By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa men’s basketball team will get an up-close look at how to play defense the right way when it faces seventh-ranked Virginia in the Emerald Coast Classic on Friday in Destin, Fla.
The Cavaliers lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 38.8 points per contest, and they prefer to play at a slower and more deliberate pace on offense.
Iowa, on the other hand, likes to play at a frenetic pace under head coach Fran McCaffery and is averaging 96.3 points per game.
“They aren’t the only team that plays like that,” McCaffery said of Virginia. “There are a lot of teams in our league that really dig in a half-court and guard you and they are really quick on the perimeter, and obviously have a reputation for being a really good defensive team.”
Iowa defeated Virginia 75-64 in the quarterfinals of the 2013 National invitation Tournament in Charlottesville, Va.
Both teams have since played in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past three seasons.
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett stresses man-to-man defense that makes getting open looks extremely difficult. The Cavaliers also excel at stopping penetration and at contesting shots.
“You’ve got to execute,” McCaffery said. “You’ve got to move the ball. It’s not a team you’re going to be able to score on one pass. You’ve got to work the ball. When we’re running sets or motion, you’re got to run your stuff.
“You’ve got to get the ball moving. You’ve got to recognize: When to drive it, when to shoot it, when to pass it, what the shot clock is, when to set a ball screen, and if you don’t, they hold you to a low number.”
Iowa senior guard Peter Jok enters the game on a hot streak. He was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 28.5 points in two games last season.
The 6-foot-6 Jok will likely draw a crowd on defense against the Cavaliers.
“I’ve been watching them on TV; they like to play at half court,” Jok said. “They like to slow the game down. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country.
“It’s going to be fun for us. It’s going to be another learning experience. I think we’re going to be ready for it and I think we have a great chance to win.”
Virginia will pose a different challenge than what Iowa faced during a 91-83 loss to Seton Hall on Nov. 17 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Seton Hall pushed the pace on offense and that led to numerous lay-ups off penetration. The Pirates outscored Iowa 50-24 in the paint.
Virginia plays more in a half-court set on offense and will wait patiently for the right shot, while on defense, the Cavaliers try to get opponents to rush their shots.
Iowa freshman point guard Jordan Bohannon still is learning the difference between taking a good or bad shot at this level.
“It’s going to take some time,” Bohannon said. “But I feel like I’m starting to get to that point where I’m starting to know what shpts I can and can’t take.”
The winner of Friday’s game, which tips off at 6 p.m., will face the winner of the game between Providence and Memphis on Saturday.