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Saturday, January 29, 2005
 
Iowa 72, Indiana 57
Iowa returned home to a near capacity crowd after their heartbreaking loss to Northwestern. The support of the fans and the benching of most of the starters resulted in a defensive quality that was missing at the end of the previous game. For the second game in a row, Iowa went to the last TV timeout with a 12 point lead. Coach Alford made sure to remind his guys how that turned out last time, and they responded by adding three points to their margin in a win against Indiana on Saturday.

Alford benched Erek Hansen and captains Greg Brunner, Pierre Pierce, and Jeff Horner at tip-off in favor of Doug Thomas, Alex Thompson, Mike Henderson and Carlton Reed. Alford said the motivation for the decision was "not to punish" his starters, but to let them know there are "consequences" for poor play. Interpret that however you like, but the results speak for themselves, both in terms of shot selection and team defense. Iowa held the Hoosiers to an anemic 41.3 adjFG% and just 57 points in the 61 possession game, or a rate of 93.4 points per 100 possessions. Iowa was hot at the other end, shooting a blistering 66 adjFG%, thanks to increased involvement from Jeff Horner and plenty of shots close to the basket. Horner took nine shots and passed his way to nine assists.

Pierce was another key to Iowa's victory. He shut down Bracey Wright, who came in leading the conference in points per game. Much like Minnesota's Vincent Grier, Wright got into early foul trouble guarding Pierce, and played only 25 minutes after averaging 39.7 in his first 6 conference games. Even when he was in the game, Wright couldn't find a good shot, hitting only 4-12, with a handful of his 10 points coming on broken plays or after picking up a loose ball near the basket. Pierce also limited Wright to just 2 free throw attempts, which took away a major part of his scoring arsenal. Wright was one of the leaders in FTA/FGA among Big Ten guards.

Other Notes/Thoughts

As Bobby Hansen noted on the post-game radio show, good shooting can cover up your mistakes. There wasn't much talk of it after the game, but Iowa did have 15 turnovers on their 61 possessions, or about 25%. That's pretty high, but Iowa again benefitted from plenty of opponent turnovers, getting 16 in this game. Another shortcoming, in what has been a recurring theme, was allowing offensive rebounds to Indiana. The Hoosiers had 15 off rebounds to Iowa's 20 def rebounds, or an alarmingly high 43%. That should concern Alford as Iowa faces a great offensive rebounding team in Michigan State next week. Let's hope he addresses the problem (by playing Doug Thomas, heh).

Other than that, it was another solid win for Iowa. It was easy to get down on the team after the loss against Northwestern. But if you put things in perspective, as does Hawkeye Nation creator Jon Miller, Iowa is off to a 15-5 start, which is in line with some of the better seasons in recent memory. By the way, Jon writes excellent post-game recaps, which are always worth a read if they're not restricted for subscribers. Here's an example from Saturday.

Looking back, the Northwestern game doesn't bug me as much as it did immediately following the game. The home loss to Michigan bothers me more, as it was the only time this season that Iowa did a poor job of protecting the home court. The Hawkeyes now have a full week to prepare for a home battle with Michigan State, and I think they'll continue the recent trend of playing well in Carver-Hawkeye.



 
Can't Kick the Habit
I tried to ignore Iowa basketball for a couple days after Wednesday's game, but here I find myself checking Google before I go to bed.

This probably isn't news to my more loyal (or masochistic) peers, but anyway - Steve Batterson reports that Steve Alford plans to shake up the lineup today. My vote is for Doug Thomas replacing Erek Hansen. I'll trade a couple blocked shots for a wealth of defensive rebounds anyday. On top of that,
Alford added that he expects Carlton Reed and Alex Thompson to see additional
minutes based on recent performances.
Alford also notes, in an AP article, that Jeff Horner is shooting from too far out.
"You're shooting 3-point shots that Reggie Miller doesn't shoot. Until you
understand the difference between a 25-footer and a 20-footer, you're going to
miss shots," Alford said. "It's not a touch shot from 25 feet, it's a heave. And
if you don't shoot touch shots, it's hard to go to the 15-foot line and shoot
touch shots."
This was apparent to anyone who's seen the last few Iowa games. I agree with Alford on this one - Horner is way too far out on a lot of his shots. I think Alford makes an interesting point about the relationship between shooting within your range and your free throw shooting touch, especially given the coach's intimate knowledge of shooting. It seems like a reasonable explanation for Horner's struggles at the free throw line.


Friday, January 28, 2005
 
Next Up - Indiana
Indiana (9-8, 4-2) at Iowa (14-5, 2-4)
4:05 pm CST

Iowa begins the long, uphill climb toward salvaging its season after opening the Big Ten season with 4 losses in their first 6 games. The first step of that journey is a home game with Indiana.

As you might have noticed, the loss to Northwestern slightly dampened my enthusiasm for this season, and in that spirit, today's post is brief. I still think Iowa is one of the top four or five teams in the Big Ten, and I wouldn't be surprised if they pull off an upset against one of the remaining games against Michigan State, Wisconsin, or Illinois. But that's not to say they won't surprise us against Northwestern, Michigan, etc, for the opposite reasons.

All stats are for Big Ten games only
Stats Glossary

Points per 100 possessions
Ind offense = 105
IA defense = 99

Ind defense = 104
IA offense = 99

Four Factors.............Indiana................Opponents
adjFG%........................0.490.....................0.456
TO / poss.....................0.199.....................0.222
Oreb rate.....................0.304.....................0.361
FTA / FGA...................0.480.....................0.409

Four Factors................Iowa...................Opponents
adjFG%........................0.474......................0.483
TO / poss....................0.226......................0.272
Oreb rate.....................0.333......................0.360
FTA / FGA...................0.378......................0.398

Individual Offense
Indiana.......................MPG............Floor%.........Off Rtg........%Poss
Bracey Wright.............39.7.............0.466................98............32.5%
D.J. White....................31.8.............0.642..............128............22.1%
Robert Vaden..............33.2.............0.432..............101............19.1%
Marshall Strickland......35.5.............0.383................86............12.7%
A.J. Ratliff....................29.2.............0.444..............108............13.5%
Pat Ewing.....................14.0.............0.558..............109............11.9%
Roderick Wilmont.......11.2..............0.478..............102............19.0%
James Hardy...............10.8.............0.390.................85............13.2%

Iowa............................MPG.............Floor%..........Off Rtg.....%Poss
Pierre Pierce...............38.7 ..............0.423................89............30.3%
Jeff Horner..................38.0 ..............0.418 ...............98 ............17.0%
Greg Brunner ............35.7 ..............0.536 ..............112 ...........22.3%
Adam Haluska ...........27.0 ..............0.441 ..............102 ...........20.0%
Erek Hansen ..............19.8 ..............0.374 ................79 ...........11.1%
Doug Thomas .............17.0 .............0.532 ..............106 ...........16.9%
Mike Henderson ..........11.2 .............0.239 ................49 ............11.5%
Carlton Reed ...............12.0 ............0.400 ...............103 ...........14.9%

A team led by Pierre Pierce against a team led by Bracey Wright.....you think we'll see a few missed shots tomorrow?

Numbers of note
- Indiana has only rebounded 30% of their misses, so this could be the second game in a row that Iowa doesn't get crushed on the boards.
- D.J. White has been very good on offense this year. He's made as many FG's as teammate Bracey Wright (36), but has taken 42 fewer shots (97 to 55). White has a head start for Freshman of the Year, and Penn State's Geary Claxton looks to be his only challenger.
- Iowa's Big Ten opponents have turned the ball over on 27% of their possessions. That might mean that Iowa's defense has been very good. It might also mean that Iowa's offense should score more points with all those extra opportunities. Either way, 27% is a lot of turnovers.

Like I said, I'm still pretty bummed about Wednesday's game, so writing about Hawkeye basketball hasn't been that fun lately, and I haven't done much of it. I'll let you digest all these numbers - let me know if you have any questions.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005
 
Northwestern 75, Iowa 74 (OT)
So many questions after this one -
How do you blow a 12 point lead with 3 minutes left?
Is it possible?
Who were you passing to, Pierre?
How do you leave a guy wide open for the game winning three?
Will Iowa's players be able to regroup after this one?
Will they pack it in the rest of the way?
Will I care?
How can you be competitive against three top 15 teams and lose to Michigan and Northwestern?
Is 9-7 in the Big Ten good enough to make the NCAA tournament?
Isn't this all way too familiar?
How could I not see this coming?
Was this the last straw for Alford?

Wow, do I feel naive. I thought this was the year the Hawks would finally put it together. They beat Louisville. They beat Texas. They crushed Texas Tech. They took Illinois to overtime, on the road. Brunner was becoming a force. Horner was unbelievable in Maui. Haluska showed flashes of offensive talent. Sure, they lost the first two Big Ten games, but I bought into the "It was Christmas break, we had a bad week, now we're going to wipe the slate clean" rhetoric. They came back from that to beat Minnesota, challenge Illinois, and stomp Purdue - I was back aboard the bandwagon. The Hawks had finally turned the corner, and were ready for the season the faithful fans had always expected.

My optimism blinded me into missing or justifying too many warning signs. The close exhibition game with Laval. The close game with lowly St. Louis. The home loss to injury-riddled Michigan. The blowout against Ohio State. The fact that the offense was centered around Pierre Pierce. The way the Hawks get dominated on the boards. The lack of interior defense. The way Horner has played since leaving Maui.

Now I know what it's like to be a Cubs fan. You come into the season with a guarded optimism, not wanting to get attached to a team that has repeatedly let you down. Your team reels off some wins, and looks like an early contender. You tell yourself, "hey, this team is really good, there's no way can history repeat itself again." Then reality sets in, your team returns to mediocrity, and your season ends way too early. And it finally hits me - Steve Alford has turned Iowa into the Chicago Cubs of the Big Ten. Couple that with ridiculous ticket prices, and I also finally understand why no one shows up at Carver (maybe they just need to sell Old Style).

Anatomy of a Choke
Warning - this recap has not been rated. It contains descriptions of mass asphyxiation, and is not suitable for mild-hearted Hawkeyes. Reader discretion is advised.

So it all starts at about the 3:00 mark in the second half. Hawks are up 12, and I'm finally starting to breathe that sigh of relief, as in, "whew....glad we're not gonna get stung by Northwestern again, and we're going to pull out an always-tough Big Ten road win." Michael Jenkins hits a three to cut it to nine, but hey, that's too much to overcome, right? Pierce gets fouled with 2:05 left and bricks both free throws, but c'mon, nobody blows a nine point lead in the last two minutes of a game, right?

20 seconds later, Vedran Vukusic drains a three, and it hits you: "it's happening again." Iowa is up six with 1:30 to go, but the loss is already inevitable. Cynical, maybe, but it's just part of being an Iowa fan during the Alford era.

70 seconds, 2 Iowa missed free throws, and seven Vukusic points later, Northwestern has the ball, trailing by three. It's pretty clear - get a stop here, and go home with a hard-fought road victory. But demonstrating once again what not to do is Pierce, who pulled a Glen Worley and fouled Vukusic on a 3-point attempt with 13 seconds left. The Croatian made all three shots to tie the game, giving Iowa the last shot. 13 seconds would seem like plenty of time to get a decent shot (or two) at the basket, but Iowa decided they were better off standing around until Pierce had the ball with a couple seconds left, and was forced to take an ugly fadeaway from about 16 feet.

There were times during the overtime period that I thought luck might just be on Iowa's side. Horner hit an incredibly deep three which had me cursing when he shot it but speechless when it went through. Pierce followed with his typical 1-on-everybody forced shot that somehow dropped, and suddenly, Iowa is up 5 with 1:45 to go. Vukusic single-handedly reduced the deficit to two, and with under 30 seconds left, Greg Brunner blocked Davor Duvancic's layup attempt, and Horner was sent to the line to ice the game. As if to confirm my suspicions that the game was not yet over, Jeff incredibly missed both shots.

Northwestern came down the court, called timeout, and setup what I was sure to be the game winning three pointer. I was simply positive that they would go ahead on this possession. Instead, they attempted a pass from the top of the key to a player cutting to the basket, but the ball skipped out of bounds untouched. And with 5 seconds left, a 2 point lead, and the ball out of bounds, I finally felt that Iowa had dodged the bullet. There was no way they could blow it now.

Leave it to Pierce to crush my optimism once again. With every Iowa player smothered, he managed to find a wide open....T.J. Parker (note to PP - your team was wearing black). The inevitable feeling of a loss returns, and Northwestern calls timeout to set up a play for Vukusic. Michael Jenkins happens to be WIDE OPEN in the corner, so the inbounds pass goes to him instead. Jenkins tosses up a floater that hits rim, bounces up, and an eternity later, drops through the hoop for the game winner.

Positives
I've been pretty negative so far, but even this cynic saw a few good signs tonight -
Erek Hansen got into early foul trouble, enabling Doug Thomas to play early and often.
Pierce only took 10 shots (although it's tough to shoot much when you have 10 turnovers!)
Mike Henderson only played 4 minutes.
Haluska hit 3 of his 4 three attempts.
Brunner was excellent, again.
Carlton Reed saw decent playing time and produced, finishing with 8 points in 15 minutes.

Conclusion
I may have been a little overly-dramatic for a one-point loss. Surely, Iowa's season is far from over. They're 14-5, with several good wins. They can still finish strong and make the NCAA tournament.

But tonight this rookie-Hawkeye realized that this team is not one deserving of your unending optimism. It's the team that teases you with close losses to top-tier teams, only to follow with losses to cellar dwellers. The message board crowd is calling for Alford's head, and I may finally be ready to join those jaded, surly masses.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
 
Next Up - Northwestern
Iowa (14-4, 2-3) at Northwestern (8-9, 1-4)
Wenesday, 7:05 CST
Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Illinois

Iowa makes their second trip to Illinois in less than a week, this time to face Northwestern. The Wildcats are one of three Big Ten teams with a sub-.500 overall record, and are coming off a loss to doormat Penn State, but they have a reputation for defending their home court. Last year's 10-3 record at Welsh-Ryan included victories against ranked Illinois and Wisconsin teams. Hawkeye fans will also painfully recall Northwestern beating Iowa in both Evanston and Iowa City. Wednesday's game gives Iowa an opportunity to avenge those losses, and more importantly, add another victory to this year's promising season.

Iowa scheduled Air Force this year as a test to prepare them for a Princeton-style offense similar to Northwestern's. Iowa shot shot 22 more free throws than Air Force and hit 68% of their shots that game, and still only won by 10. Ideally I'd comment more on that game, but it was one of the break games that I missed, so suffice it to say that I hope we can own the paint the way we did against Air Force.

Luckily, Northwestern could be without its two leading scorers - the statuses of Vedran Vukusic and Michael Thompson remain questionable as I write this. Vukusic injured his shoulder at the end of the Penn State game last Saturday, while Thompson is suspended indefinitely for cutting classes. Vukusic will be a gametime decision. Thompson has been cleared to practice, but Coach Bill Carmody has yet to decide if he will play. The absence of Thompson - NU's leading rebounder - was a likely cause of the team's 65-62 loss at Penn State, as PSU's Aaron Johnson outrebounded the Wildcats by himself, 21-17. Freshman guard Brandon Lee could also return from a suspension.

This is an interesting statistical matchup - it pits the Big Ten's slowest team against its fastest. The Wildcats average 58.6 possessions per game on the season, and 57.4 through their 5 conference games. Iowa is at the other end of the spectrum, averaging 71.0 poss/g overall and 69.4 for Big Ten games.

It also matches the conference's third most efficient offense (Big Ten games only, see Sunday's post) against the third best defense. I didn't ever expect to see Iowa rated as one of the league's best defenses. Some attention should be called to the fact that the offenses they've played have been less than stellar in conference play (but then again, the great offense of Illinois struggled against the Hawks). Consider me unconvinced by Iowa's defense at this point. To further contrast these teams, Iowa's offense has been one of the Big Ten's poorest, while NU's defense has been the worst. Should be a good chance for the Hawks to continue the offensive success they started against Purdue.

Points per 100 possessions (Big Ten games)
NU offense - 111
NU defense - 123

IA offense - 97
IA defense - 97

Here's a quick look at Northwestern's individual efficiency numbers (all games).
Stats Glossary

Player..............................MPG..........Floor%............Off Rtg...............% Poss
Vedran Vukusic................36.7.............0.478..................110....................25.9%
T.J. Parker........................33.8.............0.468.................102....................18.4%
Davor Duvancic................29.9.............0.502.................105.....................17.8%
Mohamed Hachad............28.3.............0.444...................94.....................18.0%
Michael Thompson..........29.0..............0.478...................93.....................29.7%
Tim Doyle.........................26.8..............0.414...................91.....................16.0%
Evan Seacat......................9.3...............0.352...................93....................20.6%
Michael Jenkins.................17.6..............0.458.................109....................11.4%
Vince Scott........................10.0..............0.454.................105....................19.3%

Looking at Thompson's numbers, I'm curious if the team would be hurt much by his absence. He's second in the Big Ten (behind Pierre Pierce) in % of possessions used, and he's been very inefficient in using them. Among players with 20 mpg, there are only two non-Purdue players with an offensive rating lower than Thompson's (yes, Doyle is one of the two).

Here are some of his other season numbers.
adjFG% = 49.4
FT% = 46.4
TO/G = 2.6

Not exactly the kind of production you want from a guy who's hogging the ball more than Bracey Wright.

Another question - if Vukusic and Thompson both had to sit out, who would fill the offensive void? These two account for more of their team's offense than any other Big Ten tandem. The 18% share for each of the other regulars is about the equivalent of Adam Haluska's offensive load, which is to say, not much.

Other NU Number of Note
Off Reb rate = 27%

Northwestern has roughly the same adjFG% and turnover rate as Iowa this season, but the Wildcats are the Big Ten's worst at offensive rebounding (finally, a team that won't kill Iowa on the boards!). Iowa also greatly outdistances NU in FTM/FGA, 0.29 to 0.20 (MSU leads B10 at 0.31).

Alright, I've successfully rambled through one of my least cohesive posts in quite a while. I'm going to call it a night. Hope you check back tomorrow night for a game recap.

Go Hawks!

Sunday, January 23, 2005
 
Updated Efficiency - Big Ten Games
Here's a look at each team's possessions per game and points per 100 possessions through this weekend's games (conference games only).

.....................................Poss/G..........Off Eff........Def Eff
Illinois.............................64.0................123.............101
Indiana...........................62.7.................105.............102
Iowa...............................69.4...................97...............97
Michigan.........................61.8................102..............104
Michigan St....................62.8.................118...............95
Minnesota......................69.0...................93...............88
Northwestern.................57.4.................111..............123
Ohio St...........................67.8...................97.............104
Penn St..........................62.1.................100.............124
Purdue..........................64.7....................96.............109
Wisconsin.....................64.9..................106.............101
Average........................64.3..................104.............104


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