Iowa’s Red Hot Campaign: Jarrod Uthoff Spurs Hawkeyes

Posted by Shane McNichol on January 21st, 2016

The state of Iowa is buzzing right now. Somehow, the Hawkeye State has evolved into not only a key battleground in the US Presidential race, but also in college basketball’s push towards March. The state has become a legitimate graveyard for top-ranked teams, as Northern Iowa knocked off then #1 North Carolina early in the season, Iowa toppled #1 Michigan State, and Iowa State just nipped newly minted #1 Oklahoma on Monday night.

But there is one team in the state that is clearly being talked about more than the others right now. Iowa‘s Dec. 29 victory over Michigan State was nice, but that is only a piece of the red-hot run they are on. In its last five games, Iowa has beaten teams with an average KenPom ranking of 30.1 (which includes #89 Nebraska). The Hawkeyes not only beat Tom Izzo’s team in Iowa City, they went up to East Lansing and knocked off the Spartans there, again by double digits. Iowa also trailed KenPom darling Purdue by 19 just before halftime on the road, only to outscore the Boilermakers 50-26 in the second half.

Could Jarrod Uthoff Be The Best Player In College Basketball? (Photo: Quad-City Times)

Could Jarrod Uthoff Be The Best Player In College Basketball? (Photo: Quad-City Times)

The Hawkeyes have taken the Big Ten by storm since conference play began, to the surprise of many. They exited the non-conference portion of the schedule with three losses, though all three were to top 50 foes on road or neutral courts. Even now, they haven’t fully swung the court of public opinion into their favor. Computer rankings love them. They rank 3rd in KenPom, 9th in RPI, 7th in ESPN’s BPI, and 5th in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings. But why then did the Hawkeyes just barely sneak into the AP Poll’s top ten at #9? One possible reason: Fran McCaffery has not guided Iowa beyond the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in his first five years in Iowa City.

However, one thing may separate this Iowa team from those immediately preceding it. No Iowa player has led the conference in points per game since 2006-07. No Hawkeye has ever won Big Ten player of the year. Iowa has not had a first or second team All-American since Ronnie Lester in the late 1970s. Jarrod Uthoff is looking to change all of that. The last two seasons, McCaffery had a first team All-Big Ten performer (Aaron White last year, Roy Devyn Marble the year prior), but neither was transcendent enough to attract national acclaim, nor to carry the Hawkeyes when they truly needed to get over the hump in March. Uthoff has been a superstar to this point, one who has spurred Iowa to its recent successes. Uthoff leads the league in both points and blocks per game, while also ranking ninth in rebounds. He has shot 48.1 percent from the field and 44.5 percent from three-point range – impressive numbers on their own, even before considering that Uthoff shoots the highest percentage of his team’s shots in the conference.

Like the presidential candidates buzzing around the Hawkeye state this month, Uthoff is looking for votes. He is faring well, too, as his play is grabbing the attention of every national award voter. Iowa has played the nation’s 7th toughest schedule and the road ahead will be no easier. Eight games against top 100 KenPom foes lie ahead. But if Uthoff and his teammates can continue to play this well, Iowa will enter the tournament with the program’s highest expectations since 2005-06, when Steve Alford led the Hawkeyes to a three seed…and a first round lost to lowly Northwestern State. Needless to say, Iowa fans are hungry for a fruitful March. Uthoff may be prepared to give it to them.

Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at and has contributed to and Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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