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Friday, December 09, 2005
 
Word On The Street
I hear there's some kind of game going on over in Ames tonight. In case you've been cryogenically frozen for the past few years, Adam Haluska's return to his former home court will be a major storyline. Nick Richards expects an active Hilton crowd -

[Haluska] will hear a chorus of boos in the pre-game introductions, will be
booed each time he touches the ball, and will be on the receiving end of taunts
throughout the contest. "It doesn't bother me that much," he said. "I know they
are going to be on me, a little bit."
Think that's a tad bit of an understatement? Susan Harman, meanwhile, has heard enough about the situation. She would rather focus on more relevant matters, like who will pick up Jeff Horner's 33 mpg, and how the newly assembled backcourt will handle Iowa State's vaunted zone press. She says what's on every Hawk fan's mind -

It's not the optimum game to insert a freshman point guard considering this is
the most hostile gym Iowa will play in this season. ISU has one of the best sets
of guards in the country (Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock) and the Cyclones like
to press opponents into submission.
Randy Peterson agrees that the pressure will be on Tony Freeman -
Iowa's primary concern is the Cyclones' defensive pressure. Freeman, therefore,
will be a focus for defensive trappers Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock.
I'm strangely optimistic that Freeman plays big minutes and plays them quite well. There will likely be more turnovers from him than you'd expect from Horner, but I really like how he's played so far, especially defensively.

Another interesting story for this game - apparently Iowa State's Government of the Student Body reserved about 50 "prime" student section seats for legislators as part of their lobbying efforts to fight tuition increases. Many students are not happy. GSB president Angela Groh tries to mitigate the damage here.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
 
Another Game, Another Blogger Interview
In anticipation of the tomorrow's big showdown with Iowa State, I tracked down another basketball blogger and asked for his opinions on a few important topics. Today's featured guest is Alex, an Iowa State student who dabbles in all things Cyclone at his blog, CrossCyed.

Iowa State has already played close to and lost to some unheralded teams this year. Is this another slow start, like last year, or is this year's team just not as good?

Well, I personally think it’s a combination of both. ISU certainly has a history of playing down to the level of teams in all sports. I also think the team is having a really hard time replacing the scoring of Jared Homan and the rebounding of both Homan and Damion Staple. However, the post is beginning to show signs of improvement. Even with Hilton being a tough place to play, it seems like the team typically is a bit down when the students are gone, as was the case with the Iona game. However, Iona is no pushover, led by a strong senior class. It’s tough to say much about the quality of the team. Stinson and Blalock are as solid as ever, Rahshon Clark has been “wow”, and we have a bench. However, post play continues to be an issue.

What do you consider to be Iowa State's biggest strength? Biggest weakness?

The biggest strength is obvious, with the guard play of Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock. They are frequently regarded as a top backcourt in the country. The two certainly present matchup problems. The super-emergence of Rahshon Clark, who is shooting a blistering 62% this year, while leading the team in rebounds, blocks and boyish exuberance, is helping take the pressure off the guards with his 15 ppg, while at the same time playing a solid 4, despite being 6-6. He’s as much fun as anyone you may see play all year. The biggest weakness is, as mentioned before, post play. The Cyclones have been playing a smaller lineup, with Rahshon at the 4, so that only one of the new big guys is in at once. Against Fresno State, the three main bigs, Shawn Taggart, Jiri Hubalek (pronounced Yuri Who-Ball-ick – impress your friends with your knowledge), and Ross Marsden collected four boards. Curtis Stinson had seven. Each player has their issues. Taggart can shoot, but isn’t much in the posting-up department. Also can’t play a lick of defense, despite being in a 2-3. Taggart also likes to foul. Marsden may be the smartest post, noted for being coachable. However, I was also called “most coachable” on my high school team, and I averaged less than a point a game. However, the coaches feel he is adjusting, and I believe with each game, he’s getting a little better. He has potential to be a Paul Shirley-type in time. My favorite out of the bunch is Hubalek. He came out of Marshalltown Community College shooting 61%. He’s probably the best option down low, but still seems a little unsure. If he’s tentative, ISU is in trouble. If he flys around like he did against Fresno State in the first half, Drake and Mountain State, you can probably expect 10 and 6 out of him, which would be a minor victory.

What's the undercurrent on campus regarding Adam Haluska's return to Ames? Can the crowd possibly treat him worse than they did with Pierre Pierce in 2003?

Depends. I do think he will draw more ire, as there is the perception that he lied to the Cyclone fanbase and is basically a turncoat. I don’t know if the chants will be near as vulgar as they were for Pierce, but then again, he didn’t commit a crime. If anyone remembers when Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collision on Kirk Hinrich played against ISU, the treatment should be the same but louder. Remember, Hinrich had committed to ISU then switched to Kansas. ISU fans were pissed at what could have been, as the Elite Eight team would also have had Hinrich to go along with Fizer and Tinsley. That team would have caused havoc. There hasn’t been a great hate of him being expressed on campus, but it’s a college. Your star recruit transferred, after saying he wouldn’t, to your archrival. Most Cyclone fans realize this will be his only appearance at Hilton.

What one thing must Iowa State do to win this game?

This is actually kind of tough. I want to say rebound, but we can win while being outrebounded. I’d say we need to keep Iowa off the line, while also preventing big runs. (That’s two, oh well). Iowa State has had a serious foul problem this year, sending the other team to the line way too often. Of course, these teams don’t seem to miss, either. As far as the runs go, Iowa State was in control of Fresno until giving up a 15-0 run. Fresno hit 7-10 three pointers in the half, and ISU couldn’t climb any closer. It’s some pretty basic basketball stuff, but it really is what Iowa State needs.

Anthony Davis missed most of last year with a shoulder injury. What role does he fill now that he's back?

Depends on the night. He’s a physical 3 who isn’t afraid to post up. He also can hit the three on any given night, but is also just as capable of an 0-fer. He’ll most likely start, but is usually quiet on the court. He’s saved ISU once this season, but he still doesn’t seem to be a big part of the system, despite being a senior. Wayne Morgan loves him, however, following him over from Long Beach State, so he’ll get his minutes.

Which of the new post players will have the biggest impact? What specific skills do they provide? What do they need to improve?

Shawn Taggart, either positive or negative, will most likely have the biggest impact. He’s capable of 20 points on any night. He’s also capable of giving up big points.. He has a sweet shooting touch and can hit a turnaround down low. He’s impressive with his back to the basket. His rebounding is nonexistent, however. He is ready offensively, but is nowhere near ready to be a top-tier post until he can rebound or play D. My favorite is Jiri Hubalek. He’s got potential to be the next Martin Rancik. He will most likely get the start. He’s getting to the point where he’s somewhat used to the system. He is the most aggressive post player, which still leaves some to be desired. Will run the court and play active D, but is also prone to the foul.

Is Curtis Stinson really among the best basketball players in the country?

He can be. I know you think he is overrated. I do think he has improved this season. He seems to be a big game player, which does seem to hurt in games against teams like Iona. He has an ability to create shots and body up like few guards that there are out there. His three point shooting has improved this year and is still the player that any Cyclone fan wants with the ball to take the shot. The “teardrop” has somewhat disappeared, but is still accurate when he shoots it. A lot of other fans around the nation don’t realize that he played hurt much of last year, and has still had hand problems this year. Just ask Bill Self about Stinson’s effect on opposing teams.

Will this year's Cyclone squad have any consistent three-point threat?

So far, yes. Will Blalock is shooting 48% from behind the arc, while Rahshon Clark is hitting at a 42% clip. Shooting has definitely improved over last year, as ISU has been hitting just under half it’s shots as a team this year. Blalock may be the best shooter on the team, but he tends to get streaky. Clark has just gone bonkers this year. He will be the one to watch. Stinson is always a threat to hit a three, especially in clutch situations. Davis either is on fire or is icy. Tasheed Carr has been having a horrible sophomore slump. He’s capable of carrying a team on a good night (see ISU’s win @ Texas last year), but this season has been murder on him. He’s still hurt, and may not play. John Neal hasn’t hit much of anything since the last Iowa @ ISU game, but he finally hit two against Drake. The feel from Coach Morgan is that he will get more minutes if Carr cannot go. Hubalek and Taggart are also capable of hitting deep.

As a fan, is a win against Iowa more gratifying than any other team?

It’s the biggest nonconference game this year. Ohio State is close, however. The conference season means quite a bit to ISU. If Kansas was not so down this year, that’d be the game to watch. The big game is against Texas at Hilton. Beating Iowa is gratifying for Iowa State fans in just about any sport, but I also think that there is less emphasis in men’s basketball with Iowa State playing teams tough in the Big 12 in recent years. Iowa State – Kansas may not be considered a rivalry on the Jayhawk side, but ISU fans probably enjoy beating Kansas as much as they do the Hawks. Of course, with Iowa being a top 15 team, the game is not only a rivalry game, but a chance to pull an “upset”, so there will be extra hype in that regard. If it came down to beating Texas or beating Iowa this year, I’d pick Texas, if they are actually a top 5 team. Then again, I also think they are overrated.

Is there a better way to spend $3.00 than on a Clone Cone?

I don’t eat often at sporting events. I usually feel like crying after realizing the money that’s gone after I buy food at ISU games. Of course, the environment is worth it. I’ve been to both Carver and Hilton, and Hilton is the premier place for basketball in Iowa. Iowa fans who have never been to Hilton will appreciate the comfort of the arena, while also witnessing Hilton Magic. Crazy stuff can happen to opposing teams in Ames.




Whoa, no Clone Cones? You're missing out on one the key ingredients to the Hilton experience! For the uninitiated, the Clone Cone is a divine swirl of strawberry and banana flavored ice cream. It's so good, chocolate and vanilla aren't even offered at the arena (at least I looked hard enough to find any).

Anyway, thanks for the time, Alex.

I also answered a few questions about the game over at Alex's blog - they should be up sometime tonight, so go check it out. I should have a few stats and notes ready sometime tomorrow morning, then it's off to Ames to see the game. I can't wait.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
 
Horner Out 2 to 5 Weeks
Read about it in the DM Register. Sounds like he tore a knee ligament. A two week absence would put Horner back before Christmas and in time for the last two non-conference games against Robert Morris and St. Louis. Being gone five weeks would get him back a couple weeks into January, after missing two conference games against Wisconsin and Illinois.

Upcoming Schedule
12/09 @ Iowa State
12/17 vs Arizone State
12/20 vs Drake
12/21 two weeks from now
12/30 @ St. Louis
01/05 @ Wisconsin
01/07 vs Illinois
01/11 five weeks from now
01/14 @ Penn State

There's never a good time for a knee injury, but it's better now than later in the season. Maybe now Freeman and Reed can gain beneficial experience? We'll see.
 
Bite-Sized UNI Thoughts, Vol. II
One lingering question I have about Iowa's overtime period against UNI - is Greg Brunner really our best option for the opening tip-off? The jump ball seems kind of trivial in normal games, but it's huge in overtime, where each team only gets the ball a handful of times. It was especially big in this game, since the pace was so slow, meaning each team got fewer chances to score. Allow me to explain - [Note -I extrapolated this idea from some work Ken Pomeroy did a while back.]

When you win the jump ball, you will either end the period with 1) the same number of possessions as your opponent, or 2) one more possession than your opponent (if you win the tip and have the ball at the end of the game). If we assume both teams average the same number of points per possession (which is reasonable, since they did tie through the first 40 minutes), we can use the Pythagorean formula to estimate their chances of winning.

If the teams average 1 point per possession, and they each have 10 possessions in the overtime period, they will average 10 points. In repeated simulation (or in the long run, so to speak), Team A's expected winning percentage is -

10 pts^10 / (10 pts^10 + 10 pts allowed^10) = .500

Simply put, if two equal teams are given an equal number of possesions, they should have an equal chance of winning. If we give one of the teams an extra possession, however, that team's odds are significantly improved, even though the teams are equally matched. Let's say Team A wins the tip and has the ball 8 times, while Team B only gets it 7 times.

8^10 / (8^10 + 7^10) = .792

So in repeated trials, Team A will win 79% of the time of whenever they have one extra possession.

The team that wins the tip won't always get the extra possession, but they'll never do worse than 50/50. If we assume that the average tip, then, is worth half a possession, the result is something like this (for an 8 possession period, i.e. - the same as the Iowa / UNI game) -

8.5^10 / (8.5^10 + 8^10) = .647

That means that UNI probably increased their chance of winning by 15% simply by winning the jump ball. All of which brings me back to my original question - can we do better than Brunner on the jump ball? I know he's a "savvy veteran" and all that, but jump balls basically come down to 1) height, 2) jumping ability, and 3) timing. I think Brunner is lacking in the first two, at least relative to a couple teammates. Can Brunner really outjump the 6-11, long-armed Erek Hansen, who also started overtime? Can he really outjump the taller, sky-walking Doug Thomas? I don't know the answer to the these questions, but leave a comment if you think you do (somebody with coaching experience want to chime in? BillH?).

Additional note - I'd be really interested to see someone to a study to test this theory against empirical data. It's pretty straightforward - just find the percentage of overtime games that are won by the team that won the overtime tip-off. I checked the play-by-play data for a few of this year's overtime games, and the tip-winner tends to be also be the winner at the end of the game.
 
Bite-Sized UNI Thoughts, Vol. I
This UNI recap was getting a little out of hand, so I decided to break it down into more digestible pieces.

First, let's engage in some much-needed damage mitigation. Losing sucks, losing to an in-state rival sucks even more, but losing on the road to a legitimate Top 25 team is not the end of the world. It just affirms that we're probably more in the 15-20 range than the 5-10 we were inching toward. The collective reaction around here seems to be "The sky is falling!" or "Here we go again..." Would it be the same if we lost at Wake Forest, or at Boston College (who both rate much closer to UNI in more objective statistical measures than they do in the actual polls)? I highly doubt it. By the end of the season, this game will still be "one that got away," but a little distance will make it look like much less of a disaster.

Second, what's much more important right now than the outcome of this game is the health of Jeff Horner. If you didn't see the game, Jeff collapsed on the court while chasing Ben Jacobson around a screen. His knee gave out on him when he tried to push of his left leg. Jeff was able to limp off the court, but he missed the rest of the game. The Register reported today that Jeff has a torn posterior cruciate ligament (that picture on the left should look familiar) and will be out 2 to 5 weeks.

I'm no doctor, but the ten minutes of reading I did on the PCL suggest that Jeff damaged the ligament(s) on the play where he fell on his knee after driving to the lane and getting fouled (which happened a couple minutes before he finally left. This of course raises the question why he was back in the game a minute later, but it sounds like Jeff told the staff he was OK to go). Since the PCL keeps the femur from moving too far forward, his knee was now de-stabilized to a certain extent, which resulted in it giving out when he tried to push off of it when chasing down Jacobson. Keep in mind that this is an extremely amateur observation.

How did the injury affect Iowa in this game? For starters, Jacobson caught fire as soon as Horner left. Jeff and Adam Haluska were doing a great job of shutting Jacobson down through the first 36 and a half minutes of the game. Horner left the first time after making his free throws at the 3:30 mark of the second half. On the next trip down, Jacobson did a nice Moses impression when he cut between the parted Grant Stout and Eric Coleman on the left wing. The two big men stepped toward each other to seal off a trailing Mike Henderson, who could only watch as Jacobson nailed a three. Next trip down - Horner is back in, guarding Jacobson. He fell to the floor, grabbing the knee, leaving Ben open for another easy three. Next trip down - Henderson back on defese....Jacobson dribbles Henderson into a Coleman screen, then hits from the top of the key. And within the span of 65 seconds, a 5 point Iowa lead turned into a 2 point deficit. I gotta hand it to Jacobson, that was really impressive.

Once we got into overtime, it was pretty clear that the offense was running without it's leader. The first two offensive possessions consisted of passing the ball back and forth on the perimeter until someone felt open enough to brick a three. Two of the next three trips resulted in Henderson going one-on-one and attacking the basket. Sure, it worked, but I'd rather not rely on Mike to be the go-to-guy at the end of games. Our offense will definitely miss Horner's playmaking while he's gone.

Your thoughts on Horner's value to the team? Leave 'em in the comments.
 
Northern Iowa 67, Iowa 63 (OT)
I have a lot of stuff to take care of today, but I'll be back this afternoon with more than my two cents worth about the loss up in Cedar Falls last night. In the meantime, you can check out -

- Rick Brown talks up Erik Crawford's overtime heroics in his game recap.

- Susan Harman thinks that UNI's offensive rebounds in overtime decided the game.

- Jason Brummond says Iowa's offense struggled after the injury to Jeff Horner (but you already knew that).

- Nick Richards thinks the Horner injury might eventually be Alford's new scapegoat (let's not go there yet).
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
 
State Championship Week
That fabled time of year is once again upon us - Iowa's four D-I basketball schools meet up, round-robin style, to earn the bragging rights of the state champion. The stakes are higher than normal (ever?) this year, with three teams coming off NCAA tournament bids and projected to return.

Iowa went 3-0 to win the title last year, but they also had the two toughest games at home. This year, they must play at both Northern Iowa and Iowa State. Two wins this week will go a long way toward legitmizing this year's Hawkeye squad in my ever-pessimistic mind.

Iowa State is out to the early lead this year, having already beaten UNI and Drake. If Iowa wins tonight, the stage will be set for an intense Friday showdown at Hilton Coliseum, in a game that would essentially determine the state champ.

Here's the schedule of this year's games -

11/29 - Iowa State 68, UNI 61
12/05 - Iowa State 89, Drake 74
12/06 - Iowa @ UNI
12/09 - Iowa @ Iowa State
12/20 - Drake @ Iowa

That's not to say, of course, that Iowa should look past tonight's game. They're 0 for their last 2 trips to the UNI-Dome, and the Panthers look as tough as ever. Tonight's lineups will look like -

NORTHERN IOWA IOWA
Player Height Pos Player Height Pos
Brooks McKowen 6-2 G Mike Henderson 6-2 G
Ben Jacobson 6-3 G Jeff Horner 6-3 G
Erik Crawford 6-3 G Adam Haluska 6-5 G
Eric Coleman 6-6 F Greg Brunner 6-7 F
Grant Stout 6-8 F Erek Hansen 6-11 C
Bench
John Little 5-11 G Doug Thomas 6-8 F
Atila Santos 6-10 C Tony Freeman 6-1 G
Alex Thompson 6-9 F
Carlton Reed 6-4 G

Susan Harman did a good job of pointing out the many similarities between these two teams. To that I would add - both have starting guards who can play a lot of minutes while contributing very little, and both have guys named Eric who spell their name weird. One similarity actually worth talking about - both UNI and Iowa have guards capable of shooting very well, but all are off to cold starts.

Player 04-05 eFG% 05-06 eFG%
Ben Jacobson .581 .474
Erik Crawford .557 .425
Jeff Horner .526 .399
Adam Haluska .569 .475

Iowa and UNI are both really good at limiting second-chance points and post defense in general (at least this year, anyway), so the team that wins might just be the team that busts out of its perimeter slump. Iowa showed signs of doing just that by shooting 7-16 on threes against Valparaiso on Saturday.

As far as other things to expect, it might be helpful to look at last year's stats, since both teams return all their starters. Northern Iowa's offense was fairly successful because they did two things well - shooting and taking care of the ball. Check their national rankings for offense (2004-05) -

eFG% - 20
TO% - 6
oRb% - 310
FTM/FGA - 261

The offensive rebounding numbers seem consistent with a team that would rather get back defensively to take away transition baskets. Since UNI plays at a pretty slow pace (241st in possessions per game last year, 301st so far this year), that's a likely scenario. I really haven't seen them play much since they're not on TV very often here, so maybe you can fill me in if I'm incorrect there.

Since the game probably will be slowed down, I'd again suggest that Iowa better not make some of the unforced turnovers that have plagued them in recent games, as there will be fewer than normal opportunities to make up for them. UNI isn't that deep though, so it's unlikely they'll want to pressure Iowa's guards anyway.

Last year's game went down to the wire. Jacobson missed a jumper with six seconds left that would've given UNI the lead. Just about everyone is back tonight, so I'm looking forward to another intrastate classic.
Monday, December 05, 2005
 
We're #1! We're #1!
With all attentions focused on criticizing Iowa's offensive struggles (and there have been struggles), I doubt many Hawk-watchers are tuned in to the fact that they've been following one of the best defensive teams in the country. I'm not immune, either - images of missed open jumpers and passes thrown out of bounds tend to linger in my head and limit my ability to process the good things happening at the other end of the court.

I knew the Hawks were putting up good numbers on defense, but since I figured that that was common for most major conference teams this early in the year, I didn't give it much thought. So it was with some surprise that I found Iowa at the top of the list when I clicked over to Ken Pomeroy's rankings of points allowed per possession (through Saturday's games).

While their spot in the ranking was a bit unexpected, it's not that surprising that Iowa is quite good defensively. They finished last year ranked #29 in Ken's list, which sorts teams by defensive efficiency and adjusts for the strength of the offenses they played. The players they return from that squad include two great defensive rebounders, a terrific shot blocker, and some pesky guards, and the recruiting class added another quick on-the-ball defender.

Can Iowa maintain this strong start? Well, first we should establish what is at the root of this performance level. Here are the team's national rankings in the four most important areas -

eFG% allowed - 7
TO forced - 76
Def Reb% - 57
Opp FTA/FGA - 17

I don't think they'll be #1-good all season, but there's no reason they can't be in the top 10 or 15. For starters, it's seems unlikely that Iowa will continue to rank this high in turnovers forced. There aren't many Maryland-Eastern Shores or Texas-San Antonios left on the schedule, and Iowa doesn't usually go out of their way to force turnovers.

It's interesting that Iowa ranks so high in last category, which measures how often the opponent shoots free throws. With Erek Hansen and Doug Thomas constantly in foul trouble last year, this was a bit of a problem. Through 8 games, both guys have gotten called for far fewer fouls. Here are the main post players' fouls per 40 minutes -

Player.............PF/40, 04-05......PF/40, 05-06
Thomas.................7.0......................5.3
Hansen..................6.7......................5.7
Brunner..................3.8......................3.0

That's a very nice development, and probably has a lot to do with the first category (eFG%), at least for Iowa. Fewer fouls means Hansen can play more mintues. When he's in the lineup, opposing teams are having a very tough time getting a good shot in the paint. You might remember the shutdown job he had at the end of the Kentucky game, but the job he did against Texas stands out, too. Hansen was keeping LaMarcus Aldridge from doing much damage (despite a poster dunk or two), but then he picked up his third foul early in the second half and took a long seat. While he was gone, Aldridge put his height advantage to good use against Iowa's shorter forwards. The final numbers from that game were telling -

IA Defense, vs Texas........Pts....Poss....Efficiency
with Hansen........................32.......39..........84.2
w/o Hansen.........................36.......29........124.1

As long as Hansen can keep himself on the court, Iowa should hold its opponent to a low eFG%, which is the most important part of defense.

As for the remaining category - defensive rebounding - Iowa looks to be in good shape. Brunner and Thomas were both among the Big Ten's best defensive rebounders last year, and Hansen has been contributing more on the glass this year than ever before. It's no sure thing that he'll maintain that feistiness against some of the tough Big Ten guys, but several of the opposing centers this year haven't exactly been pushovers.

Now let's just hope the guys can get their offense back to last year's level so they don't have to always play lights-out defense to win.
 
Weekend Wrap-up
Iowa won two games this weekend to win another Hawkeye Challenge, but the Hawks lost some of the buzz that they created in the previous week against three ranked teams. After good showings against Kentucky, Texas, and North Carolina State, the games with Fairfield and Valparaiso were a little more competitive than many expected.

Iowa opened the weekend with a 75-59 victory over a tiny Fairfield team. Though they started no one taller than 6-4, the Stags hung around with a mixture of scrappiness and strategy. Their presses and zones frustrated the Hawks into 20 turnovers, and some hot three point shooting kept them within five points until the 3:30 mark of the second half. The Hawks poured it on the rest of the way, but they failed to meet the raised expectations of a top 15 team.

There were bright spots, of course. With the considerable height advantage, Iowa was able to dominate the paint at both ends of the floor. Greg Brunner made all eight of his field goals and shot eight free throws, and the team finished 20 for 30 (67%) inside the arc. That made up for several missed outside jumpers and fueled a season-high .573 eFG%.

At the other end, Brunner, Doug Thomas, and especially Erek Hansen dominated inside. Iowa finished with 11 blocks, though Fairfield only attempted 38 two point shots. With Hansen increasing the difficulty of almost every shot he didn't get his hands on, the Stags made 16%(!) of those two's. With essentially five guards in most of their lineups, they kept both their players and the ball moving, which resulted in quite a few good looks (and 12 makes) from long range. While the overall defensive effort was good, the perimeter letdown might raise concerns for future opponents like Northwestern and Ohio State.

Given the huge disparity in this game's shooting performances (.573 eFG% to .358), it's surprising the score was even close. The aforementioned turnovers were the culprit here, as Iowa's ballhandlers struggled when faced with a little pressure. They have a few days to get everyone back on the same page, so let's hope they get it figured out before Friday, when they head to Ames to face a far more athletic group in a much more hostile environment.

Saturday's game put Iowa up against Valparaiso, who beat Tulane in the first round. Their offense was centered around one versatile player, Dan Oppland, and their defense featured a strong 6-11 center in Mohamed Kone. Though Valpo presented a different challenge, the end result was a similarly un-lopsided 72-59 victory.

Kone and company were tough on Iowa's post players. Brunner, Hansen and Thomas combined to shoot 7 for 22 (32%) with 8 turnovers. This continues something of a trend for the Hawks, who have struggled inside against teams with tall, strong centers. The following are Iowa's two-point percentages in a few recent games.

Kentucky, 42.2%
Texas, 44.7
NC State, 33.3
Valparaiso, 40.5

It's arguable whether Kentucky meets the criteria, since their 7-footers only combined for 17 minutes, but they're another data point in the pattern - Iowa has a hard time scoring against bigger post defenders.

Another disturbing trend is the recent explosion of Hawkeye turnovers. Through five games Iowa was turning the ball over slightly less than 20% of the time, which is reasonable for early season games. In the last three games, though, the team's turnover rates have been 27, 28, and 24%. Yikes. A lot of that seems to be dumb stuff like dropped passes and miscommunication, which I would think will drop as everyone plays more together, but it's definitely something to keep on eye on. We are eight games into the season, after all.

In most of Iowa's games this season, poor shooting inside would doom the offense, but not Saturday. The guards finally put together the game that fans had been waiting for, hitting 7 of 16 threes (44%). It was the first time Iowa broke even 30% in their last six games (ugh). Tony Freeman knocked one down after hitting two on Friday, which is encouraging for a team in need of perimeter scorers.

All in all, it's two more wins, even if they were less than outstanding. The defense continues to impress, and is actually ranked #1 in the country in points allowed per possession. Texas is still the only team to score above a meager 85 PPP, so the guys deserve a lot of credit for bringing the intensity every night. If / when the offense turns the corner, Iowa will look much more like a team worthy of the top 10-15 ranking it will draw on Monday.

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