Get hyped for Thursday's Iowa vs. Iowa State basketball game. Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register
AMES, Ia. — Fran McCaffery has coached a lot of versatile basketball players in 30-plus years at the Division I level.
He taught LaPhonso Ellis, Pat Garrity and Troy Murphy during his 11 years as an assistant at Notre Dame. All three went on to long NBA careers. More recently as a head coach at Siena and Iowa, he's presided over the productive careers of Edwin Ubiles, Devyn Marble and Aaron White.
Current Iowa senior Jarrod Uthoff is right up there with all of them.
"I've had some really good players over the years, sometimes as a head coach, sometimes as an assistant," McCaffery said. "He ranks up there with a lot of the guys. ... Guys that put up incredible numbers for a long time. They all pretty much had an opportunity to play in the (NBA)."
Through nine games, Uthoff's numbers reflect why the Hawkeyes are off to a 7-2 start against a strong schedule. And he'll probably have to be lights-out in a lot of different ways for Iowa to upset fourth-ranked Iowa State on Thursday night at Hilton Coliseum. The 7-0 Cyclones, who have won 31 straight nonconference home games, are seven-point favorites.
"A bit of an added intensity, obviously, because it's a rivalry game for bragging rights and what-not," Uthoff said. "But you've just got to treat it like any other game."
Despite playing just 28 minutes a game, the 6-foot-9 native of Cedar Rapids is averaging 18.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots. More impressively, he's shooting 50.4 percent from the floor, including 48.8 percent (20-for-41) from 3-point range. That's 1.46 points per 3-point attempt. And he's carrying an extra 10 or 15 pounds (up to 221) from last year.
"I value (versatility) a lot," Uthoff said. "That's how I'm able to score a lot of times. If I was one-dimensional, I wouldn't be that much of a threat."
This is a different Uthoff than last year, one that upped his game after being invited to the Nike Basketball Academy, one that's built in many ways for the road grind.
Uthoff's game carries a calm demeanor, perfect for facing hostile crowds like the one the senior-laden Hawkeyes will confront at 6:30 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2. Uthoff was the go-to guy who coolly buried a 17-footer last year to beat Minnesota at Williams Arena. His 3-pointer at Northwestern forced overtime in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"Nothing seems to rattle him, no matter where we go," McCaffery said. "The other thing is, he's a very competitive guy quietly. He doesn't ever get too full of himself if he has a great game. Or he never gets too down on himself if he has a game that's not so good. I think that really helps in any kind of road environment."
Uthoff has been so good this year that McCaffery has said he wants to see even more aggressiveness. That attribute hasn't come naturally for Uthoff, who says: "I try not to do too too much and let the game come to me."
But he hears his coach, and he put it into action Monday with a career-high 27 points in a 90-56 rout of Western Illinois.
In a high-stakes game like this, being too passive could be trouble. A year ago, Iowa State unleashed a 26-2 run against the shell-shocked Hawkeyes to break open a 90-75 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The talented Cyclones, who are probably even better this year, are as quick-strike as a college team can be.
"Of the seven guys they play most of the time, six of them are really good 3-point shooters," McCaffery said. "That's a difficult team to defend in transition. Intelligent shot selection is going to be important."
Uthoff has never beaten Iowa State as a player. He was redshirting after his transfer from Wisconsin when Iowa beat the Cyclones in Iowa City in 2012. In Iowa's last visit to Ames, the Hawkeyes melted down at the finish in an 85-82 loss.
"Up a couple points with a minute to go," Uthoff remembers. "Probably should have won the game, but looking to win this one."
An X-factor like Uthoff gives Iowa a chance. He'll likely be guarded by Iowa State preseason all-American Georges Niang. Uthoff is Iowa's answer to Niang's versatility.
"He's got to be a big factor in every game that we play," McCaffery said, "because he's got the versatility to be able to score outside and in, he can play in an up-tempo game, he can play in the half-court game, he can get to the free-throw line.
"He's our guy. We want to go to him."