Wake Forest at Iowa
Iowa (4-2) kicked off the season with four straight wins over less than imposing competition, but things were not quite as easy for the Hawkeyes in the Invitational. After a 67-56 loss to Bradley in the opener, Iowa went down to Utah State by a 67-58 score. That leaves the Hawkeyes in the midst of a disappointing two-game slide heading into the ACC—Big 10 Challenge matchup with Wake Forest.
Iowa is coming off a 2006-2007 season n which it went 17-14 and 9-7 in the Big 10. The biggest change from then to now, of course, is the coaching switch. In is Todd Lickliter, former coach of the Butler Bulldogs, and out is Steve Alford, who bolted for New Mexico. Lickliter is a proven winner, and the Hawkeye nation certainly hopes Lickliter’s success at Butler comes with him.
It may take some time. The Hawkeyes lost their two leading scorers from last season in Adam Haluska, who was taken in the second round of the NBA Draft, and Tyler Smith, who transferred to Tennessee. The team will have to rely on the frontcourt led by two seniors, Seth Gorney and Kurt Looby. Forward Cyrus Tate also should provide some athleticism down low for Iowa. An inexperienced backcourt will have to step up in order for the Hawkeyes to be successful, both this season and in the game against Wake Forest.
Wake Forest (3-0) is still untested after three home games against inferior teams. The closest margin of victory was 17 over North Carolina Central and the Deacons’ other two wins were by 20 or more. It should be a much different story when Wake hits the road to take on Iowa.
As everyone knows, Wake Forest is also with a new coach, albeit due to much different circumstances. Longtime assistant Dino Gaudio takes over at the helm after the sudden and tragic death of Skip Prosser.
Gaudio inherits a Demon Deacon club that went 17-18 last year, including a tied for 10th finish in the ACC at 5-11. Then again, “inherits” might not be the correct word since this season will be a new start for Wake Forest in terms of both head coach and the corps of players. Talented point guard Ish Smith is back and fellow guard Harvey Hale also returns. Hale seems to be an all-or-nothing kind of player who is capable of huge games (see the first round of the 2007 ACC Tournament against Georgia Tech) but is also prone to ill-advised decisions.
With Kyle Visser graduated, Wake Forest will be putting an extremely inexperienced frontcourt out on the floor every night. The Deacons will have to get a lot out of a trio of sophomores—David Weaver, Chas MacFarland, and Jamie Skeen—if the want to be a factor in the ACC this season.
Clearly the first of the ACC-Big 10 showdowns is a matchup of teams in search of an identity. While fans can expect a fair share of mistakes in this contest and perhaps a slow, timid start out of both teams, it should be competitive if nothing else. It will come down to whether or not the young Wake Forest squad can handle a hostile environment in what will be its first legitimate contest of the season. Since both teams are laden with question marks heading into this one, the smart pick is to go with the home team.
The prediction: Iowa by four.