1. I think the stereotype of Ivy League basketball is a slow-paced, half-court style. What tempo do the Quakers prefer and are they capable of running with an Iowa team that has exceeded 100 points in its last two games?
Josh Verlin: Well, it's a stereotype for a reason, but Penn hasn't been the typical Ivy team in that respect over the last year and a few games. The Quakers' adjusted tempo in 2011-12 was a rather plodding 62.8 possessions/game, but last year they turned that up to 68.3 possessions and this year it's above 72.5 albeit in a small sample size of games. Only eight players have been playing more than 10.0 mpg but Jerome Allen has used 15 different Quakers (Ivy Leagues don't have athletic scholarships, and thus don't have roster limits) at various points already this season; if it does turn into a track meet, Penn does have the bodies to stay fresh, though there is certainly a noticable drop-off in talent between the starters and the bench.
2. The Hawkeyes will press and pressure in the full and half courts. What kind of guards and ball handlers does Penn feature that might be able to make the home team pay for its aggressiveness?
JV: This is where things could get problematic for the Quakers. Turnovers were a big problem last year for Penn, as they coughed it up on 23.6 percent of their possessions, which ranked them 329th in the country. They've improved on that number this year, at 19.5 percent, but that's still in the bottom half of teams nationally. Senior Miles Jackson-Cartwright and sophomore Tony Hicks are both capable scorers, but I wouldn't call either one a point guard and both have their turnover issues, as does sophomore Jamal Lewis. Expect to see Patrick Lucas-Perry, Tony Bagtas and Cam Crocker fill in if any of those three (especially Lewis) are having problems. I'll talk about Hicks later on in greater detail, but suffice to say he thrives in the open court and does a great job in transition both getting to the rim and spotting up from beyond the arc.
3. I sense that this is a big game for Peter Jok in playing against his older brother. Do you feel that Dau views it the same way and wants bragging rights against his younger sibling?
JV: Well, obviously when you're playing your brother's team, there's going to be some bragging rights at stake. The only thing that really might stand in the way of that storyline is Dau Jok's minutes--through three games, he's played a total of eight minutes and scored three points. And honestly I'm not sure how much that changes against Iowa; he's a good 3-point shooter but can't really do too much else, and Penn has some much more versatile albeit younger players like Julian Harrell that they're trying to work into the rotation. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Jok brothers matched up against each other tomorrow, if only for a few minutes, but I wouldn't expect a lot of it, either.
4. Fran McCaffery is a Penn alum and a Philadelphia native. I know he probably doesn't get a lot of attention on Philly radio or in the papers, but being in basketball circles as you are, do you sense that people there are proud of what he's done in his career?
JV: Absolutely, I don't even think that's limited to Philadelphia. He's taken three different programs to the NCAA Tournament, and looks primed to get there with Iowa sooner rather than later. Obviously the success he had at Siena got him on the radar of the high-majors, and you don't have that level of success in so many different places without getting widespread respect among people who know the game. If he can win a few games in March one year, that recognition will go mainstream.
5. Who are the players to watch for Penn?
JV: It starts with a pair of sophomores, Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry. Hicks is a 6-1 scoring combo guard out of Illinois who's averaging 18.3 ppg and 3.0 apg this year. He was known primarily as a slasher but so far he's 6-of-14 from 3-point range this season, so clearly his jumper is becoming a weapon that defenses will have to respect. He's at his best in transition, so he could have a big game today if Iowa is pushing the tempo. Nelson-Henry is the opposite of Hicks--a big, 6-11 center who loves the half-court game and has a great offensive skill set around the hoop. Nelson-Henry, who's averaging 18.0 ppg and 8.7 rpg, has gotten much better with his conditioning over the last year and doesn't run the floor terribly for a big man, but certainly will benefit from a slower pace. The other two big pieces for Penn are seniors Miles Cartwright-Jackson (14.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) and Fran Dougherty (10.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg), both of whom are very talented players in their own right. Dougherty, a 6-8 forward, is a skilled offensive player who hasn't quite played up to his talent level yet this year after missing most of last season with a variety of ailments.
1. Fran McCaffery took over a team with four losing seasons in a row, and now in his fourth year seems to have turned the program around. How did he rebuild the Hawkeyes in three years? Is there a sense that this--his fourth head coaching gig since taking over at Lehigh in 1985--is his final job?
Rob Howe: I'll answer the second part first. It's a really good question. The truthful answer is that I don't know and am not convinced Fran knows right now. My sense is that it would take a very special job to lure him out of Iowa City. His oldest son is a freshman in high school on a path to play at the high-major level. The whole family has become very comfortable in the community.
As far as the rebuild, I think the key has been finding lightly recruited players and molding them into highly productive parts on a very deep roster. He also has gotten them to buy into their roles and understand that he's going to play the best guys that give him the best chance to win on a given night. The versatility of his athletes also allows him to take advantage of opponents' weaknesses.
2. So far, 10 Hawkeyes are averaging 15.3 mpg or more through Iowa's first four games. They also haven't really been challenged yet, against a fairly weak opening slate. Is that rotation a factor of playing in blowouts, or is this an expected trend?
RH: I think it's a legitimately deep team but I think some of those MPG averages will change as the season goes on. Most of the starters have sat out the majority of the second halves in the last two games. That won't be the case as the competition stiffens. I do think he'll continue to play 10 or more guys, however.
3. Looking at the roster, it would seem that the Hawkeyes have an embarrassment of height in the frontcourt. Introduce us to the Iowa forwards, and who are the other names to know?
RH: It's really a deep and versatile front court. This certainly an area where the players that start the game might not be the ones that finish it. Aaron White is one of the team's "stars" if you will. He's explosive around the rim. Melsahn Basabe has a nice mid-range game to go with an ability to attack the tin. Zach McCabe looks like a tight end but is one of the team's better 3-point shooters. Jarrod Uthoff does whatever you need and does it well. Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni complement each other well at center.
4. The Jok name is familiar to Penn fans, in the form of senior wing Dau Jok. His younger brother, Peter, is a freshman on the Hawkeyes. How has he been playing so far, and what are the expectations for this season/his career?
RH: Peter played like a lot of freshmen in the first three games. He pressed and looked tight. Last time out, he let the game come to him and settled in. He scored 12 and seemed much more relaxed. This year, I think Fran needs him to be an offensive spark off the bench, especially from the perimeter where there are still questions about consistency. Career wise, if Peter works on becoming a better defender, he could take over the starting two spot when Devyn Marble graduates.
5. Finally, what does Penn need to do to win this game (or just keep it close), and how do you see things playing out?
RH: After a scare from Nebraska-Omaha in Game 2, the Hawkeyes have played focused, team basketball. The opponent can't focus on stopping one or two players and McCaffery has been able to keep guys fresh with his depth. I think Penn needs to slow down the game. If the Hawkeyes succeed with their full-court pressure and get easy baskets, it will be a long night for the visitors. The Quakers need to force Iowa into beating them with outside shots in the half court.