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Brown: Time to find out how good the Iowa men really are

[ 0 ] November 27, 2013 |

Just what kind of men’s basketball team does Iowa have? I’m curious to find out.

The Hawkeyes have started the season with five victories. But all were against teams that stand 202nd or worse in the Pomeroy Basketball Rankings, an analytical breakdown of 351 Division I teams that provides a more detailed read on team strength than the Associated Press or USA TODAY Coaches’ poll.

Those five victories have come by an average of 38 points a game.

It’s time for the Hawkeyes to lick the frosting off their fingers and play some real games. Enter the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, which starts Thursday for Iowa with a 6 p.m. first-round game against Xavier (5-0).

With expectations back to being high in McCaffery’s fourth season, the deep and experienced Hawkeyes have looked like an NCAA team while feasting on an early diet of cupcakes.

With expectations back to being high in McCaffery’s fourth season, the deep and experienced Hawkeyes have looked like an NCAA team while feasting on an early diet of cupcakes.

“With all due respect to the five teams we just played,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said, “we’re stepping up in class with this group coming up.”

The Musketeers are ranked 29nd by Pomeroy. Potential opponents in the eight-team, three-game field include Kansas (No. 4), Villanova (No. 22) and Tennessee (No. 39). Iowa is currently 15th.

“We think we’re good,” McCaffery said. “Let’s see how good we are. And what we have to fix.”

After the business trip in Nassau, it’s back home for a game against Notre Dame (No. 57 in Pomeroy) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday.

“We’ll have a better barometer of what this team will look like, and what the future holds for us,” forward Aaron White said.

The Battle 4 Atlantis provides Iowa an opportunity to polish its NCAA Tournament résumé, one that’s been in mothballs since 2006. That’s also the last time the Hawkeyes were ranked in either of the major polls until this season. Iowa enters its tropical road trip ranked 23rd in both the AP and coaches polls.

“I just want to make sure we continue to get better,” McCaffery said. “I feel like we’re playing very well. But again, we’ve beaten teams that everybody expected us to beat. So now we’re playing teams that people aren’t sure if we’re going to beat. And you have to go out and play well against those teams and compete in a way that clearly exemplifies our capability moving forward.”

Iowa also has a Dec. 13 game remaining at Iowa State, No. 23 in the Pomeroy rankings. And then there’s the Big Ten Conference, with seven Hawkeye opponents currently residing in Pomeroy’s top 32. That Big Ten schedule will provide many opportunities the enhance Iowa’s NCAA case. But as the Hawkeyes found out last season, a little non-conference push is important.

It was back in May that Iowa changed tournaments, going from the Great Alaska Shootout to the Battle 4 Atlantis. Only two of the eight teams in Alaska — Indiana State and Harvard — are ranked higher than 80th in the Pomeroy rankings.

Win or lose, the Battle 4 Atlantis will provide a much better road map for McCaffery and his staff on how to gear up for the Big Ten grind.

“I think it’s good for us to get a progress report,” Iowa guard Devyn Marble said.

Xavier, jumping from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East this season, is led in scoring by sophomore guard Semaj Christon at 16.4 points a game. He also led the Musketeers in scoring last season (15.2 ppg) as a freshman. Junior center Matt Stainbrook averages 10.2 points and a team-best 9.2 rebounds.

The Iowa-Xavier winner meets the Tennessee-Texas-El Paso winner at 6 p.m. Friday. The losers slide into a consolation bracket game at 1 p.m. Friday. Villanova and Kansas are favored to reach the other semifinal.

“We’re playing teams that fully expect to be in the NCAA Tournament every year,” McCaffery said. “It’s going to be an interesting three days for us.”

Iowa’s program once lived in that NCAA neighborhood. The Hawkeyes went to 16 NCAA tournaments in a 21-year span ending in 1999. Iowa has gone three times in the 14 seasons that have followed.

With expectations back to being high in McCaffery’s fourth season, the deep and experienced Hawkeyes have looked like an NCAA team while feasting on an early diet of cupcakes. But the Battle 4 Atlantis will show just how hungry this team is.

Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Rick Brown: Rick Brown covers men's basketball for The Des Moines Register and Hawk Central. He's married and the father of two. He also covers golf for the Register. View author profile.

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