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Tuesday, November 22, 2005
 
Next Up - #2 Texas
#18 Iowa vs #2 Texas
TV: ESPN2
Time: 9:00 pm, CST

Iowa gets another chance to run with the big boys tonight when they meet Texas in the championship game of the Guardian's Classic. While Kentucky's strength was mainly its guards, Texas possesses one of the best frontcourts in the country, and will present a different challenge for the Hawkeyes to overcome.

Texas and Iowa were essentially even last year in terms of offensive and defensive effectiveness. Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ratings ranked Iowa as the #38 offense and #29 defense in the country, while Texas was #33 and #36. With their offense and defense so similarly productive, the two teams had nearly identical expected winning percentages.

That's the good news - Iowa and Texas were at the same level at the end of last season, and Iowa even beat the Longhorns back in November. Fast forward eight months - Iowa is without a very good defender, who contributed to their numbers for over half the year, but returns everyone else; Texas regains two of its best players who missed a significant portion of the schedule. As Luke Winn wrote two months ago, Texas was much better when they had both LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker, and their return should make Texas a contender for the NCAA title this year.

Texas's starting five will look like this tonight -

G - Daniel Gibson, 6-2
G - Kenton Paulino - 6-0
F - P.J. Tucker, 6-5
F - Brad Buckman, 6-8
C - LaMarcus Aldridge, 6-10

That's a very balanced and talented offensive unit. The frontline provides scoring and good offensive rebounding, while Gibson (40%) and Paulino (48%) were reliable three point shooters last year.

Texas also excelled at getting to the free throw line last year, shooting .408 free throws for each field goal attempt, which worked out to about 23 FTA per game. Take a look at how each of the starters performed -

FTA / FGA
Gibson - .436
Paulino - .371
Tucker - .671
Buckman - .632
Aldridge - .779

Comparables from Iowa include Greg Brunner (.500), Doug Thomas (.598), and Mike Henderson (.424).

Texas could change the course of the game early on by feeding the big guys and getting Erek Hansen, Thomas, or (gasp!) Brunner into foul trouble.

Things I Like
Each member of Texas's starting five played at least 34 minutes last night, and only one bench player broke 10 minutes. I'd rather be playing a six-deep team tonight than reliving last year's Maui game against North Carolina, where the Heels used their depth and ran us until we dropped.

Texas did not force many turnovers last year, finishing near the bottom of the national heap in defensive TO%. Instead, their focus was on preventing easy shots, as they finished 16th in opponents' eFG%. Turnovers can be Iowa's nemesis offensively, keeping an otherwise efficient squad from reaching its potential. If Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska can bounce back to post decent shooting nights, Iowa could hang around for a while.

Things That Scare Me
Texas makes very good use of their shots, especially the starting five. Here are the five's True Shot % (shooting efficiency on FGA and FTA) from last year -

Gibson - 57.8%
Paulino - 61.7
Tucker - 58.0
Buckman - 60.0
Aldridge - 66.9

Yowie. Iowa's Big Three of Brunner (57.2), Haluska (61.4) and Horner (56.3) just aren't as impressive. If Texas is going to shoot as well as normal (and that's no guarantee if Hansen stays out of foul trouble), Iowa will have to limit the shots they get by forcing turnovers and preventing second chance points. West Virginia showed that the former can be done when they forced 24 Texas TOs last night. Hopefully Henderson and Tony Freeman (T-Free, anyone?) can replicate that performance. Texas was one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country last year, and Tucker, Buckman and Aldridge were all very good offensive rebounders, but Iowa can be quite good on the defensive glass, especially when Thomas is on the court.

Other Stuff
Burnt Orange Nation, a Texas fan site, has a preview of the game here. Andy Katz profiled Texas center LaMarcus Aldridge here. He also thinks Texas can win it all this year.

In my estimation, Iowa will need to get several things to go right to have a chance at the end - Horner and Haluska need to play like Horner and Haluska, Iowa needs to limit its turnovers and dog Gibson into a few of his own, and ideally, Iowa would get one of Texas's big guys in foul trouble and off the court. That's a lot of ifs.

Last night's win over Kentucky was fun, though not entirely unexpected. Tonight would be much more of an upset. If Iowa pulls this one off, I'll run naked through the streets*.

How do you see Iowa's chances tonight? Feel free to leave a comment.

Go Hawks!


*dramatization. Professional blogger on a closed course.
Comments:
Mike Henderson's sticky defense will really get put to the test tonight, and I'm looking forward to seeing him step up to the challenge.

Domination might not be a strong enough word to describe what Texas did to WV on the boards last night, outrebounding them 40 to 19. Although the Hawks are a much better team on the glass than WV, one of the keys for this game will be keeping Aldridge and Co. from cashing in second chance buckets.

Cautiously looking forward to the Hawks squeaking one out here. Hey, it could happen.
 
Present tense: "I say."
Past tense: "I said."
Present perfect tense: "I have said."

Thank you. And good night.
 
The opportunity alone to be in this game makes me over-joyed! More than one senior-Hawkeye will need to play with composure tonight. Make it another ugly scrappy game boys, win-ugly is fine by me.
 
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