Iowa’s third-round matchup with Gonzaga pits the Hawkeyes against a team similar to Davidson. However, Gonzaga is better in just about every aspect.
SEATTLE — Iowa had a game plan against Davidson and followed it to a T.
After the 83-52 win, the Hawkeyes allowed themselves to celebrate the win. But the celebration didn’t last long. In fact, it lasted about as long as it took Gonzaga to defeat North Dakota State, 86-76, in front of a nearly home crowd at KeyArena in Seattle.
It’s a cruel reality, but Iowa’s reward for winning its first NCAA Tournament game since 2001 is getting to play one of top eight teams in the tournament with just two days of preparation.
“We enjoyed it from basically from when our buzzer went off until their buzzer went off, and we were introduced to them by our coaching staff,” Hawk forward Aaron White said. “So we definitely enjoyed it in the locker room and as a group. But like you said, we’re focused on the next task at hand and excited for tomorrow.”
Davidson and Gonzaga share a lot in common. They both are consistently successful programs with head coaches who have been there for the majority of their success.
This year, though, Gonzaga is Davidson on steroids. Everything the Hawkeyes were supposed to fear about the Wildcats, Gonzaga does better.
Davidson averages 79 points per game, Gonzaga averages 79.3 points; Davidson shoots 39.1 percent from beyond the arc, Gonzaga shoots 40.5 percent; Davidson has the 12th-most assists in the nation, Gonzaga has the fifth most.
“I think [defense] wins championships,” Anthony Clemmons said. “… I think that’s going to help us. If our defense is clicking, then we have a good shot.”
Both teams boast a balanced attack. Four players average more than 10 points per game for the Bulldogs, all of whom start. After that, they have two players that come close with 9.4 and 8.3 points per game.
Of Gonzaga’s six leading scorers, all of them shoot better than 47 percent from the field. Four of them shoot higher than 55 percent.
It’s a team that plays a relatively similar pace as Iowa’s but scores with much more efficiency.
“I don’t think there is one thing [that stands out],” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “There are a lot of things. You look at their size; you look at their ability to move the ball down the floor. Like I said, they play fast or they can grind it on you. They have got talented players at every position. They have got talented players coming off the bench. They got pieces that fit.”
Heading that attack for the Bulldogs is Kyle Wiltjer, the man who transferred from Kentucky to become a potential All-American.
The junior forward averages 16.9 points per game and 6.1 rebounds and shoots 54 percent from the field. He may remind Hawkeye fans of a player they have seen plenty of in the last four years, with some subtle differences.
“We’re both scorers, we’re both versatile forwards for our teams,” White said of comparisons between him and Wiltjer. “… [We’re] both big versatile forwards who can score and help their teams in numerous ways. It should be a fun matchup.”
The Davidson win may have been a seminal moment in the revival of the Iowa basketball program.
It was the biggest blowout between a 7 and 10 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament. But Iowa has bigger things planned than turning a few heads with a first-round win.
“You can’t really appreciate those things until the season is over,” center Gabe Olaseni said. “Right now, we understand that we can make even more history than we have; hopefully, we can get another one tomorrow.”
This feeling has resonated throughout the team.
Yes, the win against Davidson was a step forward for the program. But the Hawkeyes want to make a leap, and Gonzaga stands in the way.
“Everyone thinks about that,” guard Mike Gesell said. “It’s hard not to … but we have a tough matchup ahead of us and a good team to go through before we get there.”