BLOOMINGTON, IN – MARCH 19: Steven Ashworth #3 of the Utah State Aggies reacts during the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament against Texas Tech Red Raiders held at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on March 19, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
SIOUX FALLS, S. D. – Utah State (8-3) will face Iowa (7-3) at the Sanford Pentagon tonight. It’s the fourth meeting between the two programs and the first since the Aggies’ only win over the Hawkeyes in 2007.
“It’s gonna be a challenge for us, but we’re excited about that challenge. A great opportunity for our basketball team,” head coach Ryan Odom said.
The Hawkeyes are coming off a three-game losing streak, including a loss to in-state rival Iowa State. However, the losing streak doesn’t give justice to Iowa. They lost to No. 2 Purdue, No. 11 Iowa State and Illinois (who received 31 votes this week in the Associated Press poll).
The contest will be the fifth neutral site contest for the Aggies this season who have gone 4-0 at neutral venues this season. Coach Odom thinks the crowd will likely be Hawkeye heavy.
“I think this one will be a little bit different in terms of neutral cause it’s so close to them. I think they’re expecting a big Iowa crowd there and obviously, we’ve got football engaged in a huge game in the bowl game and it’s at the same time… so that’s gonna hurt our crowd,” Odom said. “But, we’re not worried about that. It’s another opportunity for us to play against a quality opponent and try to come out with a victory.”
The Aggies may be short-handed with several injured players that are questionable for the game. Guard Sean Bairstow injured his finger two games ago against New Orleans. Forward Justin Bean suffered a high-ankle sprain against Weber State.
“He’s recovering quite nicely,” Odom said. “It’s the first time he’s sprained this ankle. It doesn’t appear to be as bad as some other ones that he’s had during his career. We’re hopeful that we can get him out there, but we’re not gonna know until he warms up and really tries to go.”
Guard Rylan Jones was also shaken up against the Wildcats. He’s been diagnosed with a neck injury but avoided a concussion when he hit the court hard at the Dee Events Center on Wednesday.
“We’re fortunate to be in the position that we’re in with Rylan’s injury, going down pretty hard with his neck. (Him) not having a concussion was a huge thing for us,” Odom said.
Iowa is led by forward Keegan Murray. He is currently second in the nation in scoring with 22.2 points per game.
“Every time you’re playing a great player like that, you can’t expect to just shut him out, you gotta try to minimize (his) impact on the game,” Odom said. “He can go inside and out. He can make hard shots go into the basket.”
Sixth-year senior guard Jordan Bohannon is deadly from beyond the arc for the Hawkeyes. He averages 10.5 points per game and shoots 41.4% from three-point range. Bohannon already holds four Iowa records including most assists and most 3-pointers made.
“They have a prolific three-point shooter in Bohannon obviously so we’re gonna have to get out on him,” Odom said. “He can get a shot off really quickly. Like Steph Curry and a lot of the great shooters that exist, especially in current times, one of the key things is they can be off-balance and get it off. They can change the trajectory of their shot based on the contest. They’re not afraid to let it go… He’s in constant motion… Those kind of guys are really hard to guard.”
The Hawkeyes frequently force turnovers and take advantage of them on the fast break. They average 19.7 points off of turnovers per game.
“A team that plays extremely well in transition. One of the best transition teams in the country,” Odom said.
Not only does Iowa score quickly in transition, but they also shoot quickly after taking the ball up the court. According to coach Odom, they shoot a shot within the first 16 seconds of a possession on average.
“They shoot it pretty quick,” Odom said. “Tempo, pace of the game is going to be important for us. We like to play fast too.”
Iowa also takes care of the ball on offense. They average 8.3 turnovers per game, which is good enough for second in the nation. It will be difficult for the Aggies to get an edge with extra possessions.
“A team that rarely turns the ball over…eight a game which is remarkable,” Odom said.
The matchup tips off at 7 p.m. MST and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.