Iowa 66, Minnesota 60
I entered Carver-Hawkeye Arena today for the first time in a month. Some unexpected losses occurred since the last home game I saw, but things today were about the same as when I left. They still played the parents-cover-your-children's ears warmup music, the pep band still played out of time, the student section was still deserted, Pierre Pierce still coughed the ball up, and Erek Hansen still bit on any shot fake in his direction. But despite some ugly play and a gruesome box score, it was good to be back.
Iowa got their first taste of victory in the Big Ten with what Coach Alford has been calling Iowa's conference opener. After apathetic outings against Michigan and Ohio State, Alford decided it was time to "wipe the slate clean" and go back to basics. Iowa played with a renewed vigor, especially at the start, in leading the Gophers wire-to-wire. They came out pushing the tempo off of rebounds and turnovers, as Alford had suggested they would. Iowa built the lead into double digits early on and maintained a "comfortable" lead (is any Iowa lead really comfortable?) of about 6-12 points the rest of the way.
- Pierce played a solid game en route to joining the Hawkeye 1,000 point club, making him #36 on Iowa's career scoring list. He's on pace to eclipse Jeff Moe and climb to #13 by season's end. He was at 984 points coming into today's game, and got to 15 without any trouble. Then Iowa hit the Great Field Goal Drought of '05 (no FG in last 10+ min), and Pierce spent more than a few minutes at 999. Ironically, it was Pierce's free throw shooting that got him to the milestone. He shot 8-11 from the line, including point #1000, to climb to 52% on the season. Hawkeye Hoops has had a love/hate relationship with Pierce from the get-go, but today I say - congratulations.
- Pierce's free throw shooting wasn't his only note-worthy contribution today. Vincent Grier, who entered the game as the Big Ten's 4th leading scorer, could only manage 2 points against Pierce's defense. Coach Alford noted afterward that it was "Pierre's goal all game" to shut down Grier, and he did a great job at it. Astute readers might point out that Grier actually finished with 6 points. The other 4 points came from free throws after Adam Haluska switched over to Grier and fouled him, on two separate occasions. Also, it was Pierce's aggressiveness on offense that got Grier into foul trouble, as he was forced out of the game around the 10:00 mark with 4 fouls.
- Greg Brunner had another solid game, with 13 points and 11 rebounds. I think solid is becoming the only word I use to describe Brunner anymore - his consistent production is remarkable. Ever since Alford dogged Greg after the UNI game for only leading Jeff Horner by one for the team's rebounding total, Brunner has averaged 12.4 ppg and 10.3 rpg over 8 games, while never having fewer than 9 points or 8 rebounds in that stretch. Iowa's PF got the offense started early by canning two threes for the team's first six points (contrast that with the 3-17 performance from Iowa's backcourt of Horner, Haluska, and Pierce). He later added an impressive left-handed tip-dunk, as seen here.
- Speaking of awesome dunks, let's turn to the authority on the subject, Doug Thomas. Thunder Doug threw down a powerful slam in the face of a defender that brought the crowd to its feet in the first half, and added a tip-dunk in the second half. Doug could have had plenty of playing time, as Erek Hansen racked up a handful of fouls by biting on pump fakes, fouling out in only 14 minutes of play. Unfortunately, Doug has been rather foul-prone himself, as was the case today (more below).
- Enter freshman center Seth Gorney. The 7-footer played 11 minutes, the most action he's seen yet. He held his own defensively against Super Walker Jeff Hagen (with some nice double-downs from Pierce), and gathered 5 rebounds for the Hawks. His performance was impressive enough that Gary Dolphin and Bobby Hansen on AM 800 named him co-player of the game, sharing the title with Pierce.
- I didn't realize it then, but Haluska's scant playing time in the Ohio State game was due to back spasms. The news was that he was ready to go today, but his shot wasn't too pretty. He ended the game 1-7 from long range, but was able to get to the free throw line often, especially down the stretch, and made 8 of 10. Alford was asked about Haluska's shooting after the game, but chose instead to praise the transfer's energy and defensive intensity.
- Horner had an off night shooting as well, missing 5 of his 7 threes. Maybe some of the team's shooting woes can be blamed on not playing for a full week, but I thought last week's two-a-day practices were intended to keep everyone sharp. Iowa's going to need better production from Horner if the team is going to do any travelling at the end of the season (and not of the Jeff Hagen variety).
- Pierce was interviewed on the radio after the game, and he commented that he'd been working a lot on his free throws lately. His 8-11 game was a nice surprise, and will be a big asset if he can maintain it. A big part of his game is cutting to the basket and drawing contact, so improving the FT% would really add some points to the offense. Pierce also said that Alford told him there was no reason he couldn't shoot 75% during the conference season. So far in Alford's clean-slate 14-game season, Pierre is 73% (8-11). For those of us spending our time in reality, Pierce is at 67% (16-24) through 3 games.
- It seems to me that more and more strength and conditioning coaches are taking note of Mark Verstegen's work. Minnesota's pre-game stretching routine looked straight out of Core Performance, Verstegen's exercise book that I first saw recommended at Will Carroll Presents (creative outlet of Iowa grad and writer/comic [and Hawkeye Hoops reader!] Scott Long, among others). Definitely one of the more useful books I read last year.
This blog has often noted Iowa's struggles with post defense. A big part of that has been keeping the better defenders on the floor, as they are so inclined to foul. Here's a listing of the team, in order of most fouls per 40 minutes.
Doug Thomas, 7.05
Seth Gorney, 6.25
Erek Hansen, 4.72
Alex Thompson, 4.32
Greg Brunner, 4.18
Mike Henderson, 3.36
Pierre Pierce, 2.97
Adam Haluska, 2.74
Jeff Horner, 1.92
Carlton Reed, 1.73
*** Hawkeye Hoops Exclusive Update ***
Big Ten Leaders, fouls / 40 min (minimum 15 mpg)
Doug Thomas, Iowa.....................7.05
Pat Ewing, Jr, Indiana....................6.29
J'son Stamper, Minnesota............ 6.12
Matt Kiefer, Purdue........................4.82
Chris Hunter, Michigan..................4.74
Erek Hansen, Iowa......................4.72
Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota....4.70
Mohamed Hachad, N'Western......4.24
Carl Landry, Purdue......................4.23
Greg Brunner, Iowa....................4.18
Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State have no regulars over 4 fouls / 40 min (unless your're counting the Badgers's Brian Butch, he of the 13 mpg). Most other teams only have one or two, while Iowa has Thomas, Hansen and Brunner above the admittedly arbitrary baseline. Gorney said on the radio tonight that he was trained in high school to keep his feet on ball fakes and shot attempts. That'll be a valuable skill to have if Houdini Hansen's Big Ten performances are indicative of his actual skill level.
Next up - Iowa travels to Illinois on Thursday to challenge the nation's #1 team. I'll be looking at Illinois next week.
Minnesota Injury Update
Jeff Shelman, who covers basketball for the Minneapolis Star Tribune as well as ESPN and his own blog, reports that Jeff Hagen and Brent Lawson are questionable for today's game. How would this affect their lineup?
Hagen is the Gophers's leading rebounder, so his absence would be blow to one of Minnesota's strengths and aid an Iowa weakness.
The injuries mean the Gophers are likely to start the game with a different
lineup, as Monson has been reluctant to start players who haven't practiced. If
that continues, the Gophers' starting frontcourt could feature J'son Stamper,
Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson. Tollackson and Stamper played well in
Hagen's absence against Purdue.
It's possible Monson could start three guards
and bring either Stamper or Tollackson off the bench. Regardless, it appears
likely that point guard Aaron Robinson will be the only Minnesota starter who
has previously played a Big Ten road game.
Shelman note - Jeff is a voter for the weekly AP poll and releases his top 25 every Monday at his aforementioned blog. He currently has an article up about Minnesota's unexpected rise from nowhere at ESPN.
Dean-O Hits the Mainstream!
The New York Times and Seattle PI profile Seattle Supersonics consultant Dean Oliver and his statistical work. Oliver, as I'm sure you're by now aware, is the creator of many of the stats used on this blog, and has influenced most of the analytical techniques presented here. Links via NBA analysis site 82games.com.
Next Up - Minnesota
It's not that often that you hear a 12-3 team's third conference game is a "must win," but I get the feeling that Hawkeye fans are as anxious about tomorrow's game against Minnesota as they have been in quite some time. Just two games ago this team was ranked in the top 15 of the national polls and chosen as the most likely challenger to Illinois for the Big Ten title. Now they're in the conference cellar, gearing up to play a game that could go a long way in determining their fate. If they lose Saturday, Iowa is looking at the very real possibility of starting the conference season 0-4, as they follow up at #1 Illinois next Thursday. A win would hopefully send them to Champaign with enough momentum to put up a fight.
Let's take a peek at each team's Four Factors to get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. (You might wish to consult the updated and ever-evolving Stats Glossary).
Minnesota (B10 rank)
adjFG% = .564 (3)
TO/poss = .247 (11)
Oreb Rate = .389 (2)
FTM/FGA = .289 (4)
Iowa (B10 rank)
adjFG% = .542 (5)
TO/poss = .209 (5)
Oreb Rate = .309 (8)
FTM/FGA = .303 (2)
Average Opponents' Pomeroy Rating (nat'l rank)
Minnesota = 48.48 (159)
Iowa = 52.97 (27)
Minnesota Points/100 Poss
Offense = 112
Defense = 93
Iowa Points/100 Poss
Offense = 111
Defense = 97
Iowa might get some competition from the Gophers. When the Gophers maintain possession of the ball (they turn it over more often than any Big Ten team), their offense has been quite effective. They trail only Illinois and Michigan State in adjFG%, and they often get the ball back if they do miss. The Gophers also get to the free throw line frequently (Vincent Grier, J'son Stamper and Jeff Hagen are all in the conferences top 15 for FTA/FGA), and shoot a respectable 72% there.
Iowa's numbers, while not necessarily pretty in their raw form, are decent in the appropriate context. First, they've had the Big Ten's third hardest schedule so far, and 27th hardest in the counrty. Competition that tough will depress the numbers a bit. Also, the Big Ten has several teams that do well in some of these categories. Iowa might be 5th in the conference in shooting and TO rate, but they're in the top 15% and 25% of those stats, nationally.
I've read that the combination of Minnesota's league-leading 3pt% and Iowa's lackluster perimeter defense could lead to the Hawks getting torched from downtown. I doubt that will be a big problem since Minnesota is last in the conference in threes attempted per shot attempt (3PA/FGA), and is 3rd to last in Ken Pomeroy's 3-point production. Hopefully Iowa will force and make good use of Minnesota's turnovers.
Now's the exciting part of the preview where we check out the new numbers we broke out yesterday.
You might remember from yesterday that floor percentage is the ratio of a player's scoring possessions to individual possessions. Total floor% for all Big Ten teams is right about 50%. Player's get credit or partial credit for scoring possessions through scoring, assists, and offensive rebounds. Individual possessions are accumulated through scoring possessions, missed shots that the defense rebounds, and turnovers.
The offensive rating is a player's points produced per 100 possessions. Points produced is an Oliver number that credits players for contributions through field goals, free throws, assists, and offensive rebounds. Keep in mind that the average offensive rating for Big Ten teams is about 109.
Possession percentage is the amount of a team's possessions a player is involved in when he's in the game. Note that if five players played a full game and shared the ball equally, each would have 20% of the possessions.
Vincent Grier gets his impressive floor% by shooting well from the floor and by getting to the free throw line often and shooting well there. Dan Coleman and Rico Tucker are providing about league average production - not bad for freshmen. Aaron Robinson and Brent Lawson have impressive offensive ratings, but that alone does not make them great players. Their %poss are probably the lowest I've seen for anyone with as much playing time as them (both about 29 mpg), which means they have little involvement in the team's offense.
Has anyone else wondered how this team would look now if Pierre Pierce's ankle sprain at the end of the Texas game had been more severe? Would it be a case of addition by subtraction? A reduced role for Pierce would allow for larger contributions from more efficient players like Horner, Haluska, and Brunner. Pierce's %poss is one of the highest for any player from a top 30 team (might be the highest, I'm just not inclined to look it up. Just know that when Michael Jordan was in his prime, he was using 30-33% of the team's possessions). Unfortunately, his efficiency (O Rate) is well below the conference average. That's just not the guy you want controlling nearly a third of your team's offense. As Dean Oliver notes in his book, unless you have Michael Jordan, one-man teams just don't go very far.
Well, that's about it for tonight. Perhaps you could tell by the volume of my writing that I'm a little excited to finally see a live game again. My last Iowa game was Western Carolina on December 18, a full month ago. I'm hoping that the team still has enough fans to provide some good basketball atmosphere after the 0-2 start (one fan who's given up, via the Big Ten Wonk).
Stats of the Day, Dean Oliver Edition
You might remember a few posts I wrote a while back where I played around with some offbeat statistics and named them after recent Iowa players. Today's post will cover more numbers you don't see every day, but the Dean Oliver in the title isn't the former Hawkeye. Rather, he's the author of Basketball on Paper, a very impressive book about basketball performance analysis that I read during my trip to Oregon.
Oliver stressed the importance of understanding possessions in analyzing team efficiency. As you might recall, he calculated team possessions as
FGA - OReb + TO + (0.4 x FTA)
A team's offensive or defensive efficiency was simply the points it scored or allowed per possession.
*** Related Info ************************************************
The four components of the possessions formula comprise Oliver's Four Factors (click the "articles" link, it should be at the top), or the four most important factors for winning basketball games. Shooting percentage, as you might have guessed, is the most important element of winning. The team that makes more shots than its opponent is more likely to win. Taking care of the basketball by limiting turnovers is next most important. Keeping possessions alive through offensive rebounds helps teams win, as does getting to the free throw line often. For a more detailed look at this, you should really check out Oliver's Four Factors page.
*** End of Tangent *********************************************
Oliver's years of studying basketball eventually led to what I view as the most intelligent player rating system I've seen. He repeatedly mentions in his book that there is no one "holy grail of statistics," or one number that represents the total value of a single player, but he does come up with a few numbers that, when viewed together, give you a good idea of a player's style and efficiency.
The numbers from the book that I'm going to use are floor percentage and offensive rating.
Both numbers use individual possessions in their calcualtion. Individual possessions occur when a player has a scoring possession (see below), misses a field goal or free throw that the defense rebounds, or commits a turnover.
Floor percentage measures the percent of a player's or team's possessions that end in a scoring possession. A team scoring possession is a possession in which the team scores at least one point; individuals have scoring possessions when they contribute to a team scoring possession, by making a field goal, assisting on it, getting the offensive rebound that leads to it, or by making free throws.
Offensive rating is a ratio of a player's points produced to his individual possessions. Points produced is a number Oliver created that gives players credit for contributing to the offense through assists, field goals, free throws, and offensive rebounds.
I hope that's understandable, because I don't plan on writing out the formulas. They're too lengthy and complex to lay out here. I assume that if you were actually interested in them, you'd already have a copy of Oliver's book (or will soon), and if you don't care about the computations, there's obviously no point in writing them here.
I'll provide numbers for a few of the better players of varying styles (titles taken from Athlon Sports's basketball annual) to let you see what numbers are "good" for different types of players. I'm also including another Oliver idea, the percent of a team's possessions that a player uses while he is in the game, as opposed to percent of a team's total possessions. (Numbers current through Monday, 1/10/04).
|Chris Paul||Wake Forest||.550||137||22.1|
|Jarrett Jack||Georgia Tech||.510||129||21.3|
|Raymond Felton||North Carolina||.493||123||21.1|
|John Lucas||Oklahoma State||.562||146||21.8|
|Ben Jacobson||Northern Iowa||.528||131||24.4|
|Julius Hodge||North Carolina State||.597||128||30.1|
|Rashad McCants||North Carolina||.524||132||23.3|
|Ike Diogu||Arizona State||.618||137||27.8|
|Joey Graham||Oklahoma State||.558||125||28.0|
|Paul Davis||Michigan State||.576||123||25.3|
|Eric Williams||Wake Forest||.607||125||23.9|
|Sean May||North Carolina||.610||128||28.2|
|Luke Schenscher||Georgia Tech||.555||117||19.7|
Note I. One thing that's nice about these ratings is that they're rate stats, based on possessions, so they're not biased by a team's tempo or an individual's playing time.
Note II. Before you get too excited about Haluska's high offensive rating, realize that for each player there is an inverse relationship between offensive efficiency and amount of possessions used. I'll talk more about that soon. For now, just know that players become less efficient as they take on bigger roles in the offense.
Note III. As always, be aware that differing levels of competition can affect each player's performance.
That's about enough for today. I plan to talk a little more about what the numbers mean (or at least what I think they mean) later in the week. For now, I hope you can get a feel for how different players do in each category (e.g., post players tend to have high floor %, good shooters who do little else tend to have high offensive ratings, etc). If you find this type of analysis interesting and want to learn more, I again recommend Oliver's book, Basketball on Paper.
I've pored over the numbers of all the Big Ten players the past couple days, so sometime soon I'll be looking at the leaders and how Iowa fits in. If there are any individual players you would like to see ratings for (on any D-I team), just leave a comment or send me an email.
Posts have been rather inconsistent lately, both in quantity and quality, and I apologize for that. Part of the reason is that I started classes again this week, and they're already quite time consuming. The other thing keeping me from writing is material - Iowa has a full week off. Don't fret, though, I've got a few ideas that are about ready to become posts, as soon as I have enough time to sit down and type them up. Wednesday might be a good day time-wise, so hopefully I'll have something interesting up then.
The Big Ten will have three ranked teams for at least one more week, as Illinois, Michigan State and Iowa all received enough votes to sit among the nation's 25 best teams, according to the AP and the Coaches in the ESPN poll.
I was initially surprised to see Iowa still in the top 25, mostly because I was still down about the last two games. But looking at them objectively, they do still have the wins against Louisville, Texas, the blowout of Texas Tech, and the victory against Northern Iowa (which I think is more impressive than beating Iowa State). Not bad. And they aren't the only ranked team with three losses either.
Iowa's next game is against Minnesota this Saturday. I still don't know what to make of the Gophers. They started the year with a plethora of new faces, and after losing Adam Boone to injury, most pundits picked them near the bottom of the conference. They don't have any big wins yet, but they've blown out most of their easy opponents en route to their 11-3 record, including their current nine game winning streak. Their losses were to Alabama, Oklahoma, and Florida State. Of the three, the FSU game is the only one they were favored to win.
So, I really don't know what to expect from Minnesota, other than a lot of free throws and turnovers (more on that this week), but given Iowa's play of late, I'm plenty nervous about the possibility of starting the conference 0-4.
In other Hawkeye news -
- Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News talks about Iowa not living up to its previous #14 ranking (and as a Twins fan the Offerman joke was twice as painful).
- Stewart Mandel quotes Seth Davis, both of Sports Illustrated, as saying, "This time next year, Steve Alford will be coaching Indiana." Not exactly news for a writer to make that prediction. Greg Lansing and Brian Jones filled in for Alford on Hawk Talk Monday night, and a caller put them on the spot to discuss how long Steve would be at Iowa. One of them responded that Alford plans to be in Iowa for a long time.
After Pierre Pierce, now the Big Ten's third leading scorer, who has led Iowa in scoring most often this season?
With all the attention he drew early on, Jeff Horner seemed like the obvious answer (to me at least). It's actually Adam Haluska, who has led the team 3 times and tied once with Pierce and once with Horner. Jeff was the top scorer twice so far, and had the tie with Haluska. Pierce has led 7 times, including 5 of the last 6 games, plus the tie with Haluska, and Greg Brunner slipped in as the leader against Northern Iowa.
Pierce - 7 leads, 1 tie
Haluska - 3 leads, 2 ties
Horner - 2 leads, 1 tie
Brunner - 1 lead