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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 -

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
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.
This should've been posted a lot earlier so a few people could at least read it. It'll be better before the Iowa State game.
Damn right it will. :)
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