SEATTLE - Iowa's meeting with Davidson Friday featured teams in stark contrast. The Hawkeyes' lopsided victory set up a collision of similar looking combatants.
Seventh-seeded Iowa faces No. 2 Gonzaga Sunday (6:10 p.m. CT, TBS) here at Key Arena for a spot in the Sweet 16. UCLA awaits the winner in the NCAA Tournament South Regional at Houston's NRG Stadium Friday.
The Hawkeyes manhandled Davidson, 83-52, for their first NCAA victory in 14 years and it came by the largest margin in school history. They took advantage on their superior size on both ends of the court in holding the Wildcats to their lowest point output of the season.
That height advantage disappears against Gonzaga. While the Bulldogs could be considered offensive-oriented and Iowa leans on defense, physically, the teams are more similar than different.
Like the Hawkeyes, Gonzaga relies on balance and depth, making it tough to key on stopping one player. Starters Kyle Wiltjer (a Kentucky transfer/16.9 PPG), Kevin Pangos (11.7), Przemek Karnowski (11.0 PPG) and Byron Wesley (10.7) all average double figure scoring. Nine different Bulldogs log at least 10 minutes an outing.
Iowa's front court of Adam Woodbury (7-foot-1), Aaron White (6-9) and Jarrod Uthoff (6-9) towered over Davidson, who countered with their tallest starters being 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. The Hawkeyes enjoyed a 46-30 rebounding advantage and scored 36 points in the paint.
Karnowski (7-1) and Wiltjer (6-10), along with 6-10 reserve, Domantas Sabonis, the team's fifth-leading scorer and top rebounder, pose a stiffer interior challenge. Similarly, Pangos (6-2) and Wesley (6-4) match up well with Iowa's starting back-court of Mike Gesell (6-2) and Peter Jok (6-6).
For the second game in a row, the Hawkeyes face an opponent that likes to keep the scoreboard operator busy. Gonzaga ranks seventh nationally in points per game (79.3), a spot previously held by Davidson, which dropped to ninth (79.0) after running into Iowa.
The Bulldogs also lock down defensively, holding the opposition to 61.3 PPG, 50th in the country. Iowa, known for defense this year, is 54th (61.6), while it's 102 in scoring (69.8).
You might think it's comparing apples to oranges statistically. The Big Ten dwarfs the West Coast Conference. Analyst Ken Pomeroy shows that the numbers could be reliable as he ranks Gonzaga's strength of schedule eighth nationally while the Hawkeyes are 18th.
"The days of anyone even remotely trying to refer to them as a mid-major program is somebody that clearly not tuned into the college basketball world," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said.
These teams should be motivated with something to prove. Iowa last reached the Sweet 16 in 1999 and although it's the Bulldogs' 17th trip in a row to the NCAA Tournament, they have failed to advance past the Round of 32 during the last five years.
"I don't know about getting over the hump. We have done it many times in this program, so for us it's about we need to play better," Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said. "We need to play better on the defensive end Sunday because of all the teams this weekend I thought Iowa probably had the most impressive performance."
Records, Rankings, RPI: The Hawkeyes are 22-11, unranked and finished 43rd in the RPI. Gonzaga stands at 33-2, No. 7 in both major polls and at 8 in the RPI.
Series: Iowa holds a 2-0 advantage in the series. It won, 62-40, in Iowa City during the '84 season and went to Spokane and claimed a 84-64 decision two years later.
Statistical Leaders: Scoring - Aaron White, Iowa, 16.3 PPG; Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga, 16.9. Rebounds - White, Iowa, 7.5 RPG; Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga, 7.1. Assists - Mike Gesell, Iowa, 3.9 APG; Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga, 5.0.
Common Opponents: Iowa and Gonzaga each played North Dakota State and Pepperdine this season.
The Hawkeyes dumped NDSU, 87-56, in Iowa City on Nov. 17. The Zags knocked off the Bison, 86-76, here Friday night in the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa stopped Pepperdine, 72-61, Nov. 24 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Gonzaga topped the Wave three times in WCC action with the average margin of victory being 9.3 points.
Skinny: Iowa comes into Sunday winners of seven of its last eight games. The Hawkeyes are hot. They'll need the confidence built up during the run.
We reviewed statistics leading off this piece. Again, the teams match-up well in terms of height and skill set.
Gonzaga, interestingly enough, is the name brand here. The Bulldogs are favored by six points and a lot of "experts" pick them to crash the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Then again, a lot of those same analysts selected Davidson to erase Iowa. The Hawkeyes made them look bad.
That point spread is based on public perception more than the comparison between these teams. Despite being in the Big Ten, Iowa is largely unknown on the national landscape.
These teams are evenly matched after playing tough schedules. It's more of a toss-up than the average fan thinks.
Gonzaga will enjoy an advantage in support with Key Arena being four hours from its Spokane campus. We'll see if the Hawkeyes can close that gap if the Northern Iowa crowd gets behind them. The Panthers play Louisville in the game that follows here.
The Zags will want the game to be more finesse while Iowa pushes for a physical encounter. How the officials call the action could be crucial.
The referees have a tendency to let the players decide things in the NCAA Tournament. I think that favors the Hawkeyes.
Prediction: IOWA 76, Gonzaga 75