Forget about what happened last time Villanova and Iowa met.
Both teams look different from two years ago, when they clashed in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game on Nov. 30, 2013.
Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok were just players that came off of the bench. They played a combined 23 minutes and scored only nine points, a far cry from the production they create now as the team’s top scorers.
Yes, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu were already in the starting lineup, but then-freshmen Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins were still trying to make a name for themselves.
“Watching film of that game — getting prepared for Iowa, we watched that game too obviously,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “What I can’t get out of my head is all those guys who are seniors now were playing in that game as freshmen. Freshmen or sophomores, whatever they were, they were young, and they looked young in that game. And you look at them now, they’re men.”
While Villanova emerged victorious in overtime on that night in November, the game had a different vibe then.
Win or lose, Villanova and Iowa still resumed the regular season. On Sunday, both teams won’t get the luxury of saying that. Only one team gets to continue to play, adding a much greater weight to the game, something that didn’t exist in the teams’ previous meeting at in tropical paradise of the Bahamas.
“Any game you play in the NCAA Tournament, it just takes on a whole different vibe,” Wright said. “The finality brings a lot more to the game.”
Villanova (30-5) has advanced to the Round of 32 for the third straight year. In the last of couple of years, the Wildcats were unable to make the Sweet 16. The possibility of three straight disappointing NCAA Tournaments can happen, adding to the overall pressure and weight to Villanova’s situation.
“It was just going through the whole year hearing that, it was kind of annoying, but everybody has the right to say just because it just means they expect better things of us, just like how we expect of ourselves,” Ochefu said.
This time around, the Wildcats have the Iowa Hawkeyes (22-10) standing their way of making it to the Sweet 16.
Led now by Uthoff, a second round NBA Draft prospect, Villanova is going to need everything it has to take down the hulking Iowa front court.
Uthoff is the Hawkeyes’ top scorer. He averaged 18.9 points per game, the second-highest scoring average in the Big Ten, 6.4 rebounds per game, and a conference-best 2.7 blocks per game, in a season that culminated in First Team All-Big Ten honors. He was also named First Team All-America, becoming the first Iowa player to attain such an accolade in 19 years.
He is a bruising, strong forward that can post up well in the paint. Uthoff can also sling it from long range.
Helping him inside is 7-foot-1 center Adam Woodbury, who had the buzzer-beating putback to move Iowa into the Round of 32.
Stepping away from the imposing Iowa interior, head coach Fran McCaffery can also rely on guard Peter Jok to be another scoring option. Jok averaged 16.2 points per game this year in a season that culminated in a spot on the All-Big Ten Second Team.
Jok is certainly Iowa’s top perimeter threat, but he can also drive inside. He shoots a respectable 43.8% on the floor and 41.2% from beyond the arc.
“They’re tough, they can really score the ball,” Arcidiacono said. “They have great size and great length. Clearly, Uthoff can go off at any moment, same with Jok, and they have Woodbury on the inside. I don’t think we’ve seen anyone in particular that has had the length that they’ve had and that had the scorers that they’ve had.”
Villanova isn’t the only team that’s hungry to get back into the Sweet 16. The Sweet 16 has eluded Iowa, as it is facing a drought of its own.
The Hawkeyes haven’t seen the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 1999. The last time they did, they reached it as a 5-seed and lost to eventual champion UConn.
Should McCaffery lead his team to beat Villanova, it would be his first Sweet 16 with Iowa since joining the team in 2010.
It’s something that the Wildcats don’t plan on allowing to happen.
“We know they’re extremely tough, well coached Big Ten team.” Ochefu said. “We played them our sophomore year in Atlantis. They do a lot of the same things that they did with Devyn Marble and the other guys. We know they’re two years older, stronger, better players, and we really have to lock into that scouting report.”