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Saturday, November 12, 2005
 
Weekend Walk-Through
I guess Cedar Rapids was the place to be last night, as Bruce Weber, Steve Alford and several scouts stopped by to take in the Kirkwood Classic. Tony Freeman, Greg Brunner, and Jeff Horner also attended in order to watch possible future Hawkeye Jamarcus Ellis. You can still see Ellis play tonight at five o'clock against Illinois Central.

Congratulations are in order for the Iowa men's cross country team. They finished in second place at today's Midwest Regional meet in Iowa City, which qualifies them for Nationals on November 21. Iowa started with a strong pack among the race's top 15-20 runners. They gradually slipped back but hung on long enough to edge out third place Kansas by 2 points. Iowa State freshman (and former DM Roosevelt standout) Kiel Uhl led late in the race and finished second overall.

Only the top two teams at each of the country's nine regional meets automatically qualify for Nationals, and it was a close fight for that second spot today -

Oklahoma State, 48
Iowa, 72
Kansas, 74
Minnesota, 77

Teams that finish third or worse are eligible for a handful of at-large bids.

Stop by later this weekend - I have a handful of basketball-related ideas that might eventually turn into writing.
Friday, November 11, 2005
 
Morning Notes

Thursday, November 10, 2005
 
Quick Notes
I updated the Long-Term Roster to include the signing of Justin Johnson, et al.

Vote in the new poll at the right. Do it. Do it.
 
Dropping The Ball
While my primary sports obsession is college basketball, I also have an interest in the NBA, particularly in following the careers of college players I admired. Since my thought process has shifted largely toward statistical analysis over the past year, I'm also starting to track the professional successes and failures of those statistical freaks that stand out in college ball. Take Andrew Bogut for example. His rebounding, statistically, far surpassed anyone in the country last year, but many questioned whether he had the toughness to be worth the number one pick in last summer's draft. Through four NBA games, he's grabbed a solid 9 rpg in about 33 mpg, and is shooting 53% on top of that. I'll be keeping an eye on his progress.

Not every great college player can play well in the pros, clearly, but when guys possess both the size and the statistical resume to thrive in the league, I expect them to be at least respectable pro players. With that in mind, it's fun to look back on past NBA drafts and see which players met those criteria but were overlooked and eventually made their mark in the league anyway. One prime example is former Purdue Boilermaker Brad Miller.

Miller manned the post for Purdue from 1994-95 to 1997-98, and was rather productive for Gene Keady. His four years looked like this -

Per Game
Year Min Pts Reb Ast Blk Stl FG% FT%
94-95 17.9 6.5 4.8 1.2 1.1 0.6 58.2 66.0
95-96 21.3 9.6 4.9 1.4 0.8 1.0 51.8 73.8
96-97 31.0 14.3 8.3 2.9 1.5 1.8 53.6 77.7
97-98 29.2 17.2 8.9 2.5 1.6 1.2 63.2 78.0

A senior season of 17 points and 9 rebounds per game might not jump off the page, but that output came in only 29 minutes a game. That means Miller was scoring 23.5 points and grabbing 12.2 rebounds for every 40 minutes of playing time, both of which are very productive. On top of that, he was a career 57% shooter and hit 78% of his free throws for his last two years, both indicators of his outstanding efficiency.

One illuminating stat I didn't include was how often Miller got to the free throw line.

FTA / FGA
Fr - .820
So - .751
Jr - .921
Sr - .844

A go-to-guy who draws fouls that frequently and hits nearly 80% of his foul shots is certainly valuable. Miller was shooting over seven free throws a game as a junior and senior, despite the low playing time. A guy who can who can do that and shoot 60+% from the field knows how to get his name in the scoring column, and should be an asset to any offense.

But Miller was more than just an efficient scorer - he managed to get his teammates involved. He has earned a reputation as one of the best passing big men in the NBA, and judging by his college assist totals, it's a skill that he has long possessed. Assists are far from a perfect stat, but it's hard to ignore a center who averages over three assists per 40 minutes over his entire college career.

So a center who can effectively score, pass, and rebound would be pretty draft-worthy, no? Here's a list of all the centers who were drafted in 1998.

1. Michael Olowokandi, Pacific
3. Raef LaFrentz, Kansas
6. Robert Traylor, Michigan
12. Michael Doleac, Utah
13. Keon Clark, UNLV
17. Radoslav Nesterovic, Italy
22. Brian Skinner, Baylor
27. Vladimir Stepania, Slovenia
29. Nazr Mohammed, Kentucky
33. Jelani McCoy, UCLA

***yawn***

35. Bruno Sundov, Croatia
36. Jerome James, Florida A&M
37. Casey Shaw, Toledo
43. Jahidi White, Georgetown
44. Sean Marks, California
48. Ryan Stack, South Carolina
50. Andrew Betts, Long Beach State

Notice a name that was not on this list? Teams thought so lowly of Miller that he couldn't even make the second round. Granted, he was only about 240 pounds at the time, but it's not like Ryan Stack or Andrew Betts ever lit the world on fire.

Miller wound up starting the 1998-99 season in Italy before Charlotte gave him a chance in January of 1999. He endured a couple rough shooting seasons in Chicago, but even then he was shooting (and making) so many free throws that he was still a good scorer. With the entire package of skills that he brings to the court, Miller has consistently ranked as one of the NBA's top five centers for the last five or six years, according to John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating. Not bad for an undrafted player, but not surprising for a guy with his college stat line, either.
 
Iowa 75, Wartburg 48
Iowa put forth another great defensive effort, but its offense took long enough to take over that Wartburg kept the score close well into the second half. The Hawks only managed 28 points in a first half marred by turnovers and poor shooting, which they attributed to not spending much time against a zone defense in practice.

It also seemed like Wartburg outhustled Iowa early on, which makes at least a little sense. I hate to make excuses for Iowa's lethargic play, but this is one of the bigger games Wartburg will play all year, while Iowa treated it more like an extension of their training. It sounded like they went hard in practice before this game to simulate the two-games-in-two-days situations they'll face two to three times in the next month. That said, they'll have to play with more energy than they did in the first half tonight if they want to be successful in the Guardian's Classic.

Back to Iowa's defense - it was stifling. They held IIAC Player of the Year Nate Schmidt to 13 points on 5-17 shooting. He might be skilled enough to handle the Coe's and Simpson's of the world, but he seemed rather overmatched by Iowa's size inside. He struggled to get a good shot off unless he was 16 feet from the basket, which I can be happy with. Iowa also held second-leading scorer Jason Steege to 7 points on 1-12 shooting, and forced 4 turnovers. Most of the credit goes to Mike Henderson, whose pesky step-for-step defense hounded Steege for 3/4 of the court. His physical play seemed to frustrate Steege, though it did cost Mike a couple of blocking fouls near midcourt. Overall, Wartburg managed only 48 points on roughly 71 possessions, which is a ridiculously low 68 per 100. They turned the ball over on about 34% of their possessions, which is also very poor. Give the Hawks some credit.

Offensively, Iowa was pretty dull at the outset. Call it tired legs or underestimation of the opponent, but they didn't have it together. How to remedy such a situation? Either (1) bring your most athletic player off the bench, or (2) bounce your head off the floor to inspire your teammates. Doug Thomas provided the spark from the bench that he so often brought last year, finishing with 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals. Meanwhile, in what was certainly the most talked about play of the game, Jeff Horner chose option two. Hoping to bring the team out of its lull and inspire some hustle, Jeff dove headfirst for a loose ball near midcourt. Sometimes players in a similar situation can slide on the wood, but friction got the better of Horner, and his forward momentum got transferred to his head, which bounced hard and sent a tooth flying. There was a short pause as people searched the floor for the tooth, which was found some 40 feet down the court under the basket. Ouch. That's probably where I call it a night and head to the dentist, but Horner was actually back in a matter of minutes.

This, naturally, led to some good-hearting ribbing from the rest of the team.

"After three years of living in his shadow, I guess I get to be the cute one, finally." - Greg Brunner

"He lost a tooth. I think a cheerleader found it. He'll get that under his pillow tonight - the tooth, not the cheerleader." - Coach Alford

As for the rest of the team - Adam Haluska was cold again from the outside. I'd really like to see him get the ball inside more often like he did at the end of last year, because he just looks unstoppable in close. He'll be one of the better scorers in the conference if/when that jumper starts to drop.

Tony Freeman snuck inside for a couple layups and hit a long two-point jumper, and was strong defensively on Steege when Henderson was out of the game. It troubles me some that neither Freeman nor Henderson have anything close to the court vision of Horner, but that's probably too high of a standard by which to measure a freshman.

Erek Hansen played well defensively again, including a block on a three-point attempt, but his lack of hands and athleticism cost Iowa a couple times on the offensive end.

Nothing else too remarkable. Next game is Monday night against Marlyland-Eastern Shore in the first round of the Guardian's Classic.
 
Morning Links
Here are a few articles to check out as you get your day started -

Wednesday, November 09, 2005
 
Morning Notes

Tuesday, November 08, 2005
 
Next Up - Wartburg
Iowa plays game two of its exhibition schedule tomorrow night when they meet the Wartburg Knights. Wartburg is a Division III team whose recent five-year run includes five 20-win seasons and two conference titles, with one coming last year. They return five of last year's top six scorers, which is leading to recognition from a few basketball publications. And to top it off, they even had a Kobliska on their roster as recently as 2002. Can this year's squad give Iowa a challenge? Can they at least put up a better fight than Brock did?

Wartburg has been a solid shooting team for the past few years. Last year they were anchored by Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference POY Nate Schmidt in the middle. He shot a robust 56% and could give Iowa another decent center to practice against, though he stands only 6-7 and does not rebound very well. Jason Steege is a 6-0 guard who hit 37% of his threes and excels at getting to the free throw line. These two provided the bulk of the offense (along with departed Jordan Atchison) last year and should again this year, though neither averaged 30 mpg. In fact, Wartburg tends to play pretty deep into the bench, regularly running out 9-10 players per game in recent years. I'm a little excited by that, in that Iowa will actually get to play against some live bodies, which were noticably absent in the Brock game.

The big problem area for Wartburg's offense has been turnovers. In the last three years, they put up the following TO% -

2005 - 22%
2004 - 23%
2003 - 26%

If you've followed this blog very long, you know that those are some pretty sad figures. Atchison was a big source of the turnovers last year, but he's also taking some very efficient shooting with him. Iowa's bigger, quicker guards should be able to exploit any dribbling/passing deficiencies that Wartburg might present tomorrow.

Wartburg's biggest defensive strength has been forcing turnovers. In the last three years -

2005 - 23%
2004 - 24%
2003 - 23%

Those figures are quite good for a defense, but Wartburg still allowed a decent shooting percentage each year. They've been especially vulnerable inside, and they allowed opponents to hit 52% of their twos last year. Maybe this will allow Greg Brunner to bounce back from last week's less-than-stellar performance.

Given Iowa's experience and skill in the backcourt, I doubt the Knights can provide much of a challenge on defense. The more interesting test will be to see if Iowa's ridiculous defense against Brock was the result of a poor, tired opponent or quality pressure. Wartburg should provide more of a challenge at that end of the court.
 
Morning News
- The DM Register reported that, as expected, Coach Alford will redshirt Kurt Looby this year.

- The first round of polls came out yesterday. Iowa was ranked #20 by both the AP and the Coaches polls. That seems about right to me. Other Big Ten teams getting votes -

Ranking
Team AP Coaches
Michigan State 4 5
Illinois 17 17
Indiana 23 22
Ohio State 30 27
Wisconsin 31 30
Michigan 36 33

- Frank Burlison released his personal top 25 at Fox Sports. Notables include Iowa at #7, Wisconsin at #13, Ohio State at #17. I agree with him on OSU, and I don't see why more people don't (no interior depth, maybe?), but I'm still a little too skeptical to project Iowa as a top ten team.
Monday, November 07, 2005
 
Rough Start For State
In case you missed the headline this weekend, Iowa State lost its exhibition opener to mighty EA Sports, 64-57. Freshman Shawn Taggart and guard / forward Anthony Davis (injured last year) sat out with injuries, so ISU moved uber-athlete Rashon Clark to power forward and started Ross Marsden at center.

You kind of figured ISU would have some struggles early on with all the new faces in their frontcourt, but I'd say this loss caught everyone off guard. However, their issues in this game were consistent with the problems they exhibited last year. The most obvious was the inability to put the ball in the basket. In Big XII games last year, ISU was the conference's worst shooting team (with a dreadful 45.7 eFG%) and finished with the third worst overall offense in the league (only Missouri and Baylor were worse). It was shooting that killed the 'Clones this weekend too, as they only managed to hit 27% of their shots, including 3-17 from Mr. Overrated himself, Curtis Stinson. Will Blalock also contributed a 7-18 night. I wrote during the summer that Iowa State would need to develop some shooters if they were to have a respectable season, and it looks like they still need a lot of progress there.

Also like last year, ISU's defense was very good. They forced 25 turnovers and held EA to 44% shooting. That will continue to be the case this year, with the defensive talent they have in the backcourt, and as they get players back from injury.

So the prescription for success looks similar today to the one I wrote several months ago. Even if Iowa State's defense is as dominating as it was a year ago, they still need an occasional basket at the other end for the team to win some games. Until they prove they can hit some jump shots, the Cyclones won't have any business being ranked among the nation's top 25.

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