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Saturday, March 12, 2005
How 'Bout Them Hawkeyes?
Iowa's win streak hit five games last night with a 71-69 upset of #13 Michigan State. Suddenly everyone is talking Hawkeye basketball, and you have to like what you're hearing. Prolific college hoops blogger Yoni Cohen says "[t]he Hawkeyes are a lock for the NCAA tournament," and Andy Glockner of ESPN believes the "Hawkeyes . . . suddenly look very good for an NCAA berth." Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel says that "Iowa . . . may be in the dance after all," and upgraded them to his "Bubble In" classification. Tony Mejia from CBS gives Iowa the nod, and states "the committee should take its win over Michigan State as proof it has survived the devastating loss of Pierre Pierce and deserves its reward."

Here's a quick glance at Iowa's tournament resume, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.

RPI: 35
SOS: 44
vs 1-50: 7-7
vs 51-100: 2-0
vs 101-200: 8-3
vs 201+: 4-0
last 10: 6-4
road/neutral: 8-7

My brief scan of the other teams show that only Ilinois (10) and Kansas (9) can boast about having more wins against top 50 RPI teams. I've been getting increasingly irritated hearing the talking heads say that Iowa's early wins mean nothing since Pierce is gone, so the win tonight goes a long way toward showing that the current squad is tourny-worthy.

As for the game - I started out at a buddy's apartment, where we saw Erek Hansen get the start and immediately proceed to sabotage Iowa's efforts by blowing an open layup and letting Paul Davis have his way inside. Coach, haven't you been reading your Hawkeye Hoops for the last, oh, two months? Anyway, with Iowa already down 10-2, we didn't feel like we'd be missing much if we made a trip downtown.

We settled in at Buffalo Wild Wings around the 12:00 mark, just in time for the Horner-Henderson Show. Iowa's backcourt tandem would score 20 of Iowa's last 27 points in the first half. Horner had the hot hand from deep (4 treys at the half), and Henderson finally learned to finish his drives to the basket, scoring on several free throws and shots close to the basket. Mike played a great game, and earned at least a day's reprieve from any Hawkeye Hoops scorn. His layup gave Iowa a four point lead going into the half.

Things looked pretty rough for a stretch in the second half when Michigan State discovered they could pretty much get the ball any time they wanted with a press or tight defense of inbounds plays. The struggle to hold onto the ball combined with severe foul trouble (5 Hawkeyes finished with at least 4 fouls) to make MSU's three point lead with around 4:30 left look insurmountable, at least to this pessimist.

Iowa tried to give the game away with some ugly turnovers and five missed free throws in the last two minutes, but Michigan State's own struggles from the line would cost them the game. Alan Anderson, the Big Ten's leading free throw shooter (and Hawkeye Hoops Second Team-er) had a chance to put the Spartans on top with six seconds left, but missed both his free throws.

A few thoughts......
- Doug Thomas came up huge in a game where Iowa badly needed his skill set. He grabbed 11 boards in just 26 minutes of play, and was a huge reason why Michigan State could only manage a 30% offensive rebound rate, well below their league-leading average of 38%. Iowa matched that 30% rate on the offensive glass. Taken alone, that 30% figure seems fairly meager, but it was huge compared to the 24% MSU normally allows. Doug also made two big free throws to put Iowa up by four with 37 seconds left (though he did miss two on the previous possession). Can we please start him already?

- Jeff Horner had everything falling early on, especially from long range, but his final line looked eerily Pierce-esque - 6-16 FG, 7 TO. I wrote yesterday that Jeff might be returning to his Maui performance level, but with the caveat that his scoring was far from efficient. Given his low shooting percentages, it scares me a little to see him taking as so many shots lately. He's averaged almost 14 shots a game in the 11 games since Pierce left the team.

- Is anyone else stunned that Iowa knocked off MSU with a highly inefficient game from Horner and 0 first half points from Adam Haluska? I didn't think it was possible for the Hawks to take down a big-time opponent without the Big Three hitting on all cylinders, but leave it to Mike Henderson to prove me wrong.

- Was anyone else secretly happy (or high-fiving their friends?) when Hansen fouled out late in the game? And how does a guy who gets abused on the boards and fouls out in nine minutes deserve to start both halves? I'm really starting to question whether he deserves to play, let alone start.

OK, time to look forward to Saturday afternoon's game with Wisconsin. The Badgers were third in the Big Ten with a 109 offensive rating and sixth with a 103 defensive rating, both compared to the league average of 104 points per possession. As always, let's break down their offense and defense with Dean Oliver's Four Factors.

.......................................adjFG%..............TO/poss............Oreb Rate............FTA/FGA

Wisconsin's offense is about average when it comes to shooting and rebounding, but they excel at holding onto the ball and getting to the free throw line. Both of these strengths were evident when Iowa last played them, as the Badgers only had 8 turnovers and shot a hefty 35 free throws (to Iowa's 14, which Alford was none too pleased about). They get to the line at a frequency second to only Indiana, but only shot 68% there in Big Ten games.

Wisconsin's defensive strength is keeping their opponents from offensive rebounds. Their defensive rebound % is second to Michigan State. Iowa has shown recently that they can neutralize strong rebounding teams with their own bruisers, Greg Brunner and Doug Thomas. Here's hoping that Thomas earned himself at least 20 minutes for Saturday's game.

Fatigue could be another big factor today. Iowa's four players capable of scoring each played at least 34 minutes Friday, and will be playing in their third game in three days. Wisconsin had no one play over 33 minutes against Ohio State, and is playing just their second game of the tournament. Each team has a short turnaround, playing at 3pm Saturday after night games on Friday.

That's about all this sleepy blogger has for now. While Iowa has regained the support of the media in its quest for the big dance, let's hope they've got at least one more quality performance left to eliminate any uncertainty.

Go Hawks!
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