The Temple Owls are finally back in the NCAA Tournament after a two year hiatus, and have been awarded the #10 seed in the South region of the bracket. Though the Owls are undeniably ecstatic about their return to the postseason national spotlight, they have drawn a tough team in the round of 64, as they will be squaring off against the #7 seed Iowa Hawkeyes at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York this Friday.
Though the Hawkeyes have been ranked as high as the fourth best team in the nation this season, they have hit a wall en route to the tourney.
The Hawkeyes began the season 19-4 overall, as they headed into mid-February with an impressive 10-1 record in the highly competitive Big Ten conference. Since being ranked #4 in the nation, Iowa has gone 2-7 to close out their conference schedule and now sit at 21-10 heading into the Big Dance.
There is no doubt Iowa has had impressive offensive runs throughout the season, but for the most part, that offensive punch has been carried by just two players on the team -- senior, Jarrod Uthoff and junior, Peter Jok. As the season progressed, it had become more obvious that Fran McCaffery’s squad relied almost too heavily on the two veteran scorers of the team rather than distributing the offense throughout the entire roster. This made it easy to trap the offensive pair and force errors on the Hawkeyes.
In the first 25 games this season, when the Hawkeyes were at their best, they scored 75 or more points 23 times. Since then however, in Iowa’s most recent offensive struggles, Iowa has scored less than 70 points in three of its last six contests, which included a disappointing 68-66 loss in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to 15-18 Illinois.
In that loss to the Illini, Uthoff and Jok scored 50 of those 66 Iowa points, while the rest of the squad scored just 16. The next highest scorer on the team was freshman sixth man, Nicholas Bear, who scored just eight points off the bench.
As stated earlier, with an obvious focus of a two man offense for the Hawkeyes, it is easy to force errors when a team is playing two-on-five. The struggling Illinois team was able to do just that by forcing 18 Hawkeye turnovers. Six of the seven Hawkeyes who played had two or more turnovers in the loss, mostly due to the forceful attempts to get the ball in either Jok or Uthoff’s hands.
All this being said, Jok and Uthoff are talented players. The junior Jok averages 16.2 points per game and shoots over 40-percent from three, while Uthoff leads the Hawkeyes in scoring rebounding and blocks with 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks blocks per game.
This provides an interesting matchup for the first round game, as Temple’s top three scorers matchup similarly in size with the dynamic duo that Iowa relies on.
The Owls’ leading scorer, Quenton DeCosey stands at six-feet-five inches tall and averages 15.6 points a game for Temple while Iowa’s Jok is listed as a 6’ 6” guard.
In the pivotal front court battle, Jarrod Uthoff will probably be matched up against both Obi Enechionyia and Jaylen Bond of Temple. Uthoff, the leader of this year’s Hawkeyes’ squad is a 6-foot-9 stretch forward, who can play both inside and out. Jaylen Bond, 6’ 8” is Temple’s main rebounder and post presence averaging 10.2 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game. Enechionyia is the big man for the Owls who can stretch the floor effectively when he is making shots. The 6’ 9” sophomore is Temple’s second leading scorer at 11.2 points per game and shoots an efficient 40-percent from behind the arc.
Although those are the key matchups of the game, Temple certainly has more effective depth between the two teams. Devin Coleman, Temple’s streaky sixth man can be the x-factor in the game. If he makes threes at an efficient rate, just like the seven he made against a once undefeated SMU squad, then the Owls balanced scoring attack may be able to keep up with Iowa’s talented tandem. Add in the possibility of Josh Brown contributing a couple points on offense along with his ability to make plays without turning over the ball, and Temple’s poised squad can possibly be too much to handle for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa is a team that likes to get out and run by forcing turnovers when looking for points outside of Jok and Uthoff, but that will be tough to do against this year’s cautious Temple squad. The Owls lead the nation in taking care of the ball, at an even nine turnovers per game. With Temple’s ability to take care of the basketball, Iowa may have to settle in running their two-man half-court game between Jok and Uthoff, and if that is the case, we may be seeing the Owls matchup with Villanova in the round of 32.
Whatever the case may be, this seems to be one of the more balanced 10-7 matchups in the round of 64. Though the two teams play different styles, their weaknesses and strengths balance out. Temple may be able to stop the scoring of Uthoff and Jok, but may also find themselves struggling to put the ball in the hole at the same time. The Owls shoot a poor 40.5-percent from the field as a team and similarly so, Uthoff and Jok may have a field day against Temple’s defense. However, perhaps the balanced scoring of the Owls will be able to keep pace with the two stars, making for a competitive game throughout, and in the end, that may be what decides the game.
If one thing is for sure, it is that Temple knows how to win close games against good teams. Nail-biter games against Tulsa, Cincinnati, UConn, and Houston have proved Temple’s resilience throughout the season. For Iowa, the opposite is true. In the last five contests when the games have been decided by four points or less, the Hawkeyes have lost four of them, with the only win being a 75-71 win over Minnesota.
Overall, the way both teams seasons have been going, this one seems to be a first round game that will create some drama. The teams have contrasting strengths, but are evenly matched overall. Expect a grind it out, slugfest type of game on Friday. If Uthoff and Jok are able to get others involved in the offense, the Hawkeyes may be able pull away, but if the game is a two-possession contest with three minutes left in regulation, the Owls may have enough late-game experience to edge Iowa.
-Temple loses to Penn State in the first round of the NIT tournament