College basketball: Wildcats bring high-octane offense into tourney

Published 10:10 pm Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — It started with an inquisitive tweet from the main University of Iowa Twitter account, right after it was announced the Hawkeyes would be playing Davidson in their NCAA Tournament opener.

No, the former Davidson sharpshooter will not be on the floor Friday when No. 7 seed Iowa faces the No. 10 Wildcats in the South Region. He’s off tormenting the NBA on his way to a potential MVP season.

What Iowa does have to worry about is Atlantic 10 player of the year Tyler Kalinoski and a Davidson squad that stunned the conference and won the regular season title in its first season.

Kalinoski is the leader of an offense that has avoided the scoring dip seen around college basketball.

It’s fast. It’s fun. And for coach Bob McKillop, now in his 26th season, it’s successful.

“It’s just a lot of fun out there. We’re not going to slow the game up and run a bunch of plays,” Kalinoski said. “Coach isn’t going to yell at us to run a certain type of play every time on the court. He trusts us to make good decisions. And you just feel free out there playing a game you love. So it’s a lot of fun.”

McKillop gives his players leeway, earned through practice and performance. Some, like Kalinoski’s, are unlimited — meaning any good shot is his to take. Some have restrictions, with time, place and situational reasons to shoot.

And others … well, there might be some remedial courses.

“Some players, they get a couple of speeding tickets and they have to go back to driving school to get their license rearranged,” McKillop said. “As simple as that sounds, it’s something that our players understand. We’re fortunate this year that we have a lot of guys that have unrestricted licenses and they have earned that and they have earned it not just by the way they have done it on the practice court but they have earned it by the way they have performed in games.”

Trying to slow down Davidson’s offense that has scored 70 or more 25 times this season will be the challenge for the Hawkeyes (21-11), who are trying to rebound from a disappointing loss to Penn State in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

But the way Iowa will counter can’t be taught: size.

The Hawkeyes go 6-foot-9, 6-9, 7-1 in their starting lineup, with 6-10 Gabriel Olaseni coming off the bench.

“We got great size on our front line, also in the backcourt. So that’s something that I think we can use to our advantage,” said Iowa forward Aaron White, the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer at 16 points per game. “Contested twos. If they do shoot threes, we got to be there with a hand up and (make them) shoot over us.”

Here’s what else to watch as Iowa and Davidson meet for the second time ever:

SOUTHERN HISTORY: At one time, McKillop and Iowa coach Fran McCaffery were fighting for Southern Conference championships.

McCaffery spent six seasons at UNC Greensboro and one of his main rivals in the conference was McKillop and Davidson. They met 13 times with McKillop held a 7-6 advantage.

“We have had some games that were sort of epic battles in terms of you go back and say, ‘How did we win that game and how did we lose that game?’ things happened in the last minute,” McCaffery said. “But there’s a tremendous respect there in terms of the success that he’s had.”

WHICH IOWA?: Iowa won its last six Big Ten games of the regular season, it’s longest conference win streak since 1987 with four of the six victories by more than 14 or more points. But the Hawkeyes were kicked out of the Big Ten tourney by Penn State, which finished 13th in conference play.

The commonality in most of Iowa’s losses this season: terrible shooting. In five of their 11 losses, the Hawkeyes shot under 35 percent.

BETTER MEMORY: A year ago, McCaffery was trying to balance getting Iowa ready for its First Four game against Tennessee while his teenage son, Patrick, was having surgery to remove a thyroid tumor. The surgery happened the morning of the Hawkeyes’ loss to the Volunteers.

Considering those circumstances, this NCAA trip is still important but far less stressful for McCaffery.

“In light of the circumstances of what I was going through at the time, it would have been an unbelievable feeling for us as a program, for our family, to have won that game,” McCaffery said. “But, again, we played a team that played really well. They outplayed us that night. So, I think that’s what this tournament is. You have a chance to play against another great team, win the game and advance and keep playing. That’s what we’re all trying to do.”