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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Iowa’s Depth Gives Hawkeyes an Element Most Teams Don’t Have

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 19th, 2013

There isn’t going be a fancy disclaimer or anything at the beginning of this post talking about small sample size, lack of quality opponents or anything of that ilk. While it is true that Iowa hasn’t played anybody of note yet, 4-0 is still 4-0. They are off to a tremendous start in handily beating the teams that they are supposed to handily beat. One very large takeaway from their Hawkeyes’ four games so far is that they are getting contributions from essentially the whole roster. Iowa has headliners in Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White, but Fran McCaffery has also put together a very deep bench that fits quite snugly with his system. Iowa’s bench players check all the boxes in terms of what you’d want from a reserve unit, and most importantly, have shown no drop-off in production whatsoever when they replace the starters.

Roy Devyn Marble is the headliner, but Iowa has been getting contributions from everyone in the midst of their 4-0 start. (Photo: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

Roy Devyn Marble is the headliner, but Iowa has been getting contributions from everyone in the midst of their 4-0 start. (Photo: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

The numbers tell some of the story here, with the bench players this season accounting for 49.9 percent of Iowa’s total points, 49.5 percent of its rebounds, and 45.0 percent of its assists. Granted, a lot of this derives from three of Iowa’s four games have been blowouts, so simply taking those statistics at face value doesn’t tell you what you need to know. The combination of evaluating the numbers and using the good old-fashioned eye test instead illustrates the impact that the bench has made. Gabriel Olaseni, a blur running the court end-to-end, is averaging 2.5 blocks per game. Wisconsin transfer Jared Uthoff can score in the paint or from the outside and is also providing rebounding (10.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG). Zach McCabe is a big body at 6’7″ and 235 lbs who can knock down an open shot and  match up wherever you need him to. Anthony Clemmons can come in and give you solid point guard minutes without any kind of dropoff if Marble or Mike Gesell have to sit. He has a 13:4 assist-to-turnover ratio and knows how to run the team. Lastly, freshman Peter Jok has the tools to eventually become a superstar. Unlike fellow first-year players like those populating the rosters of Indiana, Illinois and Purdue, Jok really doesn’t have to do anything except be a role player on a team loaded up with experience. So far, he’s shown that he can score and defend on the wing, again dovetailing with the common theme of little to no dropoff when these bench players enter the game.

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Three Thoughts as Iowa Dominated Northwestern

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 14th, 2013

Deepak Jayanti is an RTC correspondent for the Big Ten microsite. He filed this report after the Iowa – Northwestern game in Evanston on Sunday afternoon. 

After a heartbreaking loss to Michigan State earlier in the week, the Iowa Hawkeyes needed a win against Northwestern in Evanston to avoid a disastrous four-game losing skid. Describing Sunday’s match-up as a “must-win” game may sound extreme for an 11-5 team, but Fran McCaffery’s squad needed to get on board in conference play and gain some confidence because they start three freshmen – Adam Woodbury, Anthony Clemmons and Mike Gesell. The Hawkeyes dominated the game to record their first win in the Big Ten this season, winning by a final margin of 70-50. The following are three thoughts from Sunday’s game:

Fran McCaffery's Hawkeyes needed the win against Northwestern to avoid an 0-4 start in conference play. (AP/C. Neibergall)

Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes needed the win against Northwestern to avoid an 0-4 start in conference play. (AP/C. Neibergall)

  1. The Iowa freshmen continue to struggle during conference play – It isn’t surprising to see a freshman backcourt and a center struggle during the first three games of the conference season against such top teams as Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State. The game against the Wildcats was an opportunity for Iowa’s young players to show any improvement but they struggled offensively again. Woodbury was 1-of-7 from the field but gobbled up nine rebounds against a weak Northwestern front line. Gesell did a good job of only turning the ball over once but couldn’t find his shot. Devyn Marble handled the ball at the top of the key in the half-court, so there were not many opportunities for Gesell to drive the ball, therefore he had to settle for jumpers (0-of-4 from beyond the arc). Another reason for a poor shooting performance was the Wildcats’ zone defense. It is tough to understand how to break the zone until you’ve seen it multiple times and except for Michigan, not many of Iowa’s opponents have used the zone so far this season. Clemmons played only 14 minutes and barely saw the floor after turning the ball over against the press early in the second half. Overall, the Hawkeye freshmen could not figure out the Northwestern defense but fortunately they were bailed out by the upperclassmen during the game. Read the rest of this entry »
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Evaluating Big Ten Freshmen After the Non-Conference Season: Part One

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on December 31st, 2012

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Historically, Big Ten coaches have not relied on their freshmen to contribute significantly because most of their players tend to stick around for at least two seasons in the conference. But this season is different because there are three schools that expect their freshmen to be a big part of their offense – Indiana, Michigan and Iowa. All three of these programs signed a top 30 recruiting class and in addition, Michigan State and Wisconsin also signed top 50 freshmen for this season. Let’s evaluate the top freshmen in the B1G as the schools have now wrapped up the non-conference part of their schedule.

Nik Stauskas(left) may be the most important freshman for the Wolverines.

Nik Stauskas(left) may be the most important freshman for the Wolverines.

Michigan: Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas 

McGary and Robinson were expected to contribute immediately which justified Michigan’s top five ranking in the preseason. McGary was supposed to add depth to the frontcourt and help Jordan Morgan but he hasn’t been able to find his rhythm in Ann Arbor after 13 games. The forward has had a tough time staying out of foul trouble and will need to improve his footwork in order to become more effective for John Beilein. He is extremely efficient on the boards – 5.6 RPG in just 14.6 MPG – but does not look for his shot much (5.7 PPG) because the offense primarily runs through the wings and guards. Speaking of the wings, Robinson has not disappointed at all by averaging 12.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG so far this season. He has great range on his jumper and has shown that he is willing to crash the boards as well. More important than his statistics is his ability to play alongside Tim Hardaway Jr. Both have similar skill sets but Robinson already has a great understanding of the John Beilein’s offense and is very efficient with this shot selection (62.1% eFG). While Robinson has met preseason expectations, his teammate Stauskas has exceeded them and has been the most important freshman of all for the Wolverines. Coming out of high school, the scouts knew that he had a good jumper but his long-range shooting this year has been off the charts – 57% from distance. Trey Burke and Hardaway carry the bulk on the offense but neither of them shoot exceptionally well from beyond the arc – at 38% and 35%, respectively. Stauskas allows John Beilein to spread the floor and gets open looks from the perimeter due to the dribble-drive kick out passes by Burke. It will be tough for him to continue shooting at such a blistering rate but as long as he moves around to open spots in the offense, Stauskas will play an important role in what could be a special season for the Wolverines.

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Big Ten M5: 12.11.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on December 11th, 2012

  1. It sounds like the 2013-14 college basketball season is going to break ground on a large scale yet again, and with Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis again at the forefront of the idea, at least one Big Ten team is likely to participate in his latest and greatest idea. But as the culmination of the season — the NCAA Tournament and, particularly, the Final Four — has grown larger by the years and come to fill bigger spaces and stadiums, could the postseason suddenly be looking to slim down again? The Final Four hasn’t been played in a conventional basketball arena since 1996 and the next four Final Fours have already been scheduled for domes, but television executivess and NCAA administrators aren’t ruling out a return to arenas beyond that.
  2. Illinois has quietly been building one of the most impressive — and, perhaps, surprising — seasons around the country thus far, and their star is finally seeing the fruits of his labor. After leading the Illini to an impressive win at Gonzaga over the weekend, Brandon Paul was named the Big Ten Player of the Week. But should we be surprised? Just a few days after scoring 14 against Western Carolina, he went off for a season-high 35 against the Zags, shooting 10-of-16 from the field and 10-of-11 from the free throw line, all the while catapulting himself into the early national and conference Player of the Year discussion.
  3. It was just last year we were talking some promising freshmen at Iowa, and here we are again doing the same. With Aaron White now a sophomore, it’s newcomers like Adam Woodbury and Anthony Clemmons who are drawing high praise. Tork Mason of The Daily Iowan says that this incoming class has given the Hawkeyes some much-needed swagger, combining for 36 points over the last two games. In that span, Clemmons has a superb 16 assists and just one turnover.
  4. For the most part, as Deshaun Thomas goes, so goes Ohio State. And when things aren’t going well — consider his 3-of-10 shooting in the first half against Long Beach State, which led the preseason All-American to get down on himself recently — Thomas has been prone to show it on the floor. But coach Thad Matta has noticed an improvement in Thomas’ maturity, which has been critical as he’s stepped into a leadership role for the Buckeyes this season. “It’s just me learning the game and becoming an impact player and knowing there are other things than just scoring,” Thomas told ElevenWarriors.com. “There are other things in the game of basketball.” Unfortunately for the rest of the Big Ten, Thomas can do most everything within the game of basketball.
  5. Michigan State freshman Denzel Valentine has thrilled Spartan fans this season with his dazzling style of play and court vision, but he’s also maddened them at times when his inexperience has shone through. It’s the latter trait that has led Tom Izzo to rein Valentine in a bit lately, saying the freshman is on “a choker leash.” Valentine had just one turnover in the second half against Loyola on Saturday, after a couple frustrating moments earlier in the season. It’s never a good idea to question the coaching strategies of the six-time Final Four head coach, so it’s reasonable to expect to see Valentine slowly but surely getting more comfortable with a controlled role during the rest of the season.
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Big Ten M5: 12.06.12 Edition

Posted by KTrahan on December 6th, 2012

  1. Michigan State doesn’t have any commitments yet for the class of 2013 and only has one — three-star guard Drake Harris — for the class of 2014, but Tom Izzo still has a chance to pull in some very impressive classes in both years. MSU is still after top recruit Jabari Parker in 2013, but the 2014 class is expected to be much bigger (and presumably, better). This week, Izzo was in Chicago to see five-star center Jahlil Okafor and Apple Valley, Minnesota, to see five-star point guard Tyus Jones. Parker and Jones have both visited East Lansing and MSU is in their top five and top eight schools, respectively. If Izzo can snag even one of those three, he’ll have a star in the making, and he has MSU very well in the mix for each of these players.
  2. Illinois is 9-0 and went on a surprising run to win the Maui Invitational, but the Illini still have a lot to work on if they want to keep up their hot start. John Groce’s team nearly lost to Gardner-Webb and Hawaii and struggled again with Western Carolina this week. It might be too early to judge these Illini, who Loren Tate of IlliniHQ reminds us started last year with a 10-0 record. Illinois’ shooting has been erratic and it must be more consistent for the Illini to make a big run, but we’ll find out what this team is made of soon enough, with games against Gonzaga and Missouri coming up. This is a crucial point in the season, with some tough non-conference games remaining and a very difficult Big Ten slate coming up. Now is the time for the Illini to prove this team is actually different than last year’s group that collapsed down the stretch.
  3. Since it’s still only December, rankings are relatively meaningless right now. However, a debate has been raging about whether Indiana or Duke deserves to be No. 1. Of course, this isn’t college football; it’s doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a very interesting question. Do the Hoosiers deserve to stay at the top of the polls for not yet faltering from its preseason perch, or should the Blue Devils pass them after what can only be described as a remarkable non-conference run? Since we don’t even have a chance of seeing this match-up until March (or, more likely, April), Hoosier State of Mind gave its opinion on which team has the edge. Obviously, HSOM is an Indiana blog, but it’s a very interesting breakdown on which team matches up better. Will IU fall because of the Big Ten’s depth? Can Duke continue to be successful with such a short rotation? Which frontcourt would ultimately prevail? A potential meeting is still four months away, so why not have some fun with the speculation?
  4. Football has been a sore topic for Nebraskans this week, but for the first time in awhile, Huskers fans can actually turn to some basketball for relief. First-year coach Tim Miles has Nebraska off to its best start since the 2008-09 season and can now boast back-to-back wins against Wake Forest and USC. Fans have taken notice as Miles tries to create some momentum for the program heading into next year’s unveiling of a new 16,000-seat arena. It’s tough to imagine this team, which has just nine scholarship players, doing much damage in the Big Ten, but we’ll get a good barometer of where the Huskers stand when they play Creighton, without question the flagship basketball program in the state.
  5. Coming into the season, freshman Mike Gesell was supposed to be Iowa’s point guard of the future. However, just a month into this year, another freshman, Anthony Clemmons, has taken over that spot, pushing Gesell to the shooting guard position. Some Iowa players have noted that Clemmons is a good defender, but his command of the offense has been impressive in the two games he has started. He was particularly impressive in the Hawkeyes’ recent win over South Dakota, and while he only scored four points, he also had eight assists and zero turnovers. Iowa now has the flexibility to start three players at the point — Clemmons, Gesell and junior Devyn Marble — and all three have seen time there so far. The Hawkeyes already had tremendous depth up and down the roster, so adding Clemmons to the point guard rotation gives coach Fran McCaffery even more options.
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Big Ten Team Previews: Iowa Hawkeyes

Posted by KTrahan on October 16th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Big Ten microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Where we left off: Last time we saw Iowa, the Hawkeyes were getting run over for 108 points by Oregon in the second round of the NIT. Of course, it was an accomplishment for the program to even get back to the NIT after a promising season, and now, with a number of stars back, Iowa is looking to take the next step to the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Fran McCaffery has done a good job of turning the team around, and now, in year three, expectations are high. Clearly McCaffery has his team on the right track, but is this the year Iowa finally makes it back to the NCAA Tournament? There is a lot of inexperience on parts of the court, but enough talent is certainly there for the Hawkeyes to make a run.

Fran McCaffery Has His Team on the Right Track (credit: AP)

Positives: Iowa’s biggest strength this winter will be its depth, and in fact, that could represent the most difficult part of McCaffery’s job. The Hawkeyes may have a hard time finding playing time for everyone with so much returning experience and new talent. Junior guard Roy Devyn Marble and sophomore forward Aaron White are locks to start, and they’ll likely be joined by junior forward Melsahn Basabe and freshman point guard Mike Gesell, but after that, the distribution of minutes gets foggy. Junior forward Zach McCabe will likely see considerable minutes, as will freshman center Adam Woodbury, but sophomore center Gabe Olaseni, who McCaffery calls the team’s most improved player, will also be slated for some time. In the backcourt, sophomore shooting specialist Josh Oglesby, freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons and senior Eric May will all push for playing time. There are a lot of different looks that this team can show, and while it might be difficult to figure out playing time, that’s a very good problem to have.

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