Standing between Gonzaga and a trip to the Sweet 16 is perhaps the tallest team the Bulldogs will face this season.
That, in coach Mark Few’s estimation, is the biggest challenge No. 2 seed Gonzaga faces when it plays No. 7 seed Iowa at 4:10 p.m. Sunday at KeyArena in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs didn’t see length like this during their West Coast Conference schedule. They haven’t matched up against a team with a roster of this caliber since they lost to No. 2 seed Arizona in overtime in early December. Few was reminded of the former during his Saturday afternoon press conference.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with the WCC,” he said. “We haven’t seen size like this in any of our non-league games. This is a really, really long team.”
Might be a bad omen after Gonzaga struggled to corral 6-6 North Dakota State F Dexter Werner in an 86-76 win over the Bison in Friday’s second round.
To beat Iowa, the Bulldogs will have to at least slow down their star.
Six-foot-nine forward Aaron White fits that description. He leads Iowa with 16.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. But he’s averaging almost 22 points over his last eight, and Iowa is 7-1 during that stretch.
The senior is second in school history in scoring and third in rebounding. And he’s peaking after dropping 26 points on 11 of 14 shooting in Iowa’s 83-52 win over No. 10 seed Davidson in the second round of the NCAA tournament Friday. It marked the sixth consecutive game White scored 20 or more points, a feat no Iowa player had accomplished since Greg Stokes scored 20-plus in eight consecutive games during the 1984-85 season.
Coach Fran McCaffrey said Iowa was the only Big Ten school to offer White a scholarship coming out of Strongsville High School in Iowa.
“A lot of people looked at him,” McCaffrey said. “A lot of people thought he would be better suited at the Atlantic 10 level. But we believed in him.”
As with many recruits that didn’t draw interest from big-name programs, White remembers being slighted and tries to use it to his advantage.
“Even when I had success, I still looked at guys across the country that might have got a little more pub than I have or a little bit more national recognition than I have,” he said.
He will match up with Gonzaga F Kyle Wiltjer, a Kentucky transfer who took home WCC Newcomer of the Year in his first eligible season with the Zags. At 6-9, it’s easy to compare the pair — both are rangy, versatile and can knock down an open three. Both are forwards that can score inside. Both led their teams in scoring.
“We know we’re not going to hold a really good player scoreless,” Wiltjer said of the matchup. “No matter who is on him, we’re just going to try to make it tough.”
Tough might be the best way to describe the Hawkeyes, who rebounded from a 6-6 start to conference play and made the NCAA tournament. Their smallest starter is 6-2 G Mike Gesell, a junior from South Sioux City, NE., that tallied 15 points and 6 assists Friday.
Off-guard Peter Jok is 6-6, forward Jarrod Uthoff (12.2 points per game) is 6-9 and C Adam Woodbury is 7-1.
“They really present some problems for us as far as who we have to put on them to guard and how we’re going to play,” Few said. “We’re going to have to play great tomorrow to win. This Iowa team is on a roll. What I saw last night was very impressive.”
White said Gonzaga (33-2) and Iowa (21-11), which haven’t faced since 1986, are similar, then referenced the Zags’ size — see 7-1 C Przemek Karnowksi and 6-10 post Domantas Sabonis — and their up-tempo style.
Late UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, of Runnin’ Rebels fame, would cringe if he heard Iowa described as up-tempo. The Hawkeyes are ranked 203rd out of 351 NCAA teams in adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes, adjusted for opponent), according to college basketball analytics site kenpom.com. They average 69.4 points per game (ranked 120th) to Gonzaga’s 79.1 (10th). And they don’t have the sort of athleticism that Gonzaga displayed during the regular season to outrun and outscore the WCC.
But Iowa doesn’t fit the typical style of a bruising, lumbering Big Ten team, either.
“No, they get out and run,” Few said. “No, they get out and they’re a dangerous, dangerous team in transition . . . I think because of the league they play in, they’re used to having to grind and do multiple, multiple actions on the offensive end and guard things on the defensive end.
“But they’re a dangerous transition team and they will take shots early in the clock. Based on the film that I’ve watched, they got to be one of the better offenses in the Big Ten, right there behind Wisconsin.”