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Saturday, February 19, 2005
 
Illinois 75, Iowa 65
Iowa fought back from yet another big deficit to scare another great team, but Illinois was too strong down the stretch and maintained its perfect record.

The Hawks kept the score close for most of the first half and were tied with 4:45 left, but a 16-8 Illini run put Iowa down eight at halftime. Illinois stretched their lead to 11 early in the second half, but then Iowa began to chip away. Iowa drew plenty of fouls early in the half and made 11 free throws in a ten minute stretch to supplement a couple big threes and trim the lead to two points. Iowa was still down only two with 4:30 to play, but that was as close as they would get, as Dee Brown put them away with two open court layups and a nail-in-the-coffin three.

Yesterday I pointed to what I thought were some important things Iowa needed to do to win this game, or at least keep it close. I stressed the need for good shooting games from Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska, keeping Illinois off the offensive glass, getting to the free throw line, and keeping Greg Brunner and Haluska in the game. How did the Hawks fare? Glad you asked - let's take a look.

Outside Shooting
This wasn't necessarily a strength for Iowa, as they made only 4 of 11 attempts, with Horner and Haluska making 2 each. What was important, though, was that for once they didn't force the outside shot. They generally only took what was available, and these two guys are pretty effective when they wait for that open shot.

Controlling the Glass
Let's face it - Iowa dominated Illinois when it came to rebounding. The Hawks had 13 offensive rebounds to Illinois's 13 defensive rebounds. It's not everyday you see a team grab 50% of its chances for offensive rebounds. Brunner came up huge with 5, while 7 of 8 Iowa players had at least one. Iowa did just as well defensively, limiting Illinois to 8 offensive rebounds and a 26% offensive rebound rate. Haluska led the team with 6 defensive boards, and Brunner and, surprisingly, Mike Henderson were next with 4 each.

Getting to the Line
Yesterday I said I thought Iowa needed to shoot a lot of free throws, for the double effect of easy points and racking up fouls on Illinois. It was beautiful watching exactly that take place in the second half, as Iowa was in the bonus at the 12:27 mark. Roger Powell, Jr. picked up four and could only play 11 minutes. Iowa took advantage by making 21 of 26 free throws, or 81%. Haluska and Brunner were aggressive enough to each shoot 7 FT.

Keep the Scorers on the Floor
Iowa had a little scare when Brunner picked up his third foul early in the second half, but he managed to stay in the game without anymore trouble for most of the game. Haluska ended up with three fouls, including two irritating fouls on breakaway Dee Brown layups that ended up as three-point plays. As I'm sure many Hawk fans shouted at their TV's - either let the guy go or make sure he doesn't make the shot.....and don't make the same mistake twice! But aside from Brunner's two fouls in the first half and third early in the second, foul trouble wasn't an issue for the Big Three, as Horner, Haluska and Brunner were on the court for 38, 38, and 33 minutes.

But if Iowa dominated the rebounds, did well at the line, at shot nearly as well as Illinois, you're probably asking how they could lose by 10. And if you looked at the box score, you know turnovers killed the Hawks today. They finished with 21 to Illinois's 10. Several of them were travels in the lane that could have been called fouls, but way too many of them were unforced.

Game Notes

That's all I have today. Check in tomorrow for updated conference stats.


 
Saturday Morning Thoughts
Today is an exciting one for basketball in the state of Iowa, as the Hawks take on #1 Illinois and Iowa State travels to #2 Kansas. I'm not much of an early riser on the weekends, but I'm fired up enough today to head over to Carver an hour and a half early (if only to make sure my seat hasn't been enveloped by the orangeness). But seriously, watch Illinois-Iowa live, then hurry home and catch the second half of the ISU-KU game? It doesn't get a lot better than that (although the MLB-college football double-header I went to a few years ago is tough to top).

Hmm, I thought I had more to say, but it's getting close to game time. Check back this afternoon/evening for a full recap.
Friday, February 18, 2005
 
Next Up - #1 Illinois
#1 Illinois (26-0, 12-0) at Iowa (16-8, 4-7)
11:06 a.m.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena

Obligatory Numbers Rundown
- conference games only
- conference rank in parentheses
..................................Illinois..............Iowa
Offensive Rating.........122 (1)............102 (8)
Defensive Rating.........100 (4)............101 (5)
adjFG%.......................0.561 (1).........0.484 (8)
opp adjFG%...............0.518 (9).........0.478 (3)
TO / poss...................0.159 (1).........0.213 (5)
opp TO / poss...........0.234 (3).........0.232 (4)
off reb rate................0.351 (4)..........0.324 (6)
def reb rate...............0.711 (3)..........0.678 (6)
FTA / FGA.................0.295 (10).......0.381 (5)
opp FTA / FGA..........0.269 (2).........0.437 (10)
3 pt %.........................0.397 (2).........0.362 (4)
opp 3 pt %.................0.418 (11)........0.340 (6)
FT %...........................0.778 (2).........0.671 (10)
Pomeroy Rating...............1......................24

Illinois comes to town with its undefeated season still intact to face the team that's been as close as anyone to beating them. It's been one month since Iowa's exciting comeback that forced overtime but ultimately came up five points short.

This time Iowa will have a new look, as it will be without the player who gave them 45 minutes and 22 points while guarding Illinois point guard Deron Williams. There was doom and gloom in Hawkeye Nation about how Iowa would dearly miss Pierre Pierce's play after his dismissal, but so far its only been half right.

Iowa's offense has been just as productive with Pierce as it was without him, as I suggested would happen here. Greg Brunner and Adam Haluska have played well in their bigger roles, leading Iowa to an average offensive rating of 103 for the past four games. Iowa averaged 102 for its first seven games when Pierce was playing (and coughing up the ball over 5 times a game).

Pierce's presence is missed much more on the defensive end. The Hawkeyes allowed 106 points per 100 possessions in the four games without Pierce. The team's defensive rating was 98 when Pierce was in the lineup. So much for Mike Henderson's reputation as a defensive stopper (although four games isn't exactly a large sample size).
***Update***
I should mention that the past four games have been against offenses that rank in the top half of the Big Ten's most efficient offenses. With games remaining against punchless offenses like Minnesota, Penn State, and Michigan, Iowa's defensive numbers without Pierce should look more respectable by season's end.

Individual Stat Report
Illinois
Player........................MPG.......Floor%......Off Rtg......%Poss........Notable
Luther Head...............33.3........0.535...........128..........23.4%........B10 3rd leading scorer
Dee Brown.................32.5........0.558............137..........18.8%........blazing 65% adjFG%
Roger Powell.............24.9........0.553............117...........22.5%.......0 asts in 299 min
Deron Williams.........34.4........0.451............105..........22.5%........B10 ast leader, 7.3/g
James Augustine......29.2........0.659............139..........17.7%.........85% FT in B10
Jack Ingram..............14.5........0.607............137..........15.5%
Nick Smith...................9.8........0.481............102..........19.7%
Rich McBride.............16.7........0.407............110..........10.3%

Iowa
Player......................MPG........Floor%........Off Rtg.....%Poss.........Notable
Greg Brunner..........34.5.........0.559..............117.........23.6%........Leads team with 41% on 3's, leads B10 in def reb
Jeff Horner..............37.8..........0.421..............102........19.6%........31% on FG last 4 games
Adam Haluska.........29.4.........0.487...............112........21.2%........
Erek Hansen............16.7.........0.388.................81.........11.4%.......26% on FG
Doug Thomas...........17.0........0.521...............103.........16.1%.......2nd on team in reb, 6th in min
Mike Henderson.......19.1........0.334.................69.........14.7%
Carlton Reed............13.3........0.400................93..........13.6%.......more ast than Henderson in 64 less min
Alex Thompson........10.2........0.463................97...........12.7%
Seth Gorney..............4.4.........0.323................66............7.8%

Illinois's offense looks like what you might expect a great offense to look like - plenty of talented players who aren't afraid to share the ball. As is often cited, their three guards each rank in the Big Ten's top ten for assists per game, and Deron Williams is five points shy of being the team's fifth double-digit scorer. One factoid that helps illustrate Illinois's offensive efficiency - they lead the conference in scoring (75.7 pts/g), yet their possessions per game is below the conference average. In other words, Iowa averages over four possessions more each game than Illinois, but manages to score 8 fewer points.

Nothing new here, but Illinois's strengths on offense include excellent shooting, rarely turning the ball over, and above average rebounding. The guard trio of Brown, Head, and Williams all land in the Big Ten's top ten for three point %, and their turnover rate is among the lowest in the country.

Keys to the Game
I think Iowa's keys to victory are the same as they were the last time these two teams played. The things I highlighted last time were outside shooting, defensive rebounding, and getting to the free throw line. To that I would add staying out of foul trouble (that means you, Brunner).

Horner and Haluska will need to step up by hitting some threes. Illinois is likely to have more shot attempts because of their offensive rebounding and their ability to hold onto the ball, so Iowa will have to make up for that by scoring more on their opportunities, which means making some threes. Horner and Haluska have had mixed results from deep recently, but have shown flashes where they can hit the shot. More minutes for Reed would help too (are you listening Coach?). They should be aided by Illinois's league-worst 0.418 allowed on opponents' threes.

Another key is limiting Illinois shot attempts by not giving them second chances, i.e. not allowing many offensive rebounds. This was a huge problem for Iowa earlier in the year, but Erek Hansen also used to play a lot. Now that he doesn't, Iowa is doing a lot better on the glass. Check out how Iowa's last four opponents have done against Iowa and against the Big Ten overall -

Team...............Hansen min.....Oreb Rt vs IA........Oreb Rt in B10
Mich State..................14...................0.343.........................0.379
Wisconsin..................17..................0.259..........................0.312
N'western....................6..................0.000.........................0.216
Purdue.......................14..................0.235.........................0.366

I don't know what I like more about the Northwestern game - not a single Wildcat offensive rebound or just 6 minutes of playing time for Hansen. OK, a little harsh, and I'll admit I supported him early in the season, but I expect tress like that to produce a few more boards.

Another key is getting to the free throw line, especially guys like Brunner, Horner, and Haluska. This provides the double benefit of shooting for points while racking up fouls for individuals on the other team, hopefully to the detriment of their playing time. Iowa has shown they are not one of the better shooting teams in the league (8th in adjFG%), but they can offset some of that inefficiency by getting to the free throw line. With the exception of the Northwestern game, good things tend to happen when Horner and Haluska get a lot of free throw attempts, and that's simpy because they tend to make them. I would really like to see Haluska getting after the rim tomorrow (Horner too) and maybe limit Head or Brown to 30 minutes. I'll temper my optimism by noting that Illinois's opponents don't shoot a lot of free throws (2nd to Penn St in opp FTA / FGA).

Finally, it's imperative for Iowa's chances that their scorers, namely Greg Brunner and Adam Haluska, stay in the game. Both have been Iowa's main contributors since Pierce left, and both have had frequent run-ins with foul trouble. The offense used to be OK as long as three of the top four scorers were on the court, but without Pierce, the team seems to struggle whenever it is missing any of Horner, Haluska, and Brunner. I cringe at the thought of seeing Brunner on the bench, because it inevitably leads to 25-foot heaves from Horner.

Feel free to leave comments about your thoughts about Iowa's chances tomorrow.

Go Hawks!
Thursday, February 17, 2005
 
I Have Internet Again!
I finally figured out what was wrong with my internet connection, so I'm glad to announce that blogging should be back to normal around here. I was without internet access for about a week and a half - it's funny how out of touch I've become and how much I've missed in just that short time. For example -

Anyway, it's good to be back online so I can keep up with day-to-day news and get back into a regular blogging habit.


 
Purdue 66, Iowa 63
Another road game, another tough loss. Anyone who read Randy Peterson's article will notice a similar opening, but as I watched Iowa squander another second half lead on the road, it was the only thing going through my mind. Iowa had a seven point lead as late as the seven minute mark, only to have that first conference road win evade them again.

Loyal Hawkeye followers have picked up on the pattern by now - play well enough to be in a position to win, then falter down the stretch. The end result - Iowa's current 0-5 road record. With the exception of the ugly game at Ohio State, each of Iowa's road games closely follow this model.

Illinois, 73-68 OT
Iowa was the clear underdog against the nation's best team, but they capitalized on Illinois's poor shooting and missed free throws at the end of regulation to force overtime, making Iowa the team to come closest to beating the Illini all season. Unfortunately all games must be recorded as a W or an L, and Iowa couldn't sustain its run long enough to earn the former.

Northwestern, 75-74 OT
Iowa actually played fairly well for the first 37 minutes of this game, but those memories are easily forgotten when a 12 point lead evaporates over the last 3 minutes of regulation. The Hawks rebounded to pull ahead by 5 in overtime, but even then they weren't safe from their own ineptitude. Three missed free throws, one unbelievable turnover and one buzzer-beating three later, Iowa suffered their third straight loss to the Wildcats. This was clearly the game where most Iowa fans gave up hope of a respectable conference finish, as the team fell to 2-4 with Michigan State and Wisconsin soon to come.

Wisconsin, 72-69
No one goes to the Kohl Center expecting an easy game, but Iowa managed to look strong at several points in this game, leading by as many as 9 in the first half and 12 in the second in their second game without Pierre Pierce. A 17-2 second half run by the Badgers gave them a lead they would hang on to the rest of the game. Like the Illinois game, this one wasn't painful because Iowa "should have" won, but because it proved what the Hawkeyes were capable of, which in turn makes losses to Michigan, Northwestern, and Purdue hard to stomach.

Purdue, 66-63
Carl Landry dominated most of this game, scoring 29 points on 11-15 shooting, but it was his absence in the second half that most people find notable. Purdue managed to go on a run after Landry sat down with his fourth foul, which contrasted the first game these two teams played. In that one, Landry was effective when in the game, but his minutes were limited by early foul trouble, and Iowa was able to run up the score when he was out. David Teague made a back-breaking three pointer inside of two minutes to put Purdue up by four, and the Boilermakers made six straight free throws after that to seal it up.

Game Notes

Wednesday, February 16, 2005
 
I'm Back.....Sort Of
Sorry to anyone who's been dedicated enough to check here for daily updates lately. I lost my University-provided dial-up connection last week and am stuggling to reconnect. I hope to have that problem resolved soon so I can get back to blogging.

I plan to post my thoughts about tonight's Purdue game by the end of the week, even if it means driving back out to this computer lab that I'm currently holed up in (and paying to park near!). Hopefully I'll be back online soon enough to take a look at the Iowa-Illinois matchup and to discuss Iowa's performance with/without Pierre Pierce.

Again, my apologies for the extended absence.

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