1. Iowa basketball has had a revival this season, and the team looks primed to get a solid seed in the tournament. However, I've also heard it suggested that the Hawkeyes should feel disappointed in their season, since they could have been doing even better. What's the general outlook on this team from Hawkeyes fans at this point of the season?
ROSS: It's hard to say. I think, from a big picture standpoint, it's hard not to be satisfied with where Iowa is right now. They're a top 25 team, 19-8 overall, 8-6 in the Big Ten and still in position to possibly claim a top-4 finish in the toughest conference in the land... if you had told me before the season that's where Iowa would be at the end of February, I would have taken that in a heartbeat. And this is certainly the best Iowa team in several years -- going back to the Big Ten Tournament-winning team in 2006.
But when you're caught up in the day-to-day flow of the season, it's easier to get caught up in -- and disappointed by -- the losses on a game-to-game basis. None of Iowa's losses are bad -- until Tuesdaynight's loss at Minnesota all of their losses had come against top 25 opposition and even the Minnesota loss was a close loss to a bubble team that had a staggering shooting performance at home... hardly the worst loss in the world. I think there's frustration in Iowa's inability to win a few more close games (Iowa's 4-8 in games decided by 8 points or less) or beat more ranked opponents (Iowa's 2-5 against opponents ranked at the time of the game this year), but overall this is still a good Iowa team and they're still having a good season. It's hard to be too down on that.
2. Fran McCaffrey has made a name for himself with his sideline antics this season, not unlike IU's own head coach. What do people think of Fran in his fourth year on the job? And why is telling his players to get off Twitter?
ROSS: He's telling his players to get off Twitter because there was an ugly incident last weekend involving Zach McCabe, a senior forward and key player off the bench for Iowa. McCabe has been a lightning rod for criticism among Iowa fans all year -- he plays extremely hard and makes quite a few hustle plays, but he also gives up a lot of fouls, doesn't have the quickest feet on defense, and has a very streaky outside shot. His shot has been mostly MIA in Big Ten play and he missed a potential game-tying three-pointer late in the game which seemed to be tipping point for a lot of fans; they unleashed a torrent of personal abuse and vulgar comments at him on Twitter. McCabe, understandably but unfortunately, snapped back with a vulgar comment of his own (before deleting it and apologizing but y'know -- damage done). To avoid future blow-ups and distractions, McCaffery told his players to shut down Twitter until after the season.
As for what fans of think of him... I'd say they still have an extremely positive opinion of him. There are a few complaints -- hie fiery personality is good, but occasionally the technical fouls he draws wind up hurting the team (the road game against Wisconsin being the main example of this) and I think there's some growing dissatisfaction with Iowa's struggles in close games and against ranked opponents -- but nothing significant. He still has Iowa playing better than they have in years, he still has Iowa on the cusp of their first NCAA appearance in eight years, and he still has Iowa playing a highly entertaining style of basketball. Iowa fans still remember the misery of the Lickliter tenure -- the ugly, plodding basketball, the never-ending stream of losses and player defections -- and what we have now might not be perfect, but it's a tremendous improvement on what we had then.
3. Iowa has lost its last two games coming into tonight's matchup. Could the postponed game at Assembly Hall last week have potentially thrown them off their rhythm? And what do the Hawkeyes need to do to regain momentum going into the B1G and NCAA Tournaments?
ROSS: I think the bigger problem for Iowa the last two games has been the absence of senior starting forward Melsahn Basabe, who's been dealing with an illness that's kept him largely out of action in both games. Basabe is one of Iowa's top rebounders (6.3 rpg) and he's also a solid scoring threat (7.8 ppg) and a key part of Iowa's interior defense. Frankly, they've looked a bit lost without him each of the past two games; getting him back tonight would be a big boost for Iowa.
I think the main thing Iowa needs to do to end their two game losing streak is to regain their focus on the defensive end. In part, the losses to Wisconsin and (especially) Minnesota were just the result of some impossibly hot shooting performances for stretches -- those teams were shooting better than they would in shootarounds. But there were also some issues that Iowa can fix -- there were giving up far too many open looks from deep and far too much dribble penetration. For Iowa to be successful the rest of this year -- in their remaining four regular season games, in the Big Ten Tournament, and in the NCAA Tournament -- they're going to need to buckle down on defense and get more stops. If they do that, they should be fine.
4. Roy Devyn Marble has had a tremendous season, scoring almost 17 points per game. I'm worried that his size and production could pose a serious threat to IU tonight. What do the Hoosiers need to do to stop Marble?
ROSS: Like Indiana's Yogi Ferrell, Marble has kind of been a guy who manages to get his points no matter what. He's scored double figures in every single Big Ten game this season (the only player to do so, if memory serves), even if his shooting stroke wasn't there (see: 2/9 shooting against Penn State or 3/8 shooting against Northwestern) because he's also excellent at getting to the line. The best way to slow down Marble is probably to guard him aggressively and keep him out of the paint and force him to rely on his jump shot, which may or may not be falling.
But the better strategy for Indiana is probably to worry more about slowing down Marble's compatriots than Marble himself -- after all, he's scored 45 points over the last two games and Iowa lost both of 'em. If Indiana can keep Aaron White (Iowa's second-leading scorer at 13.2 ppg) under wraps or they can keep Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby from getting hot from outside, their odds of upsetting Iowa will improve considerably.
5. While Indiana has had trouble scoring points, its defense has been fairly solid over the past month (aside from giving up 50 points in the second half at Wisconsin on Tuesday). With KenPom rating Iowa 4th in adjusted offense and 16th in adjusted tempo, how do the Hawkeyes respond if IU forces them into a grind-it-out defensive battle?
ROSS: From my perspective, the gameplan for Indiana in this game should be to duplicate what they did in their home win over Michigan earlier in the month: limit possessions (only 55 total in that game) and shoot the lights out (50% from the field, 61% from long range), limit rebounds (Michigan had 22 total, 8 offensive). But no one in Big Ten play has managed to slow Iowa's tempo that drastically. Iowa's slowest tempo games this year were a road game against Northwestern (65 possessions) and a home game against Michigan (64 possessions) -- and Iowa still won those games by a combined 44 points.
I think tempo should be less of a concern for Indiana than just shooting well -- Minnesota put up a shooting performance for the ages against Iowa on Tuesday night (63% from the field, 58% from deep and an insane 1.32 points per possession... amazingly, those stats are all after they cooled off in the second half -- their first half stats were completely brain-bustingly bonkers) and rode that to a win over Iowa; Wisconsin also had a ferociously hot shooting performance in the first half of their win over Iowa last weekend. Maybe Iowa will be worn down playing their sixth game in six days and that will make them more susceptible to a slowed down, grind-it-out gameplan from Indiana... but I'd still say the way to attack Iowa is through their defense. Iowa's offense is going to get its points -- that much is largely a given (they've been held under 70 points just three times in league play) -- but their defense can be exploited.
6. Steve Alford is still beloved in the Hoosier state, but I know Hawkeye fans have different feelings about him, and he goes by [NAME REDACTED] on your blog. With Tom Crean's struggles this year, I've heard some Hoosier fans suggest Alford as a potential future coaching candidate. Please convince them why this is not a good idea.
ROSS: Not a good idea? Ludicrous! [REDACT--]er, Steve Alford is a fine coach. He wins everywhere he goes (and he's especially renowned for his prowess in the NCAA Tournament), fans adore him, he certainly doesn't have any ugly off-court baggage with him, he has a great relationship with the media, and he has a gregarious, welcoming personality that endears him to one and all. Why, I'd say it would be damn near impossible for Indiana to make a better hire than Steve Alford. Indiana would be fools not to kick Tom Crean to the curb and hire Alford immediately.
Right now, I'd say Wisconsin is Iowa's fiercest rival in the Big Ten -- border rival, some recruiting dust-ups, both teams have players who transferred from the other team, a series of great, close games -- but if Indiana hired Alford, there's an excellent chance that the Hoosiers would rocket to #1 rival status for a lot of Iowa fans -- or at least #1A.
There are reasons why Alford failed at Iowa that have nothing to do with him -- he was brought in to replace a coach (Tom Davis) who routinely took Iowa to the NCAA Tournament but didn't make as many trips to the Sweet 16 (or beyond) as Iowa's then-athletic director (Bob Bowlsby) would have liked. Bowlsby used the expression "take Iowa to the next level" as a justification for replacing Davis with Alford and that expectation became a bit of a millstone around Alford's neck. Alford also didn't get the upgrades to Carver-Hawkeye Arena or the practice facilities that he was (apparently) promised. But, by and large, Alford's failures at Iowa were squarely his own. He didn't recruit well enough, he didn't develop this recruits nearly well enough, and far too many Iowa seasons ended without trips to the NCAA Tournament (Iowa made the tournament just three times in his eight-year tenure, and only won once game). He alienated fans with his attitude, especially during the scandal involving Pierre Pierce, an Iowa player accused of sexual assault. Alford was also an expert at blame-shifting (he was known to blame the administration for failing to support him enough, the fans for making Iowa a "football school," and his players for making mistakes in games), which didn't win him any fans, either. But, yes, by all means -- go ahead and hire him. It would be a hoot.
7. IU plays at Iowa next fall in football. I've been to Iowa City in early October and it's a wonderful time to visit. Any advice on bars to visit or sights to see for Hoosiers who are planning to make the trip?
ROSS: If you're looking for good food (and drinks) near the stadium, I'd recommend Stella's (standard bar fare, but good food and a strong drink selection) or The Wig and Pen at the bottom of the hill near Kinnick (excellent pizza). But you can't go wrong with crossing the river and checking out the downtown bar scene, either. There's a bar for almost every taste there. Brothers and The Union cater to a younger crowd; The Airliner and Sports Column are good sports bars (lots of TVs, solid bar food, and plenty of drink specials). If you're looking for something a little quieter and more low key, I recommend Mickey's, an Irish bar with a great old-fashioned bar, or Short's, an excellent burger joint owned by former Iowa kicker Nate Kaeding.
8. Dan Gable is a wrestling legend at both Iowa and Iowa State, but both schools are ranked in the top 25 in basketball this year. What sport is more popular in the winters in the state of Iowa, basketball or wrestling?
ROSS: Basketball. Wrestling is very popular in Iowa, no question -- Iowa's average dual meet attendance absolutely laps the rest of the country and events like the high school state tournament are enormously popular and well-attended. But at most Iowa might get 1-2 sellouts a year in wrestling; this year Iowa's entire slate of home Big Ten basketball games was sold out in early January. Iowa's basketball popularity dipped during the later years of Steve Alford's run and absolutely cratered during Todd Lickliter's tenure, but when the team is entertaining and they win, Iowa fans turn out in droves to support them. Iowa fans are extremely passionate about wrestling; there are just a lot more fans that care about basketball.
9. My sister went to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, so I know how creative Hawkeyes can be. Do you have any good poems or haikus about the Iowa's season so far?
Roses are red,
violets are blue,
10. One of the funniest hashtags on Twitter is #followadam_jacobi, which is named after one of your editors and often gets added to an incredulous news story. What is the backstory behind this hashtag?
ROSS: Adam Jacobi is a wild and crazy guy. You never know what sort of shenanigans he might get up to next.