2019 NCAA TOURNAMENT

Tennessee is huge barrier between Iowa men's basketball and Sweet 16

Iowa's second-round NCAA Tournament foe is quite good in a myriad of ways

Iowa's Luka Garza speaks to reporters following Friday's NCAA Tournament first-round win over Cincinnati at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa's Luka Garza speaks to reporters following Friday's NCAA Tournament first-round win over Cincinnati at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Iowa’s NCAA second-round men’s basketball tournament history under Fran McCaffery is this:

87-68.

In 2015, No. 2-seed Gonzaga beat the Hawkeyes in Seattle, 87-68. In 2016, No. 2-seed Villanova beat the Hawkeyes in Brooklyn, 87-68.

Sunday, Iowa faces No. 2-seed Tennessee. It isn’t hard to envision 86-67 III if the 10th-seed Hawkeyes don’t follow up on their 79-72 first-round win over Cincinnati with a performance as good if not better.

“They’re old and they beat people up,” South Carolina Coach Frank Martin said about Tennessee. “That’s what they do.”

This team is a dynamo. The Volunteers are 30-5, and all five losses were away from home against teams that are No. 5-seeds or better in the NCAA Tournament. Two went to overtime.

Entering the NCAA tourney, the Vols were third in the nation in assists-to-turnovers ratio, fourth in assists per game, sixth in blocked shots, seventh in field goal percentage, 17th in free throw percentage.

They outscore their foes by 13 points a game. They are quite good.

“Very mature, very talented, powerful,” said Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw.

“They’re balanced. They’re not relying on one or two guys carrying them. A lot of people can score.”

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Five Vols average at least 10.6 points. The leader is 6-foot-7 junior forward Grant Williams, the first player to repeat as Southeastern Conference Player of the Year since 1994.

Williams averages 18.7 points and 7.5 rebounds, and that doesn’t fully tell his story. No junior in the nation has as many career free throw attempts. He has 108 assists and 50 blocked shots this season. He makes 56.6 percent of his field goal tries, 82.3 percent of his foul shots. He has a team-high 38 steals.

And he’s just one player.

Admiral Schofield, a 6-6 senior guard, joined Williams on the All-SEC first-team. He scores 16.3 points a game and is one of three Vols averaging at least six rebounds. He also makes 41.2 percent of his 3-pointers, and shoots almost five per game.

Junior guard Jordan Bone averages 13.5 points and 5.9 assists. Kyle Alexander, a 6-11 center, has 60 blocks.

“Grant Williams does a lot of things,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said. “Same thing with Schofield, Bone as well. They just have a lot of guys who do a lot of different things.”

“They’re going to rebound,” said Hawkeye center Ryan Kriener. “They’re going to take care of the ball. They’re not going to give you those easy possessions when you can get a quick 2 or a cheap 3 or something like that. They’re really sound defensively. They have an interior shot-blocking presence. They’re strong.”

Have you heard enough?

OK, how about this: Last year, third-seed Tennessee lost to Loyola in the second round, 63-62. Thus, the Vols have zero complacency.

“It’s definitely something you remember,” Bone said.

So what about Iowa? The 23-11 Hawkeyes got the full attention of Tennessee Friday by beating 24th-ranked Cincinnati in a pro-Bearcats environment.

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Iowa did a lot right in the second half. Like making 7 of 11 3-pointers to finish 11-for-22.

Tennessee’s last two opponents — Auburn in the SEC tournament title game and Colgate in the first round of the NCAAs — each made 15 3s against the Vols.

“The last two opponents,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said, “they were going to live on that 3-point line. I don’t feel that Iowa feels they have to live back there.

Kriener said he thinks this game “might be in the 100s.”

“We’re typically very comfortable getting into a shootout,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said.

“Normally I would say if the game can be in the 90s we’d be happy about that. But sometimes you’ve got to be careful, especially when you’re playing a team of this caliber.”

Iowa crossing into the Sweet 16 for the first time in the last 20 years “would be tremendous,” McCaffery said. “We’ve come close. We all know how hard it is.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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