning the ball over, this is a positive. On the other hand, the Buffaloes are top-100 in the country in opponent’s effective field goal percentage. Iowa shouldn’t expect to turn the ball over much, but will have to take good shots if they want to score, as offensive rebounds will not be plentiful.
Ultimately, Iowa should have the size and skill advantage to prevail over Colorado, although perhaps this game would have been more fun three or four years ago.
Prediction: Iowa wins, 75–68.