Iowa’s basketball team has made like the school’s football team did and is having quite the 2015-16 season, and senior Jarrod Uthoff is a big reason why.
A former four-star recruit from Cedar Rapids, Uthoff transferred to Iowa from Wisconsin amid controversy following his redshirting his true freshman season. Longtime Badgers coach Bo Ryan said he would not grant Uthoff a release from his scholarship unless he agreed to not transfer to any school within the Big Ten, among others, but then backed off. Uthoff has since found himself at Iowa and has simply done it all.
Though built like a wing at 6-foot-9, 210 pounds, Uthoff has proven to be adept at making the occasional long range shot. He is averaging 18.9 points and 6.2 rebounds to go with an eye-popping three blocks per game. Uthoff is also shooting just under 49 percent from the field and 48 percent from long range. The best part? Only about a third of his field goal attempts come from long range and he is thus not dependent on the three-ball for most of his production.
And as a result of Uthoff’s efforts, as well as those of his teammates, Iowa is sitting pretty at No. 3 in the AP Top 25 with a record of 16-3 (7-0 Big Ten) and with wins over Wichita State, Michigan State (twice!) and Purdue (twice as well) to prove that it deserves to be in such a position.
But Iowa has one more hurdle to overcome in order to prove that, much like their football counterparts, they aren’t just overachievers. The Hawkeyes pay a visit to College Park to take on No. 8 Maryland tomorrow, and the Terps are a team known for playing strong on-ball defense under coach Mark Turgeon. Maryland are coming off a tough road loss to Michigan State last weekend, so the players will surely be playing with a chip on their shoulder when the fast and feisty Hawkeyes come to town.
This means that Uthoff needs to be in top form, picking and popping his way to the basket rather than stay on the wing. He takes under four free throws per game, and he needs to exceed that number against Maryland. This is going to be a blue collar game in which the Terps are in full snapping turtle mode and Uthoff cannot give them an inch. He must draw fouls. He must be prepared to be a playmaker. He cannot, under any circumstances, be afraid to get his hands dirty.
It is with that kind of effort that Uthoff can continue to take Iowa upwards this season and prove that his team will not go the way of the football team this year and, despite respectable efforts, ultimately crack under the pressure in the face of top competition. One can argue the Hawkeyes have already proven that in beating the Spartans twice, but Denzel Valentine was injured in the first of those games and he was only just getting his legs back in the other.
And it is on the back of Uthoff’s never-say-die attitude that Iowa can indeed win tomorrow and prove once and for all that it belongs in the Top 5. So long as he keeps it together and plays wisely, this game is his and his teammates’ for the taking.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports