Men’s Basketball Primer: Iowa vs. Gonzaga

Iowa and Gonzaga face off on March 22 in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Here’s the Daily Iowan’s primer for that matchup.

The matchup 

Who: Iowa (22-11, 7 seed) vs. Gonzaga (33-2, 2 seed)

Where: NCAA Tournament South Region (Seattle, WA.)

When: March 22 6:10 P.M. (CT)

Watch: TBS

Quick hits 

  • Iowa and Gonzaga have played twice before. Iowa won both meetings, which took place in 1984 and 1986.
  • Iowa’s 31-point win over Davidson was the largest margin in NCAA Tournament history between a 7 and 10 seed. It was also the second-largest margin of victory in the first two rounds of the tournament.
  • Aaron White has scored 20 or more points in the last six games. The last time an Iowa player did that was in 1984.
  • Gonzaga has lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the last five seasons. The last Sweet 16 it played in was in 2009.
  • The Hawkeyes win against Davidson was its first win the NCAA Tournament since 2001.
  • Iowa held Davidson to a season-low 52 points. Prior to playing the Hawkeyes, Davidson had not been held to lower than 60 points.


Here’s a preview I wrote for Iowa’s matchup with Gonzaga yesterday.

And here’s the recap from Iowa’s win over Davidson, in case you’ve been in a coma the past few days.

What they’re saying

Aaron White on why Iowa plays well on the road (7 true road wins this season)

I don’t think I can put one thing on it. I just don’t think we really care where we’re playing or who we’re playing. I think we just go out and play our game. I think that when you watch us, I think we’re a group that’s really together, that loves one another, that plays for one another. I think that helps us in tough situations.

Mike Gesell on his matchup with Kevin Pangos 

It’s going to be another fun matchup. Seeing it all year. We have played some of the best point guards in the country and Pangos is another one of them. He can do a lot of things. He can shoot, pass, he’s kind of the heart and soul of his team. So, really we want to take pride in that matchup and try to disrupt his rhythm a little bit. 

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery on the perception of Gonzaga 

I don’t think it’s any different than it is in any or state. I think everybody knows that Gonzaga is a Top-10 program. They have been that for quite some time now. You win 33 and you look at the streaks that they have had in terms of winning. They step out of their conference and schedule pretty difficult teams regularly and able to win on the road and win in tournament situations with really good teams. So, I think the days of anyone even remotely trying to refer to them as a Mid Major program is somebody that’s clearly not tuned into the college basketball world 

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few on matchup between Kyle Wiltjer and Aaron White 

Very skilled 6′-10″ guys. Different games, but score the ball really, really effectively. White’s really impressive with just his arsenal of live ball moves and his ability to get to the free-throw line. I think he’s averaging like 10 free throws a game or something, which is a huge number. And he’s just so versatile. He’s versatile with what they’re doing defensively and he’s so long and bouncy and active. … So, kind of their builds are a little but the same, kind of the same position, but their games, when you start breaking them down, are very different.

Few on perception of Gonzaga

I don’t know if we think too much about our conference affiliation. We kind of just try to let our brand stand on its own. The games within our conference, I think, are tougher and harder than maybe the general perception understands.

Numbers to know 

Gonzaga 3-point shooting percentage — 40.5 (7th in the nation) 

You know how everyone talked about Davidson’s shooting ability? Well, Iowa’s reward for defeating the Wildcats is a more efficient team from beyond the arc.

Gonzaga doesn’t shoot as much from 3-point land — it’s attempted 262 less 3s than Davidson — but it’s more efficient. The Bulldogs enter its matchup with Iowa shooting 40.5 percent from three.

In general the Bulldog’s offense is a powerhouse. They average 79.3 points per game (7th in the nation), shoot 52.4 percent from the floor (1st in the nation), and are one of the best assisting and rebounding teams in the nation.

Iowa had its hands full against Davidson. That’ll also be the case against Gonzaga.

Aaron White’s last six games — 23.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 55.5 percent from the field, and 84.9 percent from the free throw line. 

There reached a point in the Davidson-Iowa game when White said, “They can’t guard me.” He had scored 13-straight points, and helped propel a nine-point Iowa lead to a 21-point lead.

Davidson isn’t the only team that’s had trouble guarding White in the past month or so. He’s been dominant and perhaps the best player in the Big Ten not named Frank Kaminsky, like he was against Davidson.

Gonzaga’s matchup with White will likely be much more even than it was with Davidson. The Bulldogs have much more size. Therefore, one would think White wouldn’t simply be able to post up at will and finish in the paint.

Gonzaga defensive rebounds — 964 (2nd in the nation) 

It’s far from the only thing that makes Iowa’s offense click, but offensive rebounds have often provided the boost needed on the offensive side of the floor.

That boost may be hard to come by against Gonzaga, who is one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation. Interestingly enough, the Zags aren’t very good on the offensive glass, but what they lack in extra opportunities on the offensive end of the floor, they make up for in limiting teams to one shot.

Matchups to watch 

Aaron White vs. Kyle Wiltjer 

On paper, these two players are pretty similar. The main difference being that Wiltjer is much more active and efficient from 3-point range.

Both White and Wiltjer can spread the floor. They are both center-pieces for their team’s offense, and typically when they play well their teams win.

No game comes down to two players. It’s a team game, but one look at these two guys’ numbers and one may understand how the winning team won.

Iowa’s guards vs. Gonzaga’s shooters 

This is kind of a general matchup, but it is a big one. Just as Davidson could spread the floor with multiple shooters, Gonzaga can do the same.

Fortunately for Iowa, it was able to shut down Davidson’s shooters, providing a glimpse of hope that they may be able to do that same against Gonzaga.

Iowa held Davidson to 21.4 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and it won by 31 points. That’s not a coincidence. If it puts together a similar performance against Gonzaga, it may find itself in the program’s first Sweet 16 since 1999.

Final thoughts 

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how these tournament games are won. Some think its defense, some offense. Some, like Anthony Clemmons, said these games often come down to “who wants it more.”

Personally, I think they come down to how a team deals with the ebb and flow nature of the game.

Does it crack when an opposing teams goes on a run? Or does it respond with a run of its own? Does one player get frustrated when his shots aren’t falling? Situations like these occur in nearly every game ever played, but on a stage such as the NCAA Tournament, they are magnified.

Iowa can beat Gonzaga. It could also get run out of the gym by them, although I would be surprised by that result.

All I’m really hoping for is an entertaining matchup on Iowa’s biggest stage in a long, long time. I doubt we will be disappointed.

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