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Friday, March 11, 2005
 
Stayin' Alive
Iowa picked up its fourth straight win and lived to see another day in the Big Ten Tournament with an easy win against Purdue this afternoon. The Boilermaker offense has been helpless since losing leading scorer Carl Landry, and today was no exception. Purdue could only muster 52 points to Iowa's 71 in the 63 possession game.

The scoring trend graph from ESPN's recap makes it pretty clear that this game was never close. That was important, as it allowed Iowa to rest their starters in anticipation of Friday's game against a deep and athletic Michigan State squad.

Jeff Horner, who led the Big Ten in minutes played, only saw 33 minutes of action in this game, his lowest total against any conference opponent. He had enough time, however, to grab six rebounds and pass for eight assists (against one turnover) and earn the coveted title of Hawkeye Hoops Player of the Game. Jeff struggled throughout most of the Big Ten season, but's he's almost returned to his Maui form of late, and Hawkeye fans hope his play will yield similar giant-felling results. His numbers during Iowa's four-game win streak are encouraging -

......................PPG........RPG......APG.......3pt%
Horner...........18.8.........6.0.........6.8.........40.6

He hasn't been impressively efficient, shooting a 53.4 adjFG%, but his shooting touch will play a large role in determining how long Iowa sticks around Chicago (more in a minute).

Iowa also had solid performances from some unexpected sources, including Hawkeye Hoops whipping boys Mike Henderson and Erek Hansen. Henderson scored a career-high 11 points, while Hansen matched his rebound season-high by equalling the total of his point guard. It would be nice if I could step out of my role of Henderson/Hansen critic and heap praise on their efforts, but instead I fret because their performance will likely earn them more playing on Friday (more ahead). Enough of Thursday, it's time to look ahead to Friday.

Let's take a peak at each team's strengths and weaknesses as measured by Dean Oliver's Four Factors.

Team.........................Pts/100 Poss............adjFG%........TO/poss.......Oreb Rt......FTA/FGA
Iowa offense......................104.......................0.494.............0.218...........0.343...........0.373
MSU defense.......................98.......................0.497.............0.218...........0.242...........0.427

Team.........................Pts/100 Poss............adjFG%........TO/poss.......Oreb Rt......FTA/FGA
Iowa defense.....................102.......................0.482.............0.221...........0.331............0.400
MSU offense.....................117........................0.551.............0.209...........0.378............0.333

Michigan State's Defense
Check out the conference ranks for MSU's defense in -
adjFG% - 7th
TO/poss - 7th
FTA/FGA - 11th

Despite those mediocre numbers, Michigan State is 3rd in points allowed per 100 possessions. They do this by dominating the conference in defensive rebound %. They rebound 76% of their opponents' missed shots, compared to the league average of 68%. Their opponents might make an average amount of their shots and shoot a ton of free throws, but second chances are hard to come by. See the leaderboard here.

This brings me to my earlier point regarding Hansen. If the strength of Michigan State's defense lies almost entirely in their defensive rebounding, it would make sense to play someone capable of grabbing a few offensive rebounds (read: anyone not named Erek Hansen). That's why Hansen's 7 point, 6 rebound performance worries the hell out of me - it could make the coaches willing to play him more than usual. Alford always seems to be waiting for Hansen to give him a reason to play him more, and ignoring the obvious shortcomings that should keep him on the bench. Here's a list that should make for an easy decision regarding playing time for the post players tomorrow -

Player.......................Oreb%
Doug Thomas.............12.2
Greg Brunner..............10.4
Alex Thompson...........10.4
Seth Gorney..................9.9
Erek Hansen.................5.8

What does this stat mean? When he is in the game, Thunder Doug will get an offensive rebound on about 12% of Iowa's missed shots. Hansen will grab less than half that. Get the picture?

My beef with Henderson is his turnovers. His turnovers per possession rate (34%) has few peers in the Big Ten, especially among guys playing as many minutes as he does now, and he's shooting just 38%. So my concern is the same as with Hansen - Henderson's performance against a lifeless Purdue team will be rewarded with more minutes and the green light from the coaching staff, which will lead to a repeat of his 0-6 line from the first MSU game. The sad thing is, I'm not sure this team has a better backcourt option. Anyone else excited for Tony Freeman?

Michigan State's Offense
MSU's defense doesn't worry me nearly as much as their offense. Again, here's how their offense ranks in -

adjFG% - 2nd
TO/poss - 5th
Oreb% - 1st
FTA/FGA - 7th

The FTA/FGA figure is a little misleading since it just measures how often a team gets to the line. FTM/FGA takes into account how well they shoot there, and MSU is 4th in that.

Iowa has the horses to stop MSU's domination of the offensive boards, as Doug Thomas and Greg Brunner rank 5th and 6th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding %.

Player.......................Dreb%
Greg Brunner.............21.0
Doug Thomas............20.6
Seth Gorney...............17.6
Alex Thompson..........13.9
Erek Hansen................5.7

How long must we give opponents extra shots while only picking up a couple blocked shots? Aside from the rebounding, I'll point to another Hansen flaw that could be fatal on Friday. His 8.8 fouls per 40 minutes lead the Big Ten. MSU leads the Big Ten in FT%. You do the math.

Can Iowa Win?
The odds are against them, but Iowa has shown against Illinois and against these same Spartans that they're no push-over. If a few of the following go Iowa's way, the Hawkeyes can improve their chances of playing a game on Saturday.

Hit the three
In Michigan State's five losses, their opponents hit 50% of their three-pointers, versus 32% in Spartan victories. With Horner heating up and Haluska hitting 47% of his threes over the past month, Iowa has a good shot to have a good showing from behind the arc.

Get fouled
Michigan State finished the conference season with the second most fouls in the Big Ten, and its opponents shot more free throws per field goal attempt than any other team. That helped Iowa stay in the game last time (42 FTA), and it could work to their advantage again.

This one goes both ways. Iowa needs to keep its key players out of foul trouble. Last time Iowa played the Spartans, Brunner played an excellent game but was only on the court for 23 minutes before fouling out. He and Haluska will have to play a lot more than that to pull this one out.

Play Doug Thomas
There is no reason to play into two of MSU's strengths (free throws and rebounding) by putting Hansen on the court. Thomas, Gorney, and Thompson would all make more sense in this game. Of course, Hansen will start.

Go Hawks!
Comments:
Way to go Hawks! With their win over Michigan State, they are 7-6 against the top 50 RPI. That should make them a shoo in for the big tourney.

Better get some dancing shoes cause were going to the ball.
 
So what if someone had told you that Horner would miss 7 threes, turn it over 7 times, Haluska and Hansen would foul out, Brunner and Horner would have 4 fouls each, we'd only hit 64.5% of our free throws, Hansen would contribute 2pts, 1 reb, 1 to, 1 stl, and no blocks, and we'd turn it over 19 times?

And what if I told you that we'd outrebound the Spartans and they'd miss 15 of 30 free throws?

Amazing... never thought we'd beat MSU on the glass and from the line, while still turning it over a lot and without a lot of help from three.
 
Henderson's performance against a lifeless Purdue team will be rewarded with more minutes and the green light from the coaching staff, which will lead to a repeat of his 0-6 line from the first MSU game.

Oops.

What a blessing it was to having Hansen foul out. I was getting worried that Paul Davis was going to take over the game.
 
Goose - I hope you're right.

Howzi - That Horner would miss a lot of shots and that Hansen would foul out after producing next to nothing shouldn't surprise anyone, but I felt incredibly fortunate to see MSU miss that many free throws. And as far as the rebounding goes....I've been telling anyone that will listen that this is a good rebounding team when Doug is on the court. It was huge that he played 26 minutes.

Jason - Yes, that crow tastes great! I've never been so glad to be so wrong. As for Hansen fouling out, my friends and I were actually cheering when it happened. It was definitely a blessing in diguise, considering the way MSU rebounded and Davis scored at will when Erek was in the game.

Go Hawks!
 
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