Breaking down Iowa-Tennessee

Published: March 19 2014 | 3:56 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:51 am in

I  love "A Bronx Tale." It had everything from an all-star cast to one of the more quotable moments among 1990s movies.

Lorenzo, who was played by Robert De Niro,was a bus driver spoke to his son, C, on the bus route one day through New York City. C asks Lorenzo about whether or not he could become a baseball player. Lorenzo tells C he can be anything that he wants to be. He then adds, "the saddest thing in life is wasted talent. If you don't do the right thing with that talent, nothing happens. But if you do right, good things happen."

That line could define either the Iowa or Tennessee men's basketball seasons. The Hawkeyes, once ranked 10th nationally, barely entered the NCAA tournament by sharing the 11th seed line with the Volunteers. Iowa blew out Big Ten champion Michigan by 18 points and beat Ohio State on the road by 10. The Hawkeyes were up double-digits on Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin -- all at least No. 3 seeds -- before falling apart in the second half.

Coaches, team officials and basketball fans have wondered -- most off the record -- why Iowa has underperformed this year. One team official from a prominent men's basketball program said Iowa easily was the best team in the Big Ten and was perplexed why the Hawkeyes didn't perform up to expectations. Those skeptics were reinforced late in the season when Iowa dropped six of its final seven, including back-to-back losses to Illinois and Northwestern. Iowa rolled Northwestern twice by 26 points, so that loss was perhaps the most head-shaking.

Likewise, Tennessee sits at the same disappointment table as Iowa as the teams break bread tonight in an NCAA first-round game (8 p.m. truTV). The Volunteers were one of the final six teams left out of the NCAA tournament last year, like Iowa. Tennessee returned two all-SEC-caliber players in guard Jordan McRae and forward Jarnell Stokes from a 20-win team. The Volunteers received the most votes of any non-top 25 team entering the season, doubling up even Iowa.

The season started in rocky fashion for Tennessee with a four-point loss at Xavier in the season opener. Tennessee later dropped their Battle 4 Atlantis opener to UTEP. A pair of non-conference losses to Wichita State and then N.C. State heightened the disappointment. The Volunteers continued their slide with disappointing losses to SEC middleweights Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. Entering the final stretch, the Volunteers were 16-11 and 7-7 in the SEC. Coach Cuonzo Martin, a former Purdue star, faced the prospects of a season and -- potentially -- a tenure falling apart.

The Volunteers did rally. They won their last four regular-season games, including the final three by at least 27 points. Tennessee drilled South Carolina 59-44 in the SEC Tournament opener before falling by seven to Florida in an SEC Tournament semifinal last Saturday.

Both teams are talking about fresh starts entering the NCAA tournament and a chance to wipe away disappointing regular seasons.

"For us it's definitely something new," McRae said. "Everybody's record is like 0-0. Sixty-eight teams right now are trying to do the same thing."

"Obviously the stage is a big stage, and this is an elimination setting, but as far as our preparation, you know, the coaches have built the culture of us always being diligent and focusing no matter who you play," Iowa forward Melsahn Basabe said.


KEY BATTLE: On the boards. Tennessee ranks third nationally in rebound margin at plus-8.5. Iowa ranks ninth at plus-7.4. Tennessee is one the nation's best offensive rebounding teams at 13.7 per game. Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon combine for 7.7 offensive rebounds a game.

Stokes is Tennessee's school-recorder holder with 319 offensive rebounds. Stokes was a first-team all-SEC selection with 19 double-doubles a game. He averaged 15.1 points and 11. 1 rebounds and was one of only three players nationally in major conferences with that distinction. He has 37 career double-doubles.

Stokes and Maymon are big, wide and physical in the post. They have a skill set Iowa can't match. Kentucky center Dakari Johnson said, "(Stokes) was probably the strongest player I've ever played against."

But Iowa has its advantages, too. Three different players ranked among the Big Ten's top 20 in rebounding. Two were in the top 12 for blocked shots. Gabe Olaseni was second in offensive rebounds per game with 2.6. Basabe was ninth at 1.9. The Hawkeyes ranked 19th nationally in offensive rebounding at 19.75 a game. Tennessee was 21st at 19.7.


STYLES MAKE FIGHTS. In a classic sense, the team that imposes its will, should win the game. Tennessee prefers a half-court, defensive game. The Volunteers allow 61 points a game and in their last four have given up just 47.4. The most points Tennessee have allowed is 78, and that was to UTEP at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Iowa, conversely, averaged 82 points a game and scored at least 80 points 21 times in a game. The Hawkeyes get up and down the court.


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