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Tuesday, March 01, 2005
 
Does Iowa Miss Pierce?
Not as much as Pierce missed for Iowa....Ba-zing!

If you're one of the 5 or 10 Hawkeye fans still watching games (and reading this blog), you may have noticed a lack of posts for a few days - well I've been working on this, little by little. I probably should've broken it up into a few separate posts for easier reading, but here it is anyway.

With the completion of Iowa's game against Penn State, which was the Hawkeyes's 14th conference game, they have played seven games with and seven games without the 18 ppg and highly-praised defense of Pierre Pierce. Conventional wisdom said that Iowa would collapse without its "leader." At the time, I said I thought Iowa's offense would be fine (but drew no conclusions about the defense).

Let's start by looking at the game-by-game performance of the offense, as measured by points per 100 possessions. I'll list the opponent, Iowa's offensive rating for that game, and the opponent's defensive rating for all conference games through last weekend (2/27).

Opponent..........IA O Rtg.......Opp D Rtg
Michigan.................96......................110
Ohio State..............96........................99
Minnesota..............93........................96
Illinois.....................85........................98
Purdue...................119.....................107
Nwestern...............109.....................110
Indiana...................118.....................106
Average................102.3.................103.7

Michigan St...........100.....................100
Wisconsin..............116.....................103
Northwestern...........97......................110
Purdue.....................98......................107
Illinois....................103........................98
Minnesota................89.......................96
Penn State.............118......................118
Average...............103.0..................104.6

Well look at that - Iowa's offense didn't miss a beat after Pierce left the team. The average of the defenses they faced without him was slightly weaker, mainly because of the recent game with Penn State, but the differences are slight enough that it's safe to say Iowa's offense has been as efficient without Pierce as it was with him. (Notable note - despite playing in only half the games, Pierce still leads the team in turnovers for conference games.)

Was Iowa's offense signifcantly better or worse in any facet without its star? Here are some important team numbers to consider.
Stats Glossary

.........................Off Rtg.....Poss/G........adjFG%.........TO/poss.........Oreb %...........FTA/FGA
with PP..............102............68.1...........0.495...............0.229.............0.331..................0.391
w/o PP...............103............63.9...........0.484...............0.213.............0.338..................0.346

There's not much to see here - Iowa is shooting slightly fewer free throws, but makes up for it by turning the ball over slightly less often. The team's pace has changed a lot, as they're averaging over four fewer possessions per game. This could be for several different reasons - struggling to get a good shot without Pierce "creating" (read: forcing) one, not turning the ball over as often, not forcing the turnovers that lead to fast breaks, etc.

Well, if Pierce isn't around to score his 18 per game, where is the offense coming from, and how well are the replacements doing?

Let's start by simply examining who's getting the minutes now. I'll use a decimal to express what percentage of the minutes available that each player plays. The formula I used is simply

minutes / (team minutes / 5)

So if someone plays in all games and plays 30 mpg, he'd come in at 0.75, while someone who played 30 mpg but played in only half the games would be at 0.37. I would just use minutes per game but that doesn't account for guys who didn't play in every game, like Thomas and Reed.

Playing Time
Player.....................first 7 games.......last 7 games........change
Pierre Pierce................0.93.....................0.00..................-0.93
Jeff Horner...................0.91.....................0.95..................+0.04
Greg Brunner...............0.84.....................0.81..................-0.03
Adam Haluska.............0.63......................0.89.................+0.26
Erek Hansen................0.46......................0.41..................-0.05
Doug Thomas..............0.43......................0.28.................-0.15
Carlton Reed................0.30......................0.30...................0.00
Mike Henderson...........0.29......................0.76.................+0.47
Alex Thompson............0.15......................0.38.................+0.23
Seth Gorney.................0.06......................0.11.................+0.05
Jack Brownlee..............0.00......................0.09................+0.09
J.R. Angle......................0.00......................0.02................+0.02
Justin Wieck.................0.00......................0.01.................+0.01

Henderson and Haluska picked up most of Pierce's playing time, with Haluska going from 26.0 mpg to 35.7, and Henderson from 11.9 to *gasp* 30.4. Alex Thompson has seen plenty more minutes, but that was mainly due to Thomas missing a game and Brunner and Hansen's foul trouble, and has little to do with Pierce's absence.

OK, that tells us who's getting the extra minutes, but it doesn't say much about where the offense is coming from. For this next part I'll use some of Dean Oliver's tools to evaluate who's picking up Pierce's slack. Pierce used an enormous 30% of Iowa's possessions, so his departure opened the door for several other (more efficient) scorers to see the ball. Starting with the main contributors from the first seven games -

Player..................%poss...........Floor%.........Off Rtg
Pierre Pierce.........29.9.............0.451...............94
Greg Brunner.........22.4............0.539..............112
Adam Haluska.......19.9............0.437..............102
Jeff Horner.............16.9............0.462..............110

When the #2-#4 scorers are more efficient than the guy taking most of the shots, the top dog isn't irreplaceable, as I noted in my analysis a month ago (hope you don't mind the self-congratulations) -


Pierre Pierce was clearly the focal point of Iowa's offense through its first
seven conference games. Since he scored in such an inefficient fashion, his
absence in the offense probably won't be the crisis some are making it out to
be. The team going forward will be more balanced and made up of more efficient
scorers, so they should be able to pick up the slack from the fallen star.
Here's how the "Big Three" looks over the last seven games -

Player.....................%poss.......Floor%.........Off Rtg
Greg Brunner..........26.4..........0.536..............113
Jeff Horner..............23.3..........0.414...............101
Adam Haluska.........22.3..........0.583..............130

Greg Brunner, as always, is just solid. He was forced to pick up an extra 4% of the possessions, yet his floor percentage and offensive rating remain nearly identical. Add in his stellar rebounding and you've got a convincing case for Iowa's MVP.

Horner's offensive rating dropped with the increased offensive burden, but that's to be expected of a guy who doesn't effectively create his own shot. With Pierce out of the lineup, the opposing team's best perimiter defender now moves to either Horner or Haluska, and Iowa's stand-still offense often forces Horner into ill-advised shots, so a drop in efficiency is reasonable. Note though that he's still more efficient than Pierce was (101 to 94).

Adam Haluska. Wow. One of Iowa's all-time best high school players has flourished in his new role and developed into one of the Big Ten's best scorers (19 ppg in last 7 games). Here's a quick comparison of Adam's last seven games to some of the Big Ten's other scoring guards.


PlayerGPPGRPGAPGFTA/FGA3PA/FGAadjFG%PPWS%possFloor%O Rtg
Adam Haluska719.05.11.90.3670.3890.5941.2722.30.583130
Luther Head1416.63.82.60.3460.6280.6061.2922.30.531127
Dee Brown1414.32.44.20.2580.6480.6841.4019.70.558137
Vincent Grier1517.45.72.30.5070.1140.4311.0126.70.498102
Bracey Wright1119.25.33.30.4720.3740.4601.0732.50.490108


*PPWS is Points Per Weighted Shots, as explained by the venerable Big Ten Wonk.

With the exception of how many threes each guy shoots, and 3-pt%, Haluska compares very favorably to Luther Head from Illinois. I hinted as early as the third game of the season that I preferred Haluska to Pierce,

I guess the point I want to make is that I won't be devastated if Pierre isn't
able to play Wednesday....If Pierce is out of the lineup, I'm fine with
Haluska handling the ball more and taking the extra shots. He's got a better
outside shot, and I think some people would be surprised by his ability to
take his man off the dribble.
But I'll readily admit that I didn't expect the kind of production Adam has shown recently. He showed early flashes of excellence (think Iowa State and Texas Tech) but mixed that with enough 1-6 and 1-7 nights from three that most of us were not always sure what to expect.

To make a long story short, Iowa's offense has been just fine without Pierre Pierce.

Now let's take a look at the defense. We'll start the way we did with offense, by listing Iowa's game-by-game defensive rating with each opponent's offensive rating for all conference games.

Opponent..............IA D Rtg.........Opp O Rtg
Michigan......................99......................94
Ohio State.................113....................102
Minnesota...................84......................96
Illinois..........................92....................123
Purdue........................95....................103
Northwestern.............110...................102
Indiana.........................93....................108
Average....................98.0..................104.0

Michigan State.............118....................117
Wisconsin....................121....................109
Northwestern...............82.....................102
Purdue.........................103...................103
Illinois..........................118....................123
Minnesota...................102......................96
Penn State....................84......................93
Average....................104.0.................106.1

Iowa's defense fared worse without Pierce, both in absolute and relative terms. The post-Pierce team still held teams below their average (thanks mainly to the Northwestern and Penn State games), and that 104 mark is league average, but the Pierce-led defense was more successful. With Pierce, Iowa held opponents to 94% of their season average (98/104), and 98% without him.

Here's a breakdown of the defensive performance for each seven game stretch -

..............................Opp adjFG%.......Opp TO/poss......Opp Oreb%.......Opp FTA/FGA
with PP......................0.474.....................0.271...................0.369.....................0.396
w/o PP.......................0.471.....................0.174...................0.277.....................0.443

Iowa has forced significantly fewer turnovers without Pierce in the lineup. You might recall that he was leading the conference in steals and had a good chance at breaking Ryan Bowen's season steals record. The difference between Pierce's defense and fill-in Mike Henderson has been noticeable.

The change in defensive rebounding has been impressive, though little of that is probably attributable to Pierce. From a table listed earlier, recall that Erek Hansen's playing time dropped from 0.46 of available minutes to 0.41. That's not a huge drop, and I'm sure it doesn't explain all of the rebounding difference. Let's take a closer look at who's getting the job done on the boards.

With Alford's substitution patterns, you basically have Brunner, Hansen, Thomas, Thompson, and Gorney rotating through the two post spots, and the other regulars sharing three guard spots. Two lineup spots provide 560 minutes over 7 games (2 x 40 x 7), and the bigs combined for 565 and 555 minutes in the two 7 game stretches, so our assumption that these 5 guys get all the post playing time is pretty safe.

Using minutes / 560, here's a measure of each tree's playing time over each 7 game segment, as well as their defensive rebounds per 40 minutes of conference play.

Player...........first 7.........last 7.......d reb/40
Brunner..........0.44...........0.41..........7.44
Hansen...........0.24...........0.20..........1.63
Thomas..........0.23...........0.14..........7.09
Thompson......0.08..........0.19............4.86
Gorney...........0.03...........0.06...........7.35

I guess what I'm getting at is that by replacing Hansen with anybody makes for a significantly better rebounding team. His decrease in playing time was Iowa's gain in rebounding.

Also of note, Iowa's good defensive rebounding numbers in that second stretch of games is skewed somewhat by the 0 offensive boards Northwestern had. Still, even if you remove both Northwestern games, Iowa allowed a 0.388 offensive rebound rate with Pierce and 0.310 without him, which is a big improvement, and Iowa played better rebounding teams in the games without Pierce. Other than slightly decreased playing time for Hansen, I don't have a very good explanation.

***Related Rant*********************
If Doug Thomas could stay out of foul trouble (and if Alford didn't have him on such a short leash), Iowa could be playing a two-headed rebounding monster reminiscent of the Acie Earl - Chris Street tandem. Here's a listing of total rebounds per 40 minutes and fouls per 40 minutes.

Player..........reb/40.......foul/40
Brunner..........10.7............3.8
Thomas..........11.2............7.5
Thompson........8.6............5.9
Hansen.............3.7............8.8
Gorney............11.4............4.9

Make no mistake, Thomas is as good as a rebounder as Brunner, the Big Ten's leader. If someone could teach him to keep his feet and stop reaching, he'd deserve 25 mpg.
*********************************

In the end though, none of these stats matter as much as the numbers that show up in the win and loss columns. Plenty of sportswriters were quick to see Iowa's 2-5 record and declare that the loss of Pierce doomed the team. Iowa didn't exactly win with Pierce, going only 3-4 before he got canned, so going 2-5 without him isn't exactly a collapse. Nevermind the fact that the second 7 games basically included Michigan State and Wisconsin where Ohio State and Indiana had been in the first 7.

Verdict, Short Form
Pierce, as the focal point of Iowa's offense, was basically dead weight dragging down the team's potential efficiency, but the Hawks don't have the players to replace his defensive contributions.

What If...
- What if the coaches had recognized Pierce's offensive shortcomings and told/forced him to shoot less?
- What if they had realized Haluska's offensive capabilities at the start, giving him more minutes and more shots?
- What if Pierce was more of a pass-first point guard with Horner playing the traditional shooting guard role? This would've required less of a scoring mentality from Pierce, but the guy was averaging 4-5 ast a game even when he was taking 15 shots per. With Pierce's ability to penetrate and draw defenders, I could see him hitting 6-7 ast/game and Horner knocking down a lot of uncontested threes. Sure this is all moot speculation and wishful thinking, but it's been in the back of my mind for a long time.
- What if Thomas could cut his fouls in half? Would Alford let him off the bench? I have visions of Pierce deflecting passes they way he always did, then heading downcourt to hit a streaking Thomas for the flush or finding Horner on the wing for the easy three. That would've made for some fun at Carver. I should really stop torturing myself with all these scenarios. Seriously though, a lineup of Pierce, Horner, Haluska, Brunner and Thomas, if harnessed properly, would've been an offensive powerhouse. And with Pierce and Haluska shutting down perimeter players and Brunner and Thomas grabbing every rebound in sight, it would've been a solid defensive unit too. Argh.
- What if I went to bed? We have a winner!
Comments:
You know, this really does sound like bad coaching. Here's what struck me:

1. Mikey isn't the defensive stud we were told he was.
2. Pierre shouldn't have been shooting as much.
3. Thomas has potential to be very good, if a few things are corrected.
4. Hansen's minutes haven't really changed, despite his rebounding inteptitude.

Great work... that obviously took a lot of effort. Keep it up!
 
Thanks Howzi. If you're the coach, what advice do you give to Thomas in order to cut down on the fouls and keep him on the court? If he doesn't play such an aggressive/reckless style, I wonder if he's still as good as a rebounder. In any case, he's got to learn to avoid the cheap fouls he so often gets whistled for.
 
As far as Haluska is concerned, don't forget that he was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year when he was a freshman. He really does have some game.

I've said to anyone who would listen that Hansen doesn't have the bulk to go up against anyone in the Big 10; and every time he goes after a shot, he is out of position to rebound.

And Thomas is an enigma. Yeah, he can have the occaisional great game but can't seem to keep from committing the "stupid" foul. Kind of reminds you of Worley, huh?

Mikey is a solid backup point guard, that's all. I have thought all along that Carleton Reed should be getting more minutes. Yeah, he'll make the freshman mistakes but he has a ton more potential than Mikey, especially on offense.
 
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