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Monday, November 21, 2005
 
Next Up - #9 Kentucky
#20 Iowa vs #9 Kentucky
Time - 8:05 pm
TV: ESPN2

Iowa gets their first big test of the season tonight when they meet Kentucky in the semi-finals of the Guardian's Classic. Kentucky's aggressive defense should be a nice challenge for Iowa's reputed lack of athleticism. If the Hawkeye guards can handle that pressure, Iowa should have a good chance to pull off the "upset."

Initial Thoughts
If you haven't read it already, check out Ken Pomeroy's offseason rundown of Kentucky's team. Like he says, Kentucky was a decent offensive team last year (#25 nationally), but their success was very much propelled by an excellent defense (#6). With the losses of three of their biggest offensive contributors in Kelenna Azubuike, Chuck Hayes, and Randolph Morris, the current Wildcat team is much more tame offensively. They've only managed to score 104 points per 100 possessions in their two games against South Dakota State and Lipscomb, or about the same scoring rate Iowa posted against a fairly tough schedule last year.

Point guard Rajon Rondo has picked up a big share of this year's offensive load, and at 18 ppg is the only Wildcat averaging double digit points (though he's also averaging about 10 mpg more than any teammate). He was very good at getting near the basket last year, as evidenced by his high 2pt% (55%) and FTA/FGA rate of 0.515 (quite high for a guard). Mike Henderson and Tony Freeman will have primary defensive responsibility on Rondo, and their performance will go a long way in determining Iowa's fortune tonight.

Defense is where Kentucky gets it done. They forced turnovers on 25% of their opponents' possessions last year, which was the third-highest rate among major conference teams (they were #1 if you exclude C-USA). Rondo's presence was the driving force there - he stole the ball on 6.0% of the team's defensive possessions, which is a phenomenal rate and no doubt among the top handful of players in the country. By contrast, Rico Tucker led Big Ten regulars at 5.0%, and Pierre Pierce was second at 4.2%. Iowa's offense can get a little stagnant when Jeff Horner is out of the game, so I'll be a little concerned if Rondo can basically "take him out" while Horner is still on the court.

Rebounding is one area where Iowa should be able to make up some ground. Even with the full team they had last year, Kentucky was a very average defensive rebounding team. They ranked 174th nationally and 7th in the 12 team SEC in defensive rebounding (or offensive rebounding % allowed). Their offseason defections cost them their two best rebounders (Hayes and Morris), and the difference has been noticable so far this year. In their first two games, Kentucky's opponents have grabbed 28 offensive boards to 48 Wildcat defensive boards, or 37% of their chances. Greg Brunner and Doug Thomas could find some extra put-back opportunities.

All in all, this should be a very good matchup, and I really don't view Iowa as an underdog. Kentucky is a great defensive team, and will provide an early test for the Hawkeyes, but their offense still has some holes.
Comments:
What a win! Brunner is so tough... My gawd, he's gonna tear up the Big Ten.

And is it just me or is Erik Hansen playing with alot of agression this year?

I'm so thankful for this blog Ryan.

Beat Texas!
 
Congratulations, nice win
 
Those fans in Kansas City got more than their money's worth for tickets if they watched WV vs. Texas and Iowa vs. Kentucky.

A pair of great games, and a great showing for the Hawks.

(I still say Gansey got fouled)
 
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