How Can Iowa Fix Its Offensive Problems? A Few Ideas…

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 16th, 2014

Iowa has gotten off to an 8-3 start this season, with what should be an important road win over North Carolina already on its resume. The Hawkeyes also don’t have any bad losses (unless Syracuse ends up faltering in the ACC), using their depth and size to bully the teams that they should beat — winning those games by an average of 25.9 points. While last year’s bugaboo, the defense, has improved significantly, the offense has faltered, going from the fifth best offensive efficiency nationally to 64th. If it’s not one thing; it’s another — that might be the mantra around Iowa City this season. What has caused Iowa’s offensive problems this season, and what can the team do to fix them?

Iowa (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa Has Traded Better Defense for Worse Offense This Season (Photo Credit: AP)

The Hawkeyes have worse offensive numbers pretty much across the board this season. Losing go-to scorer Roy Devyn Marble has hurt considerably, but the loss of Melsahn Basabe and his 11.7 percent offensive rebounding rate hasn’t helped. Iowa is playing at a slower tempo (two fewer possessions per game), but it’s also taking more threes (25 percent vs. 21 percent). They also have a tendency to settle for long twos, leading to fewer free throw attempts and a drop in effective field goal percentage from 51.2 to 47.0 percent this year. Aaron White is still doing Aaron White things, meaning he gets to the line and scores in transition; and Gabriel Olaseni is also still putting up numbers consistent with his production from last season. But Mike Gesell, Jarrod Uthoff, Adam Woodbury and Josh Oglesby have all seen their offensive ratings take a dip without a corresponding increase in usage rates. Losing Marble has obviously caused a strain across the board, as he not only took a high volume of shots but could also create for himself when things got tough.

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Big Ten M5: 12.16.14 Edition

Posted by Eric Clark on December 16th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Indiana had a solid weekend, destroying Grand Canyon by 28 points and turning the ball over only four times in the process. Prior to that win, the Hoosiers had been averaging 12.9 turnovers per game. Their relative lack of turnovers this season has been a godsend for head coach Tom Crean, as Indiana ranked 330th in the country in turnover percentage last year. This year, they’re turning the ball over on only 17 percent of their possessions, which ranks among the top 40 teams in the country.
  2. Iowa’s offensive limitations were exposed against Iowa State on Friday night as the Hawkeyes took a 15-point thumping at home against the Cyclones. Jordan Garretson of STATS.com reported that Iowa’s Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons rank 49th and 50th, respectively, in field goal percentage among Big Ten guards who have played at least eight games. There are only 65 guards that qualify for this metric, thus demonstrating the Hawkeyes’ poor performance from its backcourt so far this season. Iowa has leaned heavily on Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff and has had trouble establishing reliable threats from the three-point line — the Hawkeyes are shooting a chilly 30.3 percent from long-range, ranking 259th in the country.
  3. Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal wrote a column about Michigan State freshman Tum Tum Nairn’s performance so far this season, comparing him favorably to Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis. Ignoring their scoring totals – Nairn has played over 20 minutes in seven games this season, yet his highest point total of the year is only three — the two are most comparable when considering their per-minute assist and turnover rates. The only thing hindering Nairn from becoming the Big Ten’s next big thing is confidence in his shooting, but he is going to have to become a scoring threat for the Spartans to reach their potential this season.
  4. It’s hard to find any positives in Michigan’s abysmal play over a two-week period that culminated in the Wolverines laying an egg on Saturday at Arizona, losing by 27 in a game that the Wildcats thoroughly dominated. John Beilein has essentially turned over the center position to the trio of Ricky Doyle, Mark Donnal and Max Bielfeldt, and it worked fairly well until the end of November. In the Wolverines’ last three games, however, they have averaged fewer than 10 points and five rebounds combined, a big reason for the team’s current slide. Beilein hopes that this current skid will help motivate his big men to perform more consistently, because the Wolverines need something from them on a nightly basis.
  5. Ohio State defeated Morehead State, 87-71, on Saturday, but head coach Thad Matta found plenty of deficiencies in the Buckeyes’ play regardless. His team turned the ball over 17 times and allowed the Eagles to shoot 61.3 percent from the floor, becoming the first team to shoot over 50 percent from the field against the Buckeyes this season. Outside of the team’s nine-point loss to Louisville, Thad Matta’s squad has blown through its early season schedule with all eight wins coming by double figures. The only glaring deficiency in Ohio State’s game right now is its free throw shooting, ranking 278th nationally in getting to the line and converting their chances. It’s safe to say that we don’t really know what kind of team Ohio State is right now – and we probably won’t find out until the first week of January at the start of Big Ten play.
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Iowa Feeling Good Again After Big Road Win at UNC

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 4th, 2014

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as the act of “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Fans have called Fran McCaffery crazy before, but the way his Iowa team finished last season had to leave the Hawkeyes head man questioning his own sanity. After a 19-6 beginning to 2013-14, his team lost seven of its final eight games, and the lone win in that stretch came against Big Ten bottom-feeder Purdue. Time and time again, McCaffery sent out the same talented group that had racked up points and wins in bunches all the way through January, and time and time again they would retreat to the locker room defeated. The collapse came late enough so as not to prevent Iowa from making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006, but a bitter taste lingered. What happened to the Hawkeyes?

Mike Gesell (right), Adam Woodbury and Jared Uthoff All Played Key Roles In A Potentially Season-Shaping Win For The Hawkeyes Wednesday. (Photo Credit: AP)

Mike Gesell (right), Adam Woodbury and Jared Uthoff All Played Key Roles In A Potentially Season-Shaping Win For The Hawkeyes Wednesday. (Photo Credit: AP)

New seasons have a way of washing away the memories of the last one. Jubilant title runs dissolve into the tumult of the mixing and matching of a new group of players, while stinging too-soon-to-end Tournament stays are banished from memory banks by fast starts. The latter was supposed to be the case in Iowa City, where McCaffery returned another team talented enough to make some noise in the Big Ten. Unfinished business from last season was now finished; unanswered questions now irrelevant. This was a new band of Hawkeyes. And then the season started. Iowa dropped its only two games against reasonable competition in November, losing to Texas and Syracuse on back-to-back nights in New York. Sure, they handled their business elsewhere (5-0 in other games, but all against teams outside of KenPom’s top 125), but the doubts, the questioning – they were slowly creeping back. Even McCaffery and his team had to be wondering if there was just some very hidden fundamental flaw with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

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Big Ten M5: 11.21.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso & Brendan Brody on November 21st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Anyone who watched the Wisconsin game on Wednesday night saw what could have been the dunk of the season from Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Keifer Sykes. Sykes almost went full “Deandre Jordan on Brandon Knight” in his missed dunk attempt over preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky, causing the preseason All-American to take to Twitter after the game to talk about how the dunk “would have ruined my confidence as a basketball player.” This led to a very lighthearted exchange between the two players that you can read here. It’s nice to see two great players who both hail from Chicago being supportive and recognizing the skills that each of them possesses.
  2. Many of us here at the microsite had written off Indiana after a tumultuous offseason, but after their 74-68 win over #22 SMU in Bloomington last night, we may need to reevaluate this group. Freshman sensation James Blackmon Jr. led the way with 26 points. This game also marked the return of three players from their suspensions — Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, and Emmett Holt. What once looked like a bleak future for Tom Crean may be turning brighter thanks to the outstanding play of Blackmon Jr. — who has now proven he can play at a high level against nationally relevant teams. The freshman may singlehandedly pull the Hoosiers from the valley it found itself in just a couple weeks back.
  3. In the midst of all the holiday tournaments going on either this weekend and next week, Michigan State announced that it will be part of the Wooden Legacy tournament next season. The other headliner in the field will be Arizona. Providence and Boise State also will be playing in Anaheim along with Boston College, Evansville, Santa Clara, and UC Irvine. The Spartans will lose two of their top three players from this year’s squad, but should return Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello next season.
  4. It’s not always going to be pretty basketball, but if you’re into watching a player just go completely “Kobe” and chuck shot after shot, look no further than Penn State and D.J. Newbill. The prolific scorer put up 35 points on 33 shots in the Nittany Lions’ 97-106 double-overtime loss to Charlotte. Newbill had a chance to score the game winner with an open lane to the basket in the dwindling seconds of the first overtime, but it was blocked by Charlotte. The 35-point total was the most for a Penn State player since 1995, but without many other options on this team — especially with Tim Frazier graduated — look for more nights like these from Newbill. It’ll be entertaining if nothing else.
  5. Maryland also struggled in its quest to stay undefeated, yet managed to pull away from Fordham to notch a win on Thursday night. Unlike Northwestern, their struggles were on the offensive end. This is what senior leader Dez Wells wanted however, as he spoke to wanting to see how the young team handled things when they weren’t hitting shots. They ended up winning this one on the defensive end, holding the Rams to only eight free throw attempts and to 30.6 percent shooting from the field. A game like this should help them, especially once conference play hits. They now know that they can still get a win even if things aren’t clicking on the offensive end of the court.
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Three More Big Ten Players to Consider for the Wooden Award Watch List

Posted by Eric Clark on November 18th, 2014

The Wooden Award Top 50 watch list was released on Monday, tabbing seven Big Ten players – Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, Nebraska’s Terran Petteway, Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, Michigan’s Caris LeVert, Maryland’s Dez Wells and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell. There were no surprises in those who were named to the list, but since only 50 total players received the honor in the first place, there are a number of other Big Ten players who could very well find themselves among the 25 finalists in January.

Denzel Valentine brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young MSU roster.

Denzel Valentine brings a veteran presence to an otherwise young MSU roster.

Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson are the only two returning starters at Michigan State and the former is one of the most versatile players in the Big Ten. Tom Izzo was not pleased with Valentine’s performance in the Spartans’ season opener versus Navy, criticizing the 6’5” junior for being reckless (Valentine turned the ball over three times and shot 20 percent from the field.) However, the very recklessness shown by Valentine may have been more indicative of the inexperience of many of the players around him. There’s little doubt that Valentine will turn it around — it was only one game, after all — he’s been praised for the vast improvements he made during the offseason. With Dawson and Valentine as the drivers of the Spartan squad, it’s not a stretch to tab both as potential Wooden finalists.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 13th, 2014

We continue our preseason superlatives this week with the introduction of our Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team. To review our Preseason All Big Ten Third Team, check out Eric Clark’s post from Wednesday. It’s important to point out with this group that, while we stuck to five players, we weren’t completely married to a true team concept and ended up with two point guards on this team. Instead, you should interpret this as the next best five players after our Preseason All-Big Ten First Team, which will release on Friday.

RTC All-Big Ten Second Team

  • Yogi Ferrell, Junior, Indiana, 6’0”, 178 lbs. (17.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.9 APG). Ferrell made a huge leap last season by adding almost 10 points to his per game average in becoming the primary scoring option for Indiana. This year, the junior point guard will have some additional scoring help with freshman Justin Blackmon Jr. joining the Hoosiers. This should relieve some of the pressure to score from Ferrell and allow him to concentrate on running the offense and improving on his mediocre 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Yogi Ferrell is a Lone Bright Spot at Indiana Right Now

Yogi Ferrell is a Lone Bright Spot at Indiana Right Now

  • D.J. Newbill, Senior, Penn State, 6’4”, 210 lbs. (17.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.7 APG). Last season, Newbill was the primary scorer and Tim Frazier played the role of distributor. Now that Frazier has graduated, it will be solely on Newbill to run the Penn State offense. Because of the transition in his role, his scoring may drop as he tries to involve teammates like John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson in the offense. Still, Newbill will be the one with the ball in his hands during crunch time — as he goes, so will the Nittany Lions.

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How Does Iowa Replace Roy Devyn Marble?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 30th, 2014

Iowa was in the Top 25 for much of the 2013-14 season, making it as high as a #10 ranking thanks to its impressive 15-3 start. This prosperity did not last, though, as the Hawkeyes closed out the season 5-10, winning only one of their last eight contests. Defensive lapses and a lack of consistency plagued the team throughout this poor stretch, but an overreliance on Roy Devyn Marble to bail the team out offensively also didn’t help. Iowa brings back quite a bit of talent from last season’s first round loser, but the loss of Marble leaves Fran McCaffery searching for a go-to scorer. How does Iowa learn from its previous mistakes and replace one of the best players in the Big Ten? How does it account for the fact that it no longer has a player who used the third most possessions in the league at 27.3 percent, and was fifth in the league in scoring with 17.0 PPG?

Aaron White will have to score more this season for Iowa to offset the loss of Roy Devyn Marble.(Brian Ray, The Gazette via AP)

Aaron White will have to score more this season for Iowa to offset the loss of Roy Devyn Marble. (Brian Ray/AP)

Marble contributed 12 games last season where he cracked the 20-point plateau, leading or tying for the team lead in scoring 16 times. It’s safe to say that the offense went through him a good chunk of the time, as he proved equally adept at driving to the hoop or shooting from deep. There are now 29.6 percent more shots available given his departure and it would be wise for Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff to take most of them. White posted the third best offensive rating in the Big Ten among players who used 20 percent of their team’s possessions last season. He shot a whopping 63.1 percent on his two-pointers, getting points around the rim and from the mid-range. He’s also an excellent free throw shooter who has proven over the last two seasons that he can get to and convert from the line, knocking his five free throw attempts down at an 81 percent clip during his junior season.

The question with White is whether he can be as efficient if he has to shoulder a heavier load. Uthoff did most of his damage during non-conference games, but he showed a great deal of potential in some of those early contests. He averaged 10.8 PPG on 56.0 percent shooting from the field before league play, but dropped down to 5.6 PPG on 44.2 percent shooting once conference games started. If Uthoff can channel his early-season success shooting the ball into this year, he could end up surpassing White as the go-to scorer. He gets to the line less than his colleague, but he shoots a similar quality percentage once there (81.7 percent). He’s also shown that he’s a much more dependable shooter from behind the arc (42.5 percent), which is something that White has yet to do.

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Big Ten Season Grades: Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 18th, 2014

Continuing our season-ending analysis, we look at the performances of Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois. Earlier this week, we handed out grades for Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Ohio State

Grade: C-

This season (25-10, 10-8): What would be a successful season for most programs was a relative disappointment for the Buckeyes. Ohio State did not capture a Big Ten regular season or tournament title for the first time since 2008-09, and similar to that season, they were also bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in their first game. The issue for the Buckeyes – which was a clear problem area in the preseason – was generating offense without Deshaun Thomas in the lineup. Thomas’ replacement, LaQuinton Ross, almost doubled his scoring average, but the Buckeyes failed to find reliable offensive firepower anywhere else. In the end, Aaron Craft and Ohio State’s excellent showing on defense wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s offensive woes.

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don't expect it to continue next season. (Gettyl)

Thad Matta had a let-down of a season relative to his own success. Don’t expect it to continue next season. (Getty)

Next season: The Buckeyes lose Craft, Amedeo Della Valle, Ross, and Lenzelle Smith Jr. They welcome in an elite recruiting class that includes D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate; and they also will get graduate transfer Anthony Lee from Temple next year. These additions along with several talented players already on their roster should have no one worrying about the state of the program going forward. This season was merely a hiccup in the Thad Matta era.

Iowa: C

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Big Ten Tournament: Iowa’s Freefall Continues

Posted by Walker Carey on March 14th, 2014

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s Big Ten Tournament action between Northwestern and Iowa in Indianapolis. 

On February 15, Iowa earned a 12-point victory at Penn State to get to 19-6 overall and 8-4 in the Big Ten standings. It was around that time that the prevailing opinion became that the Big Ten was going to come down to a three-team race between Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, Michigan, and Michigan State. Sure, Iowa’s defense had given up a lot of points all season, but Hawkeyes guard Devyn Marble and forward Aaron White had emerged as one of the best scoring duos in the country. The Hawkeyes also had rightfully earned a reputation as one of the deepest teams in the country, as they were playing 10 or 11 players every night and experiencing a great deal of success with that robust rotation.

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

It Was That Kind of Night for Iowa. Again. (AP)

Fast forward nearly a month and Iowa’s current position represents a nearly complete reversal of fortunes. The Hawkeyes closed out their regular season Big Ten slate by dropping five of six. They went from a ranking of #15 in the AP poll to receiving just four votes in the final regular season poll. An already shaky defense became an even more significant problem, as in those five losses, the opposition averaged 83.8 points per game. Losses at Minnesota and at Indiana highlighted just how poorly the Hawkeyes were playing on the defensive end of the court, as they allowed Minnesota to score 95 points and shoot 61.2 percent from the field, and Indiana to score 93 points and shoot 51.7 percent from the field.

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A Quality Performance Today in Indianapolis is a Must For Iowa

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

You could make a case for any number of Big Ten teams really needing to show out at the Big Ten Tournament if they hope to make a run in the bigger March tournament. Minnesota is situated squarely on the bubble after finishing with a conference record of 8-10. Nebraska was inhabiting the same patch of bubble real estate until their win over Wisconsin. They should be in the field of 68 now, but another win would be nice for their collective peace of mind. Michigan State wants to prove that they are worthy of the preseason hype they generated with their team all back from their different injuries. Indiana and Illinois need to win four games in four days to get there. But Iowa has the most to prove out of anybody in the field. They’ve plummeted from a potential #3 or #4 seed, to a team that with an early loss, could be looking at double-digit territory. So how do the Hawkeyes fix things to get back on track?

Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Ogelsby need big games for Iowa to advance in the Big Ten Tournament. (John Schultz/Quad City Times)

Gabriel Olaseni and Josh Ogelsby need big games for Iowa to advance in the Big Ten Tournament. (John Schultz/Quad City Times)

  • Fix the Defense Immediately: Here’s a quick breakdown of what the Hawkeyes have given up in their last six games in terms of points per possession: 1.22, 1.32.1.12, 1.06, 1.26, and 1.12. Even in their lone victory in the bunch over Purdue, they still allowed the Boilermakers to shoot 49.1% from the field. On their KenPom page under defensive footprint, it says inconclusive. Nothing sums up their lack of a defensive identity better than that. They do a decent job blocking shots and Roy Devyn Marble and Mike Gesell do a pretty good job getting into the passing lanes and getting steals. But in their recent rough patch they’ve given up far too many easy baskets in the paint. Whether it means extending their zone press and getting more aggressive with it (which they have the depth to do), or just hanging back and sticking to either a man-to-man or a zone, Iowa needs to pick a style and go with it. I don’t know if their is confusion about what their responsibilities are, or that they just don’t care because they think they can outscore people. Either way, what they’re doing right now isn’t working, and hasn’t for a number of games. Read the rest of this entry »
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Can Iowa Shore Up Its Shoddy Defense in Time?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on March 4th, 2014

After three seasons at the helm, Fran McCaffery will finally take Iowa back to the NCAA Tournament. That’s the good part about the Hawkeyes’ season. The next logical question is whether they can win more than one game there. With a 20-9 record and an RPI in the 30s, it is likely that the Hawkeyes will be on one of the top six seed lines, which could put them in a dreaded #5/#12 match-up against a decent team. Even if they get past that round, they’ll have to beat a Top 25 quality team that is likely to be offensively talented. At this late point in the season, it is still unclear if the Hawkeyes can defend well enough to beat a team that can run in a track meet with them. Over their last four games they have given up 1.21, 1.31, 1.12 and 1.06 points per possession, respectively, against Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue. Those numbers do not bode well for a team looking to make some noise as we head into March.

McCaffery's Hawkeyes will need to get some stops if they hopse to get to the Sweet 16. (AP/C. Neibergall)

McCaffery’s Hawkeyes will need to get some stops if they hopse to get to the Sweet 16. (AP/C. Neibergall)

Defense has been an issue for Iowa all season long, and a lack of it is the main reason they have been unable to close out many games.  Their record is a bit deceiving because they have won all of the games that they were supposed to, but they really only have two quality wins on the year: at Ohio State and vs. Michigan in Iowa City — even in both of those games, the Hawkeyes gave up more than a point per possession to the Buckeyes and the Wolverines. A win against Xavier, another NCAA Tournament team, is impressive, but an argument can be made that the absence of Musketeers’ star Semaj Christan during the second half helped the Hawkeyes. These observations are not intended to take anything away from Iowa’s resume this season, but merely to point out that its stay in March Madness could be a short one unless they find some answers on defense, and soon.

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Three Key Questions for Ohio State at Iowa

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on February 4th, 2014

A month ago, Ohio State at Iowa seemed like a potential game for first place in the Big Ten. Instead we are now looking at a Buckeyes team hoping to just get back to .500 in conference play and a Hawkeyes group at 6-3 hoping to stay on the heels of the conference leaders. For both teams, though, this game could have a big impact on its potential NCAA seed next month, so plenty is still at stake this evening. With that in mind, here are three key questions heading into tonight’s game.

Can Roy Devyn Marble and Iowa control the pace and stay in the Big Ten hunt at home against Ohio State? (AP)

Can Roy Marble and Iowa control the pace and stay in the Big Ten hunt at home against Ohio State? (AP)

  1. Can Ohio State limit Iowa on the interior? It is no secret that the Buckeyes’ interior, and specifically Amir Williams, has been a big reason for their recent downswing. The offense has been an issue all season long, but during their recent losing streak the Buckeyes were getting dominated inside the paint. Iowa has plenty of strong interior and wing players itself and should control the inside by routinely going inside to Aaron White and Jarrod Uthoff. The Hawkeyes’ rebounding ability (fourth in Big Ten in defensive rebounding percentage and second in offensive rebounding percentage) is likely to limit the Buckeyes to one shot and should create some second-chance points for themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
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